Office of Naval Research goes lean

The Office of Naval Research has been one of the largest supporters of innovation in the U.S. Now they are starting to use the Lean Innovation process (see here and here) to turn ideas into solutions. The result will be defense innovation with speed and urgency.

Here’s how the Office of Naval Research was started. In World War II the U.S. set up the Office of Scientific Research and Development to use thousands of civilian scientists in universities to build advanced technology weapons (radar, rockets, sonar, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons.) After the war, the U.S. Navy adopted the OSRD model and set up the Office of Naval Research – ONR. Since 1946 ONR has funded basic and applied science, as well as advanced technology development, in universities across the U.S. (Stanford’s first grants for their microwave and electronic lab came from ONR in 1946.)

Rich Carlin heads up ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department. He’s responsible for science and programs for surface ships, submarines, and undersea weapons with an annual budget of over $300 million per year.

Rich realized that while the Department of Defense spends a lot of money and has lots of requirements and acquisition processes, they don’t work well with a rapid innovation ecosystem. He wanted to build an innovation pipeline that would allow the Navy to:

  • Create “dual-use” products (build solutions that could be used for the military but also sold commercially, and attract venture capital investments.) “Dual-use” products reduce the cost for defense adoption of products.
  • Test if the Lean Innovation process actually accelerates technology adoption and an innovation ecosystem.
  • Use best practices in contracting that accelerate awards and provide flexibility and speed in technology maturation and adoption.

Today ONR has taken the Lean Innovation process, adapted it for their agency, and is running pilots for defense innovation teams.

Lean Innovation is a Process

The Lean Innovation process is a self-regulating, evidence-based innovation pipeline. It is a process that operates with speed and urgency. Innovators and stakeholders curate and prioritize their own problems/Challenges/ideas/technology.

The process recognizes that innovation isn’t a single activity (an incubator, a class, etc.). It is a process from start to deployment.

The ONR pipeline has all the steps of the canonical innovation pipeline:

Innovation sourcing: a list of problems/challenges, ideas, and technologies that might be worth investing in.

Problem/Challenge Curation: Innovators get out of their own offices and talk to colleagues and customers with the goal of finding other places in the DoD where a problem or challenge might exist in a slightly different form, identifying related internal projects already in existence, and finding commercially available solutions to problems. They also seek to identify legal issues, security issues, and support issues.

This process also helps identify who the customers for possible solutions would be, who the internal stakeholders would be, and even what initial minimum viable products might look like.

This phase also includes building initial MVPs. Some ideas drop out when the team recognizes that they may be technically, financially, or legally unfeasible or they may discover that other groups have already built a similar product.

Prioritization: Once a list of innovation ideas has been refined by curation, it needs to be prioritized using the McKinsey Three Horizons Model. Horizon 1 ideas provide continuous innovation to a company’s existing business model and core capabilities. Horizon 2 ideas extend a company’s existing business model and core capabilities to new customers, markets or targets. Horizon 3 is the creation of new capabilities to take advantage of or respond to disruptive opportunities or disruption. We added a new category, Horizon 0, which refers to graveyard ideas that are not viable or feasible.

Once projects have been classified, the team prioritizes them, starting by asking: is this project worth pursing for another few months full time? This prioritization is not done by a committee of executives but by the innovation teams themselves.

Solution exploration and hypotheses testing: The ideas that pass through the prioritization filter enter an incubation process like Hacking for Defense/I-Corps, the system adopted by all U.S. government federal research agencies to turn ideas into products.

This six- to ten-week process delivers evidence for defensible, data-based decisions. For each idea, the innovation team fills out a mission model canvas. Everything on that canvas is a hypothesis. This not only includes the obvious -is there solution/mission fit? — but the other “gotchas” that innovators always seem to forget. The framework has the team talking not just to potential customers but also with regulators, and people responsible for legal, contracting, policy, and finance support.  It also requires that they think through compatibility, scalability and deployment long before this gets presented to engineering. There is now another major milestone for the team: to show compelling evidence that this project deserves to be a new mainstream capability. Alternatively, the team might decide that it should be spun into its own organization or that it should be killed.

Incubation: Once hypothesis testing is complete, many projects will still need a period of incubation as the teams championing the projects gather additional data about the application, further build the MVP, and get used to working together. Incubation requires dedicated leadership oversight from the horizon 1 organization to insure the fledgling project does not die of malnutrition (a lack of access to resources) or become an orphan (no parent to guide them).

Lean Innovation Inside the Office of Naval Research (ONR)

To come up with their version of the innovation pipeline ONR mapped four unique elements.

First, ONR is using Hacking for Defense classes to curate “Problem Statements” (ONR calls them Challenge/Opportunity Statements) to find solution/mission fit and commercial success.

Second, they’re using existing defense funding to prove out these solutions depending on the level of technical maturity. (There are three existing sources for funding defense innovation: COTS/GOTS validation (testing whether off-the-shelf  products can be used); Concept Validation and Technology Advancement; and SBIR/STTR funds – there’s over >$1B per year in the DoD SBIR program alone.)

Third, they are going to use Pete Newell’s company, BMNT and other business accelerators to apply Lean Launchpad Methodologies to build the business case for resulting prototypes and products and to attract private investments.

Fourth, they are going to use grants, purchase orders and Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs) to attract startups and nontraditional defense contractors, speed the award process, and provide startups the flexibility to pivot their business model and prototype/product solution when necessary.

BMNT and Hacking for Defense serve as the essential crosslink for tying together the assets already available in DoD to implement the Lean Innovation process for defense innovation.

Lessons Learned

  • The Office of Naval Research has been funding innovation in universities for 70+ years
  • They are piloting the Lean Innovation Process to move defense innovation forward with speed and urgency

‘10% Happier’ government

I’ve listened to several “10% Happier with Dan Harris” podcasts recently, and there are several great ones that feature leaders in politics, law enforcement, corrections, the judiciary and military.

Harris is the author of the book by the same name, “10% Happier,” published in 2014.

Here are six episodes where he interviews mindfulness advocates who have some form of affiliation with public service. Each share perspectives and experiences on the positive role mindfulness has in their respective fields.

Rep. Tim Ryan, Teaching Congress to Meditate

Sylvia Moir, Tempe, Arizona, Police Chief

Judge Jeremy Fogel, Using Mindfulness on the Bench

Profs. Holly Richardson & Matt Jarman, Virginia Military Institute

Lt. Richard Goerling, Mindfulness in Police Work

Justin von Bujdoss, Buddhist Chaplain at Rikers Island

Telling Detroit’s stories

Photo courtesy of Aaron Foley

Earlier this year, I visited Detroit for the first time, spending a quick 48 hours in downtown and areas such as the Artist Village, and local businesses Motorcity Java House, Good Cakes and Bakes and Artesian Farms.

I quickly fell in love with Detroit, the energy and sense of local pride, but felt I didn’t get the full story, and left wanting to spend more time taking it all in, hearing more about its history and people and future.

Aaron Foley is Detroit’s first chief storyteller, appointed by Mayor Mike Duggan in April 2017, to help the city go beyond formalized bureaucratic communications and public relations and share the stories that don’t always get heard.

A Detroit native, he is the author of “How To Live In Detroit Without Being A Jackass” and former editor of BLAC Detroit magazine.

Aaron shares his personal story, Detroit’s and why a role such as his is important for the city.

Let’s start with your personal Detroit story.

It really doesn’t start with me, it starts with my elders. I come from a very Southern family who migrated to Detroit like thousands of other black southerners who came to the Midwest and northern cities to work in the factories. My great-grandmother raised three children in the city’s North End and later the east side of the city. My grandfather grew up to get his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and worked in health-care management in various capacities in Lansing, the state’s capital, and here in Detroit. My mother was a longtime reporter and editor at the Michigan Chronicle, a Detroit-based black weekly newspaper. They (and countless others, to be sure) were of greatest influence to me, because of their passion for Detroit and Detroiters. I grew up on the west side being proud of who I am and where I’m from, but when I went to college at Michigan State University, I found myself having to constantly defend critics of the city who were misunderstood about what Detroit was about. I heard all the stereotypes you could ever hear about an urban environment, but no one knew about the Detroit many of us know and love. So I’ve made it my mission to educate people about what it’s like here, something I’ve done as a journalist for many years.

What is your role as the city’s first chief storyteller?

I oversee a multi-platform initiative where we gather stories and information from all across the city under an umbrella we’re calling The Neighborhoods. We believe the neighborhoods — there are more than 200 spread out across 140-ish square miles — are the spirit of Detroit, and we’re committed to telling the stories of who lives here. There’s definitely an information gap about what people know about what’s happening in downtown Detroit and what people don’t know about what’s happening in the more residential areas. It’s my task to fill in that gap with news and feature stories on our website,, and our cable channel for which I produce content.

How did this role transpire?

It’s something Mayor Duggan had been thinking about for a few years but didn’t fully realize until now. It’s something new for our city government, where we can utilize one of our cable channels and maximize it to its full potential, but also deliver content in a new way through our website.

Why is this important, for Detroit and other cities who might need a role like yours?

It’s important because I think there’s an opportunity here for people across to Detroit to see that not only can their voices be heard, but that the City of Detroit is making sure that their voices are heard. It’s another form of validation, but it’s a different form of validation beyond providing basic city services. All Cities have an opportunity like this, to really show that residents matter.

When you announced your new role, you said Detroit’s narrative is getting lost in translation? What’s the Detroit story we typically don’t hear?

We typically don’t always hear about residents who stayed in Detroit over the last decade or so. It’s no secret that the city has suffered a massive population loss, but for those of us that love the city so much, when do we ever hear from them? This is a way (but to be clear, not the only way) of showing “hey, thank you for loving Detroit enough. We’re going to do our best in return.”

Who is your local hero, the one person that is the embodiment of Detroit and why?

I’d have to say my late grandfather, Dr. Harvey Day. He beat all the odds — coming up from rural, segregated Alabama up here to the North End. When he was in high school, he helped charter the school’s first National Honor Society at (now-defunct) Northern High. He graduated early, went to the Army, came back and decided he wanted to be a nurse, but Wayne State University at the time didn’t believe a black man could be one. He broke that barrier, and then went on to co-found a scholarship for nursing students a year later. And he didn’t stop there. He got his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and went on to turn around a troubled health system, then went on to work for the State of Michigan’s health department. After leaving the State, he co-founded a pharmacy benefit management corporation, and one of his last major career accomplishments before his passing was protecting the benefits of retired Detroit police officers that would have been lost after the city’s bankruptcy. It’s his level of commitment to Detroiters that I hope to aspire to.

I’m in Detroit for 24 hours. What’s the ‘Aaron Foley Tour?’

Where to begin? I love Mexican food, so I would start at Taqueria el Rey or El Camino Real. Then I’d hit up the Detroit Institute of Arts (there’s a massive local hip-hop exhibit on display there now), and maybe a quick tour of some of Detroit’s most architecturally distinct neighborhoods like Indian Village or Palmer Woods. Some of the best food for dinner is takeout; maybe hit up Uptown BBQ or Asian Corned Beef, and take it with you to Belle Isle and watch the sun set over the river. If you don’t want to get it to go, I suggest Chartreuse for dinner and cocktails.

How can others connect with you, what you’re doing and the city of Detroit?

Pretty easy. I’m all over Twitter (@aaronkfoley), or you can email me at To see the stories we’ve been telling, visit


Values for government technology

Earlier this year, CityGrows co-founder Catherine Geanuracos proposed values for government technology, and its a great foundation for those serving government or the public to adopt.

These include:

  • Transparency
  • Interoperability
  • Reflective of the community
  • Experimentation and iteration
  • Portability
  • Participatory
  • Open source

Catherine and co-founder Stephen Corwin also touch on the term “movement” as it relates to govtech or civictech, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Deeper thoughts on this are for another post, but I don’t think either are movements, particularly because there are no real fundamental principles folks in the community can agree on. In order to be a true movement, there must be hardened principles, and Catherine’s are the beginnings of this.

As Catherine mentions, I’m one who strongly believes open source should be at the top of the list, because this is fundamental to everything else below. Unfortunately, as with most government technology companies, CityGrows’ own statement around open source is fairly noncommittal. As mentioned in the post, they are “far from perfect alignment” with the proposed values, so I hope that over time they start to think more open when it comes to their own code.

For those that provide technology services or products to government in this maker meets creative commons day and age, it’s important to realize we live in different times. If you continue to use proprietary in your lexicon or business model, you’ve dated yourself and placed the emphasis on you, your motives and not those of the public.

While it’s tough to overcome the idea that we must control code to be viable, we must accept that even if your interface is better or you have a solid API, you’re only adding incrementally to the innovation and change that’s desperately needed. Eventually, your proprietary technology will be a just a modernized version of the technical morass government finds itself in today.

Open source isn’t just code, it’s culture. The technology license on your product is inherently attached to the civic culture you cultivate. Applying proprietary technology to government is giving license to closed government.

Catherine’s outline for government technology values is a great start. With more solidity on standards for each of these, govtech and civictech can become true movements. Until then, they’re still just industries with loose standards.

‘Smarter Faster Better’ government

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps

I finished reading Charles Duhigg’s latest book, “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business,” and in it are two great government-related anecdotes around motivation and agile thinking.

The first shares how the U.S. Marines re-imagined the boot camp experience to inspire self-motivation and leadership in new recruits. The second is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s well-documented Sentinel project, and it’s subsequent approach to agile development to get the project back on track.

The entire book is worth reading, and these two examples highlight the potential for government to think outside the box and change entrenched ways of thinking, get on a new path to impacting millions of others.

Duhigg is also the author of “The Power of Habit.”

Transforming government without ego

President Barack Obama greets His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the entrance of the Map Room of the White House, June 15, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama greets His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the entrance of the Map Room of the White House, June 15, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

For my friends who work at the U.S. Digital Service, 18F and inside other government agencies of change, I hear stories of people so full of hope, embedded in teams where egos reign, working all day holding onto a glimmer of hope that they can move the needle forward even just a little.

And many days they do.

But there are real challenges to transforming a closed and rigid government dominated by fear and clinging to safe passages. For many, change does not feel safe. I spoke recently with a digital leader inside California’s IT group who knows the dangers of transformation. He joked that his top goal was to get fired within two years.

Ego death is not a bad goal. In fact, it’s probably necessary for the reinvention of our institutions and the survival of our planet.

In 1977, “The Power of Now” author Eckhart Tolle awoke in a semi-lucid dream state and committed ego suicide. He awoke hours later enlightened. Inventor and author Buckminster Fuller had a similar experience in 1927. Most of us have not been so lucky.

Many of us are attracted to practices that move us towards that place of intense joy that comes from being present. In my field, technology, both Free and Open Source development and agile practices have offered me, and many others, a path towards a similar joy.

The public release of your work is the polar opposite to what many of us have experienced— years of creative passion that has been shelved after a closed, waterfall process. For some of us, this relief is temporary. We may find ourselves working long hours, sacrificing ourselves for the common good and feel that we have found the path of enlightenment through this thing called ‘free software’ or ‘agile development.’

Releasing early and publicly has brought our hearts back into our work.

But I will ask you — have we really found the path to being fully present? What happened to the joy? Did we find other enemies out there? Are we open to hearing the pain of our users if it is embedded in their bureaucracy or takes the form of silence in a closed resigned mind?

I have found that agile experts and agile development companies (including my firm CivicActions) often get caught up in personal and collective ego in a way that polarizes. And of course everyone is aware of this in Free and Open Source Software communities. If we are not careful, we can get dogmatic about our process. And this dogmatism can get in the way of progress.

Eckhart Tolle wrote:

What a relief to be freed of the dreadful burden of a personal self. The members of the collective feel happy and fulfilled, no matter how hard they work, how many sacrifices they make. They appear to have gone beyond ego. The question is: Have they truly become free, or has the ego simply shifted from the personal to the collective?

  • A collective ego manifests the same characteristics as the personal ego, such as…the need for conflict and enemies,
  • the need for more,
  • the need to be right against others who are wrong, and so on.

Sooner or later, the collective will come into conflict with other collectives, because it unconsciously seeks conflict and it needs opposition to define its boundary and thus its identity. Its members will then experience the suffering that inevitably comes in the wake of any ego-motivated action.

Working with CivicActions, bringing FOSS and agile into government, I can feel the almost gravitational pull towards collective ego every day.

It goes like this:

  • “The Contracting Officer doesn’t get it.”
  • “The Chief Information Officer is clueless.”
  • “We need a new Product Owner that gets it.”
  • “These NIST rules are contradictory and will make the system less safe.”
  • “The union protects people who refuse to learn or change.”

In “The Art of Business Value,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Chief Information Officer Mark Schwartz writes about this phenomena.

Bureaucracy in an organization often leads to compliance requirements, which in turn generate work items that must be prioritized alongside functional requirements. It is easy to mistake these requirements for waste. Waste is whatever does not add value, and compliance requirements are not concerned with adding direct customer value. This explains the frustration that teams often have when confronted with bureaucracy.

But what if those requirements actually are adding business value — just an indirect and well-disguised type of value?

If the public requires transparency into a government IT project, then activities to provide that transparency are not necessarily waste. If the government values fair competition between vendors and supporting veterans through preferential hiring practices, the additional process steps those concerns add to our IT delivery value chain are not necessarily waste, though they do not add user value.

For those who recognize these quotes, please don’t take these as making you wrong. Instead applaud yourself for noticing that you had those thoughts. Each noticing brings us one step closer to dissolving our own personal or collective ego.

Every moment we notice the voice of judgement, it fires new neural circuits — like lifting a weight at the gym. It’s rewiring your wetware and taking you once step closer towards a more open mind.

As author Jack Kornfield teaches us about meditation:

In this way, meditation is very much like training a puppy. You put the puppy down and say, “Stay.” Does the puppy listen? It gets up and it runs away. You sit the puppy back down again. “Stay.” And the puppy runs away over and over again. You don’t hit the puppy.

We all have minds that create chatter that turns into words. This is how we write code. It’s how we bring value.

But, sometimes our thoughts and words are simply a byproduct of hardened opinions and are blocking us from seeing something important. Let’s simply notice what we all do and how we get seduced by our personal and collective egos. It’s not a bad thing. It’s being human.

But, whenever we feel a judgement coming over us about someone or something ‘out there’ or even ourselves, then just notice if there is some mental position that you (or we) have that is collapsed with our identity. Challenges to that mental position can feel like a threat and those feelings may cause us to close up and become unaware of some important need that is lurking in the other person or in the bureaucracy.

What Schwartz is writing about is that often agile gurus themselves don’t get it. Valuing “people and interactions over process and tools” may need to take into account people that have institutionalized their pain into compliance regimes. It is important to discover.

The point is, especially in agile government initiatives, we need to pay attention to our own higher self in order to sort out the path. We should beware of collective ego as well as our own.

As Tolle writes:

Two or more people express their opinions and those opinions differ. Each person is so identified with the thoughts that make up their opinion, that those thoughts harden into mental positions which are invested with a sense of self. In other words: Identity and thought merge. Once this has happened, when I defend my opinions (thoughts), I feel and act as if I were defending my very self. Unconsciously, I feel and act as if I were fighting for survival and so my emotions will reflect this unconscious belief. They become turbulent. I am upset, angry, defensive, or aggressive. I need to win at all cost lest I become annihilated. That’s the illusion. The ego doesn’t know that mind and mental positions have nothing to do with who you are, because the ego is the unobserved mind itself.

The corporate world is addressing ego head on. Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, co-founded by Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow” Chade-Meng Tan and Marc Lesser, spun out of a Google management program focused on mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Google, and others, have discovered the importance of managing ego and effectively executing large-scale transformation.

At CivicActions, we’ve instituted balance score checkins during scrum standups to strengthen our ability to be present and dissolve ego. We’ve found even this simple exercise makes it easier to open otherwise closing minds.

For those further intrigued by how rewiring the mind works, and how it can be applied to your agile government transformation efforts, see Jenni Jepsen’s “The Neuroscience of Agile Leadership.”

If you have a desire to transform an agency, then the key is to act locally. Locally may mean becoming more present to how your own mental positions are collapsed with your identity and show up through conflict with direct peers. If you find that tension is showing up between your team and other individuals or institutions, then bring your team’s attention to how you may be enabling a collective ego to thrive inside your bubble. Be the opening in the presence of those you feel are closed.

And most importantly, don’t kick yourself. Paying attention and noticing is a fine path towards ego death.

Government vendor as an ‘open organization’

Earlier, I wrote about the book “Open Organization” and, via a post originally published on ProudCity, wanted to share my extended thoughts on how this applies to government vendors in the context of the work I’m doing there.

Open is at the core of ProudCity.

As government service providers, it is our duty to ensure cities get the most sustainable, flexible technology available, so that they can best serve their residents, businesses and visitors.

We will do this by following the ethos of what Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst calls the “open organization.”

In his book, “The Open Organization,” Whitehurst outlines a framework for the open organization, one that applies to both government and companies, likeProudCity, that solely serve the public sector:

An “open organization” — which I define as an organization that engages participative communities both inside and out — responds to opportunities more quickly, has access to resources and talent outside the organization, and inspires, motivates, and empowers people at all levels to act with accountability. The beauty of an open organization is that it’s not about pedaling harder, but about tapping into new sources of power both inside and outside to keep pace with all the fast-moving changes in your environment.

As an open organization with a strong purpose and sense of openness (through collaboration, open source and open data), ProudCity is able to give cities ultimate freedom when it comes to digital services.

By doing this, we’re able to move beyond the traditional — often unpleasant — relationship between government and the private sector and truly empower public sector leaders to respond proactively and keep pace with the fast-moving world of technology.


The only way the cities we serve will be different tomorrow is if our purpose is open.

Whitehurst emphasizes the importance of purpose and passion in an open organization, citing “Conscious Capitalism” by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and Babson College professor Raj Sisodia:

Business has a much broader positive impact on the world when it is based on a higher purpose that goes beyond only generating profits and creating shareholder value. Purpose is the reason a company exists. A compelling sense of higher purpose creates an extraordinary degree of engagement among all stakeholders and catalyzes creativity, innovation, and organization commitment … Higher purpose and shared core values unify the enterprise and elevate it to higher degrees of motivation, performance, and ethical commitment at the same time.

And from “Collective Genius”:

Purpose is often misunderstood. It’s not what a group does, but why it does what it does. It’s not a goal but a reason — the reason it exists, the need it fulfills, and the assistance it bestows. It is the answer to the question every group should ask itself: if we disappeared today, how would the world be different tomorrow?

At ProudCity, our purpose is to enable cities to stand up and scale digital services quickly and cost-effectively. We never want to see a city locked into a proprietary or monolithic platform that quickly becomes stagnant or that they’re stuck with for years because there’s no easy way out.


Collaboration is fundamental to our technology and how we operate internally and externally.

At our GitHub organization, all of our repositories are public and freely available for download and re-use. Anyone who would like to collaborate with us, whether you’re a developer contributing code or a customer with a feature idea or bug to report, can do so via the respective repo issues feature.

Soon, we will make our product roadmap public, where others will have full visibility into upcoming features and can give feedback to help us better prioritize.

We will also do this for the resources we provide, allowing others to contribute and collaborate, helping us build on these and make them better for everyone.

Open source

The ProudCity platform is based on open source technologies, from WordPress andCalypso for the platform and content management systems, to Bootstrap, Node.jsand Font Awesome for the front-end design.

We fully support Automattic’s philosophy as outlined in its Bill of Rights:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • The freedom to redistribute.
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.

Leveraging a fully open source stack allows us to scale our development and build features faster and more frequently (we release new updates every two weeks) and make them immediately available to every city on the ProudCity platform.

It also gives every city we work with ultimate freedom to contribute code and, if they are not satisfied with our service (which is a strong motivation for us to provide excellent customer service/experience), they can easily migrate to another host and service provider. Because these frameworks are supported by thousands of developers around the world, there is a strong support community for all aspects of our platform.

Open data

A critical component of government’s long-term success is leveraging the power of open data and application programming interfaces that pull from internal platforms as well as third-party service providers.

By leveraging the power of open data technology built into the ProudCity platform, cites have ultimate flexibility to easily integrate any service provider (with a well-built API) and exponentially increase their effectiveness. Because the ProudCity platform is based on a REST API, cities are data-driven out the gate.

Open cities

ProudCity and the cities we serve will succeed by living up to open principles like those espoused by Red Hat in “The Open Organization”:

  • People join us because they want to.
  • Contribution is critical, but it’s not a quid pro quo.
  • The best ideas win regardless of who they come from.
  • We encourage and expect open, frank, and passionate debate.
  • We welcome feedback and make changes in the spirit of “release early — release often.”

The only way ProudCity will scale digital innovation for cities around the world is to hold true to principles centered on purpose and openness.

We’re proud to be an open organization.

Government as ‘The Open Organization’

The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance
When most people think “open source,” the first image that comes to mind is code, but open isn’t just technology. It’s also operations and culture with special attention to transparency, participation, collaboration and meritocracy.

In “The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance,” Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst shares how leaders can be more authentic, talking openly about challenges and addressing them through a system based more on those, internally and externally, who have the most to offer. It’s an inspiring read, one most appropriate for elected officials and public sector leaders.

In a nutshell:

An “open organization” — which I define as an organization that engages participative communities both inside and out — responds to opportunities quickly, has access to resources and talent outside the organization, and inspires, motivates and empowers people at all levels to act with accountability. The beauty of an open organization is that it is not about pedaling harder, but about tapping new sources of power both inside and outside to keep pace with all the fast-moving changes in your environment.

One of my favorite excerpts addresses a key issue that plagues some in government, especially the federal level, around relying on the limited aspects of crowdsourcing. While engaging the wisdom of the crowds to generate ideas and opportunities is interesting and helpful, its shortcomings are in cultivating a sustainable community that continues to build and refine a solution:

Open source communities operate on a level beyond crowdsourcing, going beyond the one-way and one-time-only arrangements in which a lot of people give their ideas or answers but don’t engage with each other over time. Instead, the way they operate is better described as open sourcing, where contributors work together as a community, building on each other’s work, to arrive at the best solution to a complicated problem. The communities involve many people working toward a similar outcome. They usually involve a diverse community of people who opt in as a way to work for a common cause about which they are passionate. And the produce results: they are more responsive to fast-changing environments and better at accomplishing “big, hairy, audacious goals” than any one single firm or organization.

Whitehurst shares how institutions can open up by creating platforms that allow everyone in the organization to contribute equally. He discusses how passion, purpose, emotion and emotional intelligence is integral to leading an open organization.

Government is a purpose-driven organization and, as Whitehurst outlines in “The Open Organization,” intrinsic motivation is at the heart of nearly every civil servant. For those who want to learn how government can become a more engaged institution, both internally and externally, “The Open Organization” is the blueprint.

Building an internal digital government champions network

Jenny Cearns from GOV.UK’s Department of Health has a great post on cultivating a community of digital champions within government that mirrors what I know some chief data officers are doing around creating an internal network of data coordinators.

Both programs are aimed at creating community, efficient communications and collaboration and establishing an ongoing, modern-day education program that can serve as a solid foundation for digital awareness and momentum.

From Cearns:

“In a nutshell- the Champions help us and we help them. They’re our eyes and ears across the Department on how digitally savvy we are (or aren’t), and in the process, they get extra learning and development opportunities, whether that be a corporate objective, or a way of making their own working life smarter and more efficient.

“Ultimately being a Digital Champion is about having a ‘digital’ mindset, and by that, I mean being inquisitive and willing to try new things, whilst mindful of our work context and the security it demands. It’s about giving things a go, and thinking about how digital could benefit those we work with too.”

Developing a Digital Champions Network similar to what GOV.UK’s health department has allows for a central team to easily join forces with innovators across agencies or departments and exponentially infuse energy, awareness and action into innovation efforts such as digital and open data.

What’s great about this type of program is that it’s inclusive and scales potential for impact.

Full post: “How to be a Digital Champion

Can government deliver happiness?

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

Within the context of digital government and civic engagement, we focus much of our efforts around concepts like open data, open source, analytics, technical frameworks and user experience, but rarely, if ever, do we discuss proactively delivering happiness to citizens.

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness framework is probably the most well-known and ambitious, and other countries have followed suit in various iterations, including Dubai, who launched a “Happiness Index” in 2014. However, perhaps because concepts around mindfulness and joy in the business context are just beginning to emerge as mainstream, we’ve yet to see this trend within the context of government, especially here in America.

Much like the open data and open source conversations that were meaningfully started more than five years ago and just now starting to come to fruition, I believe this aspect of civic innovation is something that will begin to evolve and grow sooner than later, especially as science continues to prove the value of mindfulness in the context of business.

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I visited parts of chief executive officer Tony Hsieh’s “Downtown Project,” and began diving a little deeper into his work, including the company, Delivering Happiness, that emerged out of the inspiration by the tour for his book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about the concept of civic mindfulness, including how service providers (public and private) can and should go beyond the standard service delivery model and be more proactive around creating an experience that leaves citizens excited and even more happy.

Can citizens ever hope to see a Can government really deliver happiness and, if so, what is a framework for doing so?

I asked Delivering Happiness CEO and Co-founder Jenn Lim to share her thoughts.

What is the inspiration behind “delivering happiness?”

Originally, the intention was to put out a book to share how happiness can be a profitable business model for companies of any size/industry. After our book launch and bus tour, we observed a tipping point — a global demand for happiness filled with amazing stories of people/companies/communities (PCC) making changes after prioritizing (scientific) happiness. Because of this, we decided to evolve it into its own company — today, we help PCCs create sustainable culture change, with happiness.

What is “delivering happiness” in a business context, specifically as it relates to government?

It is about creating a culture and environment that is aligned and unified through a foundation of core values lived in action, led by a vision or higher purpose and fueled with frameworks of happiness and positivity.

We call these the DH culture elements and together they create trust, clarity, alignment, and excellence in a business / government context. They directly result in the outcomes that a global leader, like the Prime Minister of Dubai, is passionate about. Outcomes like excellence in innovation, global unity and a shift in consciousness towards positivity and love.

[The PM of Dubai actually uses the word “love” as 1 of his 3 tenets on his 3 finger salute]

How would government measure happiness?

Like any business, governments are looking to measure happiness through key indicators at the individual (ME), family / company (WE) and National (Community) levels. Measurable key indicators include: 

  • heath/wellbeing
  • engagement/productivity
  • collaboration/innovation
  • service/levels of excellence
  • unity / alignment to higher purpose
  • Positivity markers: Levels of Trust, Creativity, Growth

How are governments exploring and/or deploying happiness into their business practices? If a city, state or federal agency wants to begin factoring in happiness as part of their delivery model, how should they get started?

Happiness is much more than a word. It is an ethos and continuous deepening in Alignment with others and elevation in Consciousness.

Progressive governments and businesses recognize that individuals, teams, communities and countries all want to learn, grow, evolve and thrive / flourish.
To that end, they are deploying “happiness” in their practices by:

  1. Clearly articulating a powerful shared vision and higher purpose
  2. Developing deeply defined shared values
  3. Aligning peoples minds, hearts and souls to these (values, vision, higher purpose)
  4. Inspiring and cultivating the day to day actions and behaviors that bring this alignment to life
  5. Motivating and celebrating (recognition) people’s CHOICES towards these aligned actions and behaviors

How can governments who want to delivery happiness contact you to learn more

They can email me directly ( with questions or check out: