GovConnect Phase 1 Program Workshop Agenda

The Office of Personnel Management, the White House Personnel Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, and 18F co-hosted a workshop in early September to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the next phase of development for GovConnect, or the experiences of individuals who’ve worked with an agile workforce program similar to the GovConnect pilots currently in place.

OPM is co-leading President Barack Obama’s second-term management agenda people and culture goal with the White House Presidential Personnel Office. GovConnect is an employee engagement subgoal led by OPM and the EPA.

To respond to the federal government’s professional development and engagement challenge, OPM, EPA, and 18F are working on a strategy that includes administrative and communication measures to improve federal government’s workforce development, recruitment, and retention.

The goal of GovConnect is to create a culture of excellence by implementing a new model of a mobile, agile, innovative, and skilled federal workforce that is based on team collaboration and responsiveness to mission demands, rather than being unnecessarily limited by organizational siloes.

Every agency, and every employee, has a stake in improving workforce development.

Here are key points made by participants at the meeting:

  1. Create a strong problem statement. Lay out the problem clearly with a definite objective. How will the team measure success, progress? Make sure employees have the tools they need to solve the problem and supervisors/mid-level managers are not hampering employees’ efforts as they solve it. Monitor how employees are empowered, encouraged to innovate.
  2. Personalize design for support, administration, communication, etc., within the scope of the agency’s culture. Make a concerted effort to appeal to employees with underutilized skills to give them opportunities to engage in higher-level work. Aim to create a team represented by people with a mix of commitment with the agency’s core mission and their own desire to grow as a professional.
  3. Look for ways to “feed the elephant” as the project progresses. Select champions - among employees and mid-level - to maintain enthusiasm for the project, to move it forward; celebrate different phases/developments, and communicate creatively to drum up support and to advance awareness of the project, its purpose, and effectiveness.

Overview of Research Findings Highlights Areas of Concern

Brad Nunnally presented the results of primary research conducted prior to the workshop. The purpose was to collect input based on the participants and outcomes of the pilot and mentor agencies:

  • The research had two goals: First, to provide agencies involved with GovConnect best practices, pitfall warnings, and areas of opportunities for program improvement in Phase II. Second, to provide agencies considering developing agile workforce approaches with a “Quick Start Guide” to help them launch.
  • Issues related to technology were the key areas of concern among many pilot programs. Others mentioned the difficulties in attracting more employees and sustaining energy and enthusiasm, and how it changed over time.
  • Several of the participants mentioned that developing a problem statement may be confusing.

Participants Describe Their Experiences With Their Pilot Programs

As they brainstormed, workshop attendees evaluated each other’s ideas, which were based on their own experiences developing and implementing both the policy and technical backbone their agency’s pilot programs.

Participants asked and answered difficult questions, internalized the responses, and empowered everyone in the room to contribute to a solution as they outlined parts of the proposed Starter Kit. The GovConnect team used affinity cluster of themes participants stated to frame the discussion about must-haves in an ideal starter kit guide table of contents. Some of the considerations participants made as they worked to draft a guide for future program creators included:

  • What tools or resources could the agency or others provide to help those working with their own programs?
  • How could encouraging internal champions be improved?
  • Are there particular resource guides, technical documents, or training materials that would be useful in your work?
  • Would it be useful to form an ongoing GovConnect community group, and how could such a group be organized/structured?
  • How do we present a unified face to employees and supervisors, speak their language?
  • Do we have any gaps (products, services, technology) when it comes to fulfilling our mission?
  • How do teams create a safer space for experimentation?

The GovConnect team facilitated the process by cutting up different prototypes and grouping the sections based on content type such as How to Design a Program and the Tools that You Need to Make It Work and Defining the Why/the Vision. Then teams spent some time with each section, and dot voted to see what topics are really important or what they wanted to know about. The results dictated ultimately what became the outline for the guide.

Participants Shape New Prototype For Future Programs

Attendees contributed to creating the Starter Kit by outlining chief sections based on the research presented during the two-day gathering and their response to that research. While organized in small collaborative teams, attendees described each section as they designed what type of content should go into the guide. Each team presented their suggestions to the broader group for review and critique. The project team took those “designed” sections and used them as a baseline for the Starter Kit, which will help agencies create their own agile workforce development programs.

The outcome of the GovConnect Phase 1 Evaluation workshop was a rough prototype of the Starter Kit Guide, which was validated on the second day of the workshop. During the workshop, the GovConnect team presented its findings from all the research conducted to date, which included interviews with mentors, pilot program participants, and stakeholders. The findings provided an overview of the patterns and common issues discovered during the interviews, yet were not tied to any one agency or pilot program.

It appeared that initially participants seemed hesitant to be critical of their programs. The biggest challenge was giving good critique, allowing participants to see that critique is helpful, necessary, and not problematic.

The workshop enabled leaders of existing federal government workforce development pilot programs to share their best-practices, blockers, advice, and other insight. Federal employees, representing 11 agencies, learned from each other as they shared their experiences, often using adhesive notes and whiteboards to describe their work. Later, mentors, or individuals who either teach or coach pilot programs on how to succeed, reviewed the ideas generated by the larger group.

Both groups reflected on how GovConnect is operating as a program and how it is helping other programs. Technology was repeated frequently as a barrier - for example, human resources personnel charged with creating their own programs may not have the technical know-how or access to certain tools to pull off the program. Another challenge echoed was concern about how to effectively market the program and attract attention to get more employees on board to help or use it. The synthesis of both groups’ feedback created the foundation for the GovConnect Starter Kit.

A net benefit of the workshop was collecting useful information from people from different agencies with different points of view and giving them an opportunity to meet and find common ground. Everything in the Starter Kit is others people’s thoughts, packaged in a digestible way. It leverages the knowledge of federal employees and serves as a way to improve access for employees.