Meet Lateral Innovation


By: Katherine Tobin


Lateral Innovation, you say? As opposed to forward innovation? Why can’t it be both? Lateral Innovation (LI), a new division within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, focuses on amplifying, accelerating, and maximizing innovative efforts across the Intelligence Community and wider U.S. government. What does that look like? For starters, we are launching a series of articles highlighting the innovative efforts across the Community. Consider this Q&A your introduction to both LI and this series. (Very meta, we know.)


Q: What kinds of problems do you solve, and for whom?


A: As an ODNI office, our focus is on the entire Community, whether that’s working with agencies directly or with ODNI on behalf of the IC. Basically, if you have an email address that ends in ic.gov, we care about you! In terms of the problems we solve, here are our three major lines of effort:

  1. Connecting and amplifying the innovation that’s already happening in the agencies. Innovation in a bureaucracy is tough, so let’s make it easier to build on each other’s successes and learn from each other’s setbacks. We aim to not only serve as super-connectors for innovators across the federal government, but we will also be sharing what we learn via this series—please follow along and join in the conversation!
  2. Leading design sprints to “3D print bureaucracy.” In other words, helping people in the IC make their ideas a little more real, and quickly. This includes stakeholder identification, customer discovery, problem deconstruction, ideation, prototyping, and user testing—all in under a week.
  3. Creating a science and technology discussion “easy button.” Through the Intelligence, Science, and Technology Partnership (In-STeP), the ODNI affords the IC and federal partners the opportunity to deepen understanding of cutting-edge technologies and innovative business practices being developed both inside and outside of government.


Q: What is one of your successes?


A: Earlier this year, a team at ODNI reached out to us and said they needed to come up with a new plan for managing records. Their original plan had run into problems in the implementation phase, so they needed new thinking for version 2.0. My team led them through a design sprint session, in which they interviewed stakeholders, identified pain points with the status quo and previous efforts, ideated bold new solutions, learned how other agencies are tackling this challenge, created prototypes of a potential new solution, and solicited feedback from future users. In under a week, they had a new plan with stakeholder support and had already overcome some initial hurdles.


Q: What challenges do you face?


A: We are a small team. So it can be hard to accomplish all we’d like to, short of working weekends or cloning ourselves. But every week, we meet others in the IC who share our goals and we have been able to leverage the work of other offices. As we like to say, “Not invented here? Awesome!” However, we are growing and also participate in the Virtual Student Federal Service internship program, which allows students to work remotely from their universities during the school year.


Q: Where does your team fall in the organization and how can people find you?


A: Lateral Innovation Division, housed within the Transformation and Innovation Office in ODNI’s Strategy and Engagement Component. Try to say that three times fast! You can learn more about us on our website or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Q: Can you describe your team with one image?


A: Image result for rob lowe greatest idea ever gif


Q: How can the Community partner with you?


A: If you’re working on an innovative effort, we’d love to feature you in this series and connect you with others in the Community. Creative thinker? Please join us in a design sprint. We always welcome more participants in the In-STeP 1:1 meetings with the private sector, so please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to learn more. In general, if you want to make the IC a better place but don’t know where to start, reach out and we’re happy to chat.


Want to learn more about innovation across the IC? Stay tuned for future blog posts highlighting the great work of your colleagues, as well as opportunities to collaborate.


Source: DNI

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