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  • Case Study

US Department of Veteran Affairs

Putting good tools in smart people’s hands: the US Department of Veterans Affairs uses Kindling to improve services for 22 million veterans.

Whether it’s providing medical care to a Vietnam veteran, processing disability claims for a Gulf War Marine, or helping a deployed soldier provide for his family, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ purpose is to provide veterans and their families with the benefits they have earned.

But that’s a growing challenge. Founded in 1776, today’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) serves approximately 22 million veterans and manages more than 170 hospitals, 350+ outpatient, community and outreach clinics and 126 nursing home units. As its client base increases and operating systems grown more complex, the department must find ways to adapt and thrive. Fortunately, the White House couldn’t agree more.

In August 2009, President Barack Obama addressed attendees of the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix. He announced a competition, challenging all 57 regional VA offices to propose solutions for harnessing information technologies and breakthrough the bureaucracy.

“And then we’re going to fund the best ideas and put them into action,” he said. “All with a simple mission—cut those backlogs, slash those wait times and deliver your benefits sooner.”

Obama’s administration quickly backed up this promise with $5 million committed to fund ideas inside the VA, and another $80 million to develop ideas benefitting veterans within the private sector. Furthermore, the president tasked his chief performance officer, chief technology officer and chief information officer to work with VA Secretary Shinseki and reform the system. The folks at Kindling were honored to help.

Institutionalizing Innovation

In early 2009 the VA had been using a free innovation tool to manage ideas, but found it clumsy and unable to properly administer high-volume campaigns.

Later that year, Kindling CEO Tim Meaney had the chance to meet VA CTO Peter Levin. After learning more about what Levin and his team were trying to accomplish, Meaney and his team built a fully customized version of Kindling designed to capture and manage ideas coming out of VA’s flagship program, VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2).

Launched in August 2009, VAi2 was a competition in which VA employees, private sector companies, entrepreneurs, and academic leaders were invited to contribute their best ideas for innovations that increase Veterans’ access to VA services, improve the quality of services delivered, enhance the performance of VA operations, and reduce or control the cost of delivering those services that Veterans and their families receive.

VAi2 promised to identify, prioritize, fund, test, and deploy the most promising solutions to the VA’s most important challenges.

Using Kindling to collect, administer, and approve ideas was a success. Kindling’s flexible setup, including the ability for user groups to be inherited from VA’s internal IT and day-one usability, resulted in high participation numbers. Kindling’s user-friendly campaign and rooms features kept VAi2 project users engaged and organized.

Peak activity reached over 4,500 government employee logins on one day. And over the 6 week campaign, thousands of ideas were posted, challenged and evolved. Across the two campaigns more than 1mm total requests for the innovation portal were made.

  • The Result: 16 viable concepts, 10 of which were funded from the president’s $5 million budget.
  • Ideas submitted by VA employees that were implemented through the 2009 Kindling innovation portal include:
  • An electronic discharge system that replaces a 42 step paper-based system.

An online system that empowers Veterans to manage their prescriptions online.

Development of a VA specific search engine that helps employees locate forms, regulatory information and reference material.

“Cost-cutting and new products are great but innovation is the most exciting when it actually makes a difference in people’s lives,” says Meaney.

Round Two: Bigger and better

In 2011, the VA reached out to Kindling for help with another VAi2 campaign. Kindling had added several new features since the 2009 version, and the VA had additional government regulations to meet. Eric Shenton, Assistant Director, Program/Project Management for the VA was pivotal in making the Innovation Initiative a success. Under his watch, the 2011 campaign results rivaled 2009 numbers. When the VAi2 campaign closed in May, more than 4,000 total ideas had been submitted across the campaigns.

“The ideas generated as a result of the competition will greatly impact the lives of Chapter 31 participants in a variety of ways from increased Veteran face-time with counselors, to how Veterans pay for books on college campuses. We had extraordinary results [with Kindling] that exceeded expectations with this competition,” says Shenton.

While the final results haven’t come in yet, there’s no question that VA’s customized Kindling database is holding powerful ideas to support VA’s goal of getting the right services to the right people at the right time. “Putting good tools in smart people’s hands is a great way to solve problems,” says Levin. We couldn’t agree more.