Steering Success in Innovation

Communication, community engagement are key focuses of Innovation Task Force Steering Committee.

January 11, 2010

by Jamie L. Freedman

GW’s Innovation Initiative is well underway, propelled by a 13-member steering committee chaired by Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Lenn. The bold initiative, announced in November by President Steven Knapp, calls for GW to increase its investment in academic and research priorities over the course of the next five years by a perpetual rate of $60 million per year.

The steering committee, composed of leaders from across the University, oversees the process and coordinates with the Task Force’s working groups focusing on business processes and academic innovation. “Our overall goal is to introduce excellence through innovation as a central part of the GW culture,” says Dr. Lenn. “The steering committee is made up of people who understand the big picture at GW and focus on getting things done and moving forward.”

Communication and community engagement are the committee’s central focuses in these early months. “Sarah Baldassaro, GW’s assistant vice president for communications and a member of our steering committee, has taken the lead on developing a communications strategy to best publicize the innovation process to the GW community,” Dr. Lenn says.

“Our goal is to encourage as many members of the GW community as possible to participate in the process and to share their ideas on how we can take the University to the next level through innovation,” says Ms. Baldassaro. “We have established an Innovation Web site,, as a one-stop location for information about the initiative and a place for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to go to share their ideas.”

To date, 135 ideas have been submitted to the Innovation Task Force’s electronic suggestion box at “Clearly, the innovation website has played a major role in engaging the community and encouraging people to come up with ideas,” Dr. Lenn says. “Some really interesting ideas have been floated. We are truly excited about the engagement that is taking place.”

“Another key strategy we’re employing to get the word out to the GW community is getting information to people in every way they consume it,” adds Ms. Baldassaro. “We have published an ad in The Hatchet, posted a series of stories on George Washington Today, sent community-wide e-mails, and posted information on social media to spread the word about the call for ideas. This coming semester, we look forward to continuing to engage with the GW community and building on the momentum.”

In the coming months, the steering committee will convene focus groups throughout the University. “We will, for example, be taking the floor at departmental meetings across GW to explain what the innovation process is and to solicit ideas,” Dr. Lenn explains. “We also plan to conduct some open university focus groups beginning in January.”

After gathering ideas, the innovation process will continue with an analysis stage, followed by a screening process for top proposals under consideration, and, finally, implementation. “One of the Steering Committee’s responsibilities is to serve as the vetting point for ideas,” says Dr. Lenn, explaining that proposals will undergo several rounds of screening. “First, the entire community will be invited to weigh in on top ideas at town hall-style meetings in the early spring; next, the committees will prioritize and refine the proposals and present them to the steering committee, and then the final set of recommendations will go to the President and his cabinet for discussion and approval by late spring. Finally, the steering committee will take the lead in developing implementation plans beginning in June.”

“This is not a one-shot process,” Dr. Lenn concludes. “It is the start of a long-term initiative aimed at changing our culture by strengthening our focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation. We cannot rest on our laurels. Our motto is ‘Promoting Excellence through Innovation,’ and we are working hard to meet the President’s mandate to move forward and join the ranks of world-class universities.”

Steering Committee Members

Maria Alam, Associate Vice President for Human Resources
Sarah Baldassaro, Assistant Vice President for Communications
Charles Barber, Deputy General Counsel
Jerry Bass, Senior Associate Vice President for Health Economics and
Administration, Medical Center
Alyscia Eisen, Presidential Administrative Fellow
Anne Hirshfield, Associate Vice President for Health Research, Compliance, and
Technology Transfer
Joyce Javois, Assistant to Anne Hirshfield
Peter Konwerski, Associate Vice President for Administration
Jeff Lenn, Associate Vice President for Academic Operations
Barbara Porter, Chief of Staff, President’s Office
Jerome Posatko, Associate Vice President for Operations, Development
Will Rone, Student Representative
Ed Schonfeld, Senior Associate Vice President

Learning & Research