A Diagnostic Tool to Help You Innovate

Want to Innovate but Don’t Know Where to Start?

For the last 10 weeks, we’ve discussed innovation in the public sector—why it’s important, what bars it from happening, and where organizations and agencies have successfully found innovative new ways of tackling pressing social issues in areas such as health care, social services, and education. Along the way, we identified five key areas where organizations should focus on making a culture of innovation a reality. First, senior officials and team managers at all levels must lead by example and make clear the importance of innovation. Next, agencies must develop financing tools that help enable innovation. Organizations must also create an open and permeable culture that allows truly cross-cutting innovations to take root. Further, organizations need to be responsive to employees and stakeholders and offer appropriate incentives to reward innovative approaches. Finally, all of these elements must be united within a comprehensive plan to promote innovation in your agency and partner organizations. This last piece in our series is a diagnostic tool for use by you, your colleagues, and your leadership. Your answers to questions on each of the five elements of innovation will produce a report that will broadly identify your agency’s strengths and weaknesses. It is our hope that this report will aid and guide you in choosing next steps as your agency works to become more innovative.

Quiz: Innovation for the Public Good

Background Information

These demographic questions are entirely optional. We will be collecting the results of this quiz for research purposes, and your answers to these questions will help us put your scores in context. If you do not wish to provide this information, please skip to the Leadership section below.
For which agency do you work?
You do not need to name a cabinet-level agency; for example a staffer at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention could name the CDC or Health and Human Services.

Do you have staff management responsibilities?
With what is your role primarily concerned?
Is innovation a part of your job specification or role?
Please enter your email address so we can get in touch.
Strictly optional.


The following questions will assess the level of commitment to innovation displayed by leaders in your organization.
Political leaders in my agency talk openly about the importance of trying new things in order to accomplish better outcomes.
Think about the agency you named earlier
Which of the following statements rings true?
Do you feel senior managers in your agency have created space for you to experiment with new ideas even if they might sometimes prove unsuccessful?
Including, but not limited to, secretaries, assistant secretaries, and program directors.


These questions will determine whether your organization has taken steps to invest funds in innovative new approaches to solving social problems.
Does your agency provide small amounts of funding to develop or test new ways of working? Either to outside organizations or to internal teams.
Where an idea is successful at small scale, my agency will provide funding to try and expand the model.
Has your agency been able to draw in other partners to help fund new ideas? For instance, you may combine funds from foundations or the private sector with those from government.


The following questions will assess the extent to which your organization fosters an open, permeable environment to grow new ideas.
Which of the following statements best describes your agency’s openness to new ideas from outsiders?
Do you have mechanisms for listening to staff and their ideas?
Can you name five organizations that you feel are bringing new or alternative approaches to your field?


These questions will determine whether your organization gathers important data and offers sufficient incentives to encourage innovation.
Do you have good data on the relative performance of your programs in meeting your core outcomes?
Not just in measuring the level or quantity of activity.
How many instances can you think of where funds were stopped or diverted away from programs in your agency that were not performing well or were not used by beneficiaries, in favor of reallocating the resources to other interventions?
What proportion of your time is devoted to coming up with new and better ways of doing things?

Innovation Plans

These questions will assess whether your organization has a comprehensive plan to foster and encourage innovative new ideas.
Which of the following statements rings true?
My agency is clear about where innovation is most needed and how it can help to achieve improvements in our performance.
Do you have access to people with specialist skills in innovation within your agency?
This might be through a designated unit for innovation or it could just be a range of individuals who specialize in designing, prototyping, or scaling innovations.

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This is the final installment of a weekly column on government innovation produced by CAP’s Doing What Works team in partnership with the Bellwether Education Partners and the Young Foundation, as part of the “Innovation for the Public Good” series supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. To read more about social innovation in the public sector, see Doing What Works reports “Scaling New Heights” and “Capital Ideas“, and the Young Foundation report “Ready or Not? Taking innovation in the public sector seriously“.