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Facilitating Innovation in the Federal Statistical System: Summary of a Workshop
problem with developing successful projects is not in getting the correct people, but in getting agencies to offer any people at all.
Nathaniel Schenker (National Center for Health Statistics) mentioned the importance of transferring methods and techniques invented at one agency to others. Wallman asked how one can institutionalize the idea that interagency collaborative work is part of what is expected of statistical agency staff, rather than something extra that is not important to their jobs.
John Eltinge emphasized the importance of ensuring that interagency initiatives resonate and be consistent with the mission of an agency’s department as well as appropriate congressional committees. In this connection, he suggested that since selling risk and cost may be difficult, the statistical system could consider framing initiatives as value added rather than as innovations.
In considering next steps to innovation, David Banks stressed the point made by Schenker about the importance of transferring innovative ideas from one agency to another. Nancy Gordon supported the concept but cautioned that to be successful it is necessary to deal with the “not invented here” syndrome.
CASE STUDIES AND BEST PRACTICES
Schenker returned to the idea of case studies and suggested that what is needed is a prestigious way to publish papers on case studies and innovative ways of using existing techniques. With respect to best practices, Roderick Little cautioned that best practices can be the opposite of innovation: a best practice may be considered the best thing to do—so why try something else?
In his closing comments, Louis returned to the reason that innovation is critical for statistical agencies at this time. One of the important reasons is that the assumptions and models on which the statistical system was built are changing. He made the analogy that, at one time, “Biostatistics Department” was the equivalent of a brand name for all things in biostatistics, but that is no longer true. This analogy holds for the federal statistical system: it is no longer the only place where federal statistics is done in every sense. Increasingly, for example, there are other sources for data. He suggested that although it might not be a sufficient step, the system may find it necessary to elevate the amount and visibility of innovation and research to maintain its brand name in federal statistics.