Dec. 7, 2015 12:30 pm

5 ways to foster innovation within your organization

OIT's Eliza Pollack presented a quick case study at #RiseConf15. The takeaway? Don't get too ahead of yourself by forgetting about the basics.

Eliza Erickson at's 2015 Rise Conference.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Kendig Photography)

If anybody knows how to develop and foster a network of innovators within a larger organizational structure in Philadelphia, it’s the Office of Innovation and Technology. Webbing out from the department’s full time staff of seven, the OIT has extended its reach across government departments and out into communities by building from the ground up.

At‘s Rise Conference, Program Manager Eliza Pollack presented a case study examining the methodology behind shaping an innovative and organized culture in steps. Oh, and she did it in five minutes. Here’s what she shared.

1. Focus on basic operations first. 

Simple, but often overlooked — and easily so. Before you start executing your lofty ideas or even begin building the capacity to take those ideas on, make sure the basics are functioning properly. Pollack said that means getting your primary communications channels like email in place before moving onto more innovative, larger projects.

2. Coordinate place, people and process. 

This, Pollack said, is the crux of what the city and OIT have done really successfully.

“We have an Innovation Lab that’s a place for innovation, an Innovation Academy that trains city employees, and a process by way of our Innovation Fund working group that helps folks think through the best ideas,” Pollack said.

3. Create a network of innovators within a larger organization. 

Considering OIT’s full-time staff is a mere seven, they build capacity needed to execute larger projects (i.e. Center City STEM) through the Innovation Academy.

“We’ve created a network of innovators from folks that have graduated from the Innovation Academy,” Pollack said. “We have a core of 75 folks we consider to be part of that network.”

All those city employees have more or less become brand ambassadors for OIT, extending the department’s reach (and subsequently, innovation) across the city’s service offerings.

4. Build capacity and leadership around innovation. 

Pollack said the next step, logically, is to tap the network of resources you’ve created within and outside of your organization. With the right process, little oversight or management is necessary.

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Pollack said by allowing Academy grads to become leaders in the innovation space, OIT has given them the ability to take their innovation and leadership to the next level by becoming influencers.

5. Figure out what’s next. 

“In order to keep ourselves interested in innovation, we are always thinking about what’s next,” Pollack said. “If you don’t continue to do new things, you’re not actually innovating.”


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