Employee Participation Through OpenED

Aligned to goals:
  • 4.1: Encourage openness and communication about effectiveness within the Department.
  • 4.2: Enhance Departmental internal collaboration capabilities.

OpenED

President Obama pledged to look for budget-cutting ideas from the bottom up, saying he would establish a process through which every government worker could submit ideas on how to save money. In February 2009, to heed the President's call, Secretary Duncan established in the Department the OpenED project to help identify cost savings and improvements across the agency.

OpenED is an established, Department-wide, employee idea-creation and collaboration project created and managed by the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service (PPSS), for the chief of staff in the Office of the Secretary (OS),. Along with an e-mail account and hard-copy suggestion box, OpenED operates an online forum that provides the opportunity for employees to engage in ongoing, productive discussions about ideas to enhance the work of the Department. The forum seeks to draw upon the institutional knowledge and creativity of all Department employees to improve programs and Department operations.

This IT application allows all employees access to the system using their network authorization. Once in the system, employees can enter an idea into the forum and other employees may read or comment on the new idea. All entries are accessible and visible to each employee in the agency. This open discussion typically leads to further development of the idea or results in a better solution surfacing relative to the topic. Employees can vote on ideas in the forum, resulting in the most highly rated idea (based on the greatest number of yes votes) rising to the top of the list. Employees are encouraged to enter into discussions and participate regularly in forum discussions. OpenED Forum can be accessed from connectED, the Department's Intranet site.

Sustainable governance structure

To sustain and manage all operations of the OpenED Forum, PPSS staff created a partnership between PPSS (OPEPD) and OS and set up a steering committee of staff representing both offices. PPSS staff run operations of OpenED Forum and OS staff provide leadership and input on operations.

The steering committee established a reading committee for the purpose of reviewing the hundreds of ideas submitted to the Forum.

The Reading Committee

The OpenED Forum Reading Committee reviews and manages the evaluation process of forum postings for the purpose of determining which ideas are beneficial that may improve or enhance the work of the Department. The Reading Committee connects with the Steering Committee throughout the review process to ensure concurrence between both committees and adherence to the goals of the OpenED Forum.

The Reading Committee consists of seven members, with six of them selected from three different principal offices. Each principal office designates a manager and non-manager staff member to represent its office. This mixed membership provides a balance between levels of leadership within the Department. The Reading Committee serves for a period of six months, after which a new group of representatives from three other Principal Operating Components (POCs) are designated to serve.

Steering Committee's Role in the Idea Review

The Steering Committee determines the three POCs that will be asked to designate staff to work on the Reading Committee for a period of six months. The Steering Committee reviews the work of the Reading Committee, including its recommendations and POC reviews of ideas considered for implementation. The Steering Committee determines which ideas will be implemented and sends their recommendations to the chief of staff for approval. For each idea implemented, the Steering Committee is responsible for ensuring that the Department employee who generated the original idea receives recognition by Department leadership.

PPSS staff on the Steering Committee represent the Department at the government-wide ideation community run by the Assistant Deputy Chief Technology Officer, Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President. PPSS staff respond to e-mails and calls from employees across the Department related to the OpenED initiative. The Steering Committee coordinates all Department-wide communications for OpenED and advertises regularly to encourage participation.

To date, 1,124 employees (approximately 25 percent of Department employees) have logged on to OpenED Forum, accumulating a total of 8,519 visits to the site since its inception. Currently, the forum contains eight topics for discussion, which have generated approximately 250 new ideas, producing 195 sublevel discussions about these ideas. One topic alone received 62 new ideas, generating 72 sublevel postings.