Defense Acquisition University pilots look to provide measurement of DOD’s innovation readiness

With the Innovate to Win initiative, DAU hopes to be able to provide a more accurate look into the innovation readiness level of the Pentagon's workforce.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Glover, 15th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, installs the omni-directional antenna on the portable operations network integrator during an innovation demonstration at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Oct. 18, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

The Defense Acquisition University has introduced a self-assessment model and metric that it hopes to scale across the Defense Department to better measure innovation readiness across the U.S. military.

DAU introduced the Innovate to Win initiative earlier this spring to provide three elements to the Pentagon’s workforce: an innovation competencies and skills model, a self-assessment and resulting innovation readiness metric, and curated learning recommendations for each worker.

With those elements, the organization hopes to be able to provide a more accurate look into the innovation readiness level of the DOD workforce, Dr. Marina Theodotou, the head of the program within DAU, said during a recent Daily Scoop podcast interview.

“What we looked at was the big challenge of how do we provide the workforce with the baseline innovation skills they need?” Theodotou said. “Our National Defense Strategy and the [National Defense Authorization Act] are prompting us to always be more innovative. How do I out-innovate the adversary?”


So, DAU began by building the competencies and skills model that was “triangulated” with “academic research, industry practice and DOD innovation cell context to make sure that what we’re recommending is relevant to the DOD,” Theodotou said. That resulted in a model developed around 15 competencies and three domains: thinking innovatively, collaborating innovatively and cultivating innovation.

With that, DAU has given the Pentagon’s workforce a self-assessment to let personnel measure their confidence in those 15 competencies. If there are areas that people score low in, the model will recommend education programs they can access through DAU.

But ultimately, with enough personnel using the model, it is meant to deliver the innovative readiness metric.

“Each individual is for the first time able to gauge their own innovation readiness. And this is powerful,” Theodotou said. “It’s great. It’s a rudimentary tool, but it didn’t exist before. So it’s a good start to give supervisors and team leaders this baseline gauge — where are we today when it comes to workforce innovation readiness? And where do we want to go?”

So far, DAU has taken the pilot program through four iterations and plans to take those learnings, iterate again, and expand the initiative to the wider DOD workforce, hoping to reach 10,000 members starting in October.


“We’re looking forward to having workforce members dive into their own learning journeys through this expansion, and then from there to continue iterating and broadening to more members of the workforce,” Theodotou said.

When used widely enough, the innovation metric could allow DOD leaders — let’s say Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks — to ask the question: “What is our innovation readiness?” she said.

“She can have an answer, provided that members of the workforce have completed their self-assessments,” Theodouto said. “So all that data can scale up to one number, which is quite powerful … We can now make data-driven decisions of how to allocate resources and where so that we can close the gaps that we have. And additionally, we know where our strengths are, when it comes to innovation. Is it collaborating? Is it growth mindset? Is it allyship? Is it networking? So when supervisors are trying to pull together innovation teams, or scale innovation, they can actually look at that metric and know exactly what the strengths of their team are and leverage those to actually push innovation forward.”

She continued: “Traditionally, the narrative within the DOD is, of course, on technology and closing the Valley of Death [in the acquisition system that hinders new capabilities from being fielded]. But it is critical to remember that it’s people that actually are going to choose the right technologies, and they’re going to change the processes to close the Valley of Death. So we are refocusing the effort and the spotlight on the people and making sure that they have the skills, the motivation and the culture so that they can leverage their innovation skills.”

Billy Mitchell

Written by Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell is Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of Scoop News Group's editorial brands. He oversees operations, strategy and growth of SNG's award-winning tech publications, FedScoop, StateScoop, CyberScoop, EdScoop and DefenseScoop. Prior to joining Scoop News Group in early 2014, Billy embedded himself in Washington, DC's tech startup scene for a year as a tech reporter at InTheCapital, now known as DC Inno. After earning his degree at Virginia Tech and winning the school's Excellence in Print Journalism award, Billy received his master's degree from New York University in magazine writing while interning at publications like Rolling Stone.

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