VA Rolls Out 'Innovators Networks' at 8 Sites

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The new program aims to get employees to test out new ideas.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to build a "culture of innovation" among its employees, beginning with hiring full-time "innovation specialists" for one year at eight pilot facilities.

Last week, VA announced the "Innovators Network" -- a broad initiative to get employees to contribute their own ideas about how to improve veteran services. In addition to the new innovation specialists, each pilot facility plans to offer training in topics such as entrepreneurship and "human-centered design," a technology-development process prioritizing ease-of-use instead of the back-end infrastructure.

The eight sites also plan to operate grant programs for employee ideas in the prototype, pilot and implementation stages. Grantees will participate in a five-month technology accelerator program. 

VA physicians have come up with medical technology ideas including pacemakers, bar codes to ensure the correct medication is administered and artificial limbs that respond to electrical brain impulses, VA Secretary Bob McDonald wrote in a blog post. 

"We won’t solve longstanding problems with the same approach and mindset that contributed to problems in the first place," McDonald wrote in the post. "To adapt quickly to our customers’ needs, and test and create new solutions, we must operate in an open and agile fashion that embraces the principles of innovation."

The grant initiative, called the "Spark-Seed-Spread" innovation funding program, awards between $5,000 and $500,000 for employee-led projects. It is modeled after the Department of Health and Human Services' "Ignite Accelerator," also for staff inventions, and other innovation-themed programs in the federal government, according to VA. 

Pilot sites include Atlanta; Boston; San Francisco; Milwaukee; Portland, Oregon; Jackson, Mississippi; Biloxi, and Chillicothe, Ohio.

Depending on this year's results, the program could expand to other health facilities next year, and eventually beyond the Veterans Health Administration, according to VA. 

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