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Bryan Sivak is Maryland's New 'Chief Innovation Officer'

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, April 27 2011

Former Washington, D.C. Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak is now Maryland's first-ever "chief innovation officer."

Sivak is on his second day at work today as the newest member of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's team, where he'll be working with cabinet secretaries to help them achieve their policy goals and tackle new projects. He has no staff or budget to start with — "this is just me," he says.

"I'd like to define what it means to have a program of innovation built into government," Sivak told me this morning. "If you can systemize what it means to be innovative, what it means to challenge the status quo without a budget, without a lot of resources, then you've created something that can be replicated anywhere."

That's what he understands his new role to be: Acting as a kind of release valve for the risk that other executives assume when they try new approaches to old problems. To build that role, he said, he's looking to the small group of other people across the country who are working in the same way, like the federal Department of Health and Human Services' Todd Park or the City of Boston's Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood.

Sivak's work will almost certainly include contributing to the creation of one of the country's first health insurance exchanges, the state-run marketplaces for individuals to purchase health insurance that were called for in the federal Affordable Care Act passed last year. Some states already have similar marketplaces, and O'Malley recently signed legislation into law calling for the creation of Maryland's own.

That's just one possible project, and on Day Two, it's not set in stone where Sivak is going to go and what he's going to do. But Sivak, who is an energetic advocate for bringing a tolerance for risk and experimentation to government similar to what you'd find in the tech sector, is likely to focus on trying to change the way government works as much as he will focus on individual projects.

"The biggest challenge is showing people that there is a different way and it's not going to get them fired," Sivak told me.

"It's been a working theory of mine," he later added, "that to be successful with technology initiatives you need to attack the underlying culture and process first."

If that sounds familiar, it's because advocates with similar goals, like Park, and Jacob, and the White House's Chris Vein, all have similar lines. Sivak is the latest example of someone with that combination of organizational and technical knowledge making his way into a position where he could potentially affect significant change.

Sivak discussed his time in DC with our Micah Sifry on a Personal Democracy Forum Network conference call that is available here.

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