This article originally appeared on VAntage Point, Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Guest blog post by Andrea Ippolito, VA Innovators Network Lead, and Daniel Peaceman, VA Innovators Network Operations Lead
Editor’s Note: MEP Centers are poised to support the Veterans Administration in their new endeavor: the VA Innovators Network Accelerator pilot program. The VA has established a new full-time position called an ‘innovation specialist’ at eight VA Medical Centers across the United States and MEP Centers can partner with them to help them achieve their goals of testing new ideas, products and processes on a small scale.
Last fall, Secretary Bob McDonald announced the launch of the VA Innovators Network in order to provide a way for VA employees to test new ideas and team with partners to improve the way we serve Veterans. The VA Center for Innovation initiated the program by embedding a living laboratory in several medical centers to engage employees in supporting the MyVA transformation by creating the best possible customer experience to serve Veterans and their families.
To accomplish this, we established a new full-time position called an ‘innovation specialist’ at eight VA Medical Centers across the United States: the Atlanta VA Medical Center, Boston VA Healthcare System, Chillicothe VA Medical Center, Gulf Coast VA Healthcare System, Portland VA Healthcare System, San Francisco VA Medical Center, Sonny Montgomery VA Medical Center,and the Zablocki VA Medical Center.
Since the program began, the VA Innovators Network has trained more than 1,220 employees on human centered design and other innovation-related competencies to help empower front line employees. We have shared and implemented nine innovations across the network to help improve the speed in which we can transform the experience for Veterans by using innovation.
One example is the Care in the Community Tool called CITCoM. This innovation improved the timeliness of the information transfer to third-party administrators as part of the Choice Program. According to a product fffectiveness study, the tool cut the time by more than half and ensures Veterans’ records are transferred in the most efficient manner possible and increases care safety.
In the next major phase for the VA Innovators Network, we are excited to announce the start of the VA Innovators Network Accelerator to provide a pathway for employees to co-design with Veterans – working together to develop and deploy innovations that create the best possible experience for Veterans and their families with VA.
Innovation is not just ideas; it’s the conversion of a new idea into an impact, whether it’s for employees or directly for our Veterans. To help enable this vision, the VA Innovators Network Accelerator is supported by the Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Funding Program, which provides three tiers of funding to support different levels of innovation efforts. These include ‘spark’ grants to support proof of concepts, ‘seed’ grants to support pilots of innovations, and ‘spread’ grants to support diffusion of innovations across the VA.
Testing new ideas, products and processes on a small scale will prevent VA from committing significant resources on a large scale to ideas that don’t work as they were designed. The accelerator model helps achieve this goal by allowing employees and collaborating Veterans to test small — and fail small — during the innovation process.
Through the accelerator, our goal is to also train VA employees on innovation-related competencies. As front line employees, they know the challenges all too well, and are therefore the best equipped to identify potential solutions.
Through the VA Innovators Network Accelerator, our vision is to arm employees with the right skills to solve problems effectively through innovation, requiring a relentless commitment to prioritizing the needs of Veterans over the needs of the agency. In particular, we are focused on training employees on human centered design, which helps us to understand what our customers really need so that we can create solutions that are relevant and important to them.
After a competitive application process, close to 40 teams were selected to participate in the VA Innovators Network Accelerator program. The program officially kicked off in April with training boot camp in Washington, D.C., where participants pitched their innovation projects to subject matter experts at VA.
During the camp, attendees trained on new innovation-related methodologies, and received rigorous mentoring to help propel their projects forward. Throughout the next four months, participants will receive training every other week on a variety of topics, including entrepreneurship, intellectual property, creating business models and innovation value creation. All of the participants will submit video summaries of their projects and progress halfway through the accelerator program. The program will culminate in the VA Innovators Network Accelerator Demo Day, including a kickoff presentation by Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin.
If you are interested in learning more about VA Innovators Network, you can sign up here.