How Sugar Land is empowering change through innovation

What’s the first word that comes to your mind when you think of the word “innovation?” Technology, advancement, change? City Manager Michael W. Goodrum describes the City of Sugar Land’s Department of Innovation as empowering.

The Department of Innovation works on forward-thinking initiatives that benefit the entire City of Sugar Land, including residents, starting from the inside-out.

“Innovation is about solving problems,” Goodrum said. “It’s simply finding ways to solve problems, get better and do it in less time with less wasted effort.”

The department, led by the City’s Chief Innovation Officer Reena Varghese creates pathways for new ideas and game changing solutions that will benefit the next generation of Sugar Land.

“We want to help our departments, organizations and residents see things in a different way. We find value in taking a step back and looking at a problem through a different lens,” Varghese said. “It’s all about taking a routine, mundane process and figuring out what challenges the user encounters.”

“That’s really the big challenge for me and my team – how can we stop, analyze this process, and figure out how to do things differently.”

The Department of Innovation worked with other departments to create this water-activated mural in front of the Imperial Park Recreation Center.

Innovation Strategist Sabrina Abdulla, a Sugar Land native, worked at Sugar Land Animal Services before joining the Department of Innovation.  There, she was able to see operational aspects of running a team and how those logistics affected the overall product seen by residents.

“One thing that is important to remember is that we (as staff) get to see a perspective that residents don’t,” Abdulla said. “We are the people who know the route to solve a certain problem, and we want the techniques to be able to do it more efficiently.”

These embraces in innovation techniques have the support of city management, who see the value in the department to streamline and improve customer service techniques that speak directly to the residents, Varghese said.

The department also worked with Human Resources to create a computer lab for City field workers to check emails and complete online trainings.

The entire team is focused on promoting efficiency and effectiveness throughout the City of Sugar Land by increasing transparency, researching, planning and implementing customer service enhancements, and ensure that a culture of innovation and strategic problem-solving is implemented throughout the organization as a whole.

Hongqiang Sun, the department’s business intelligence lead, points out that things are meant to change over time, so the Department of Innovation is making its mark at the right time.

“People are meant to change,” Sun said. “Around you things are changing. So that’s why I feel like (the city) needs to also make a change. This is a starting point and an opportunity for us to do that.”

Innovation Manager Rachel Owens hopes that the department helps bring a cultural shift to the City for the positive.

“Innovation is creating new problem-solving techniques that have never been seen before for existing issues,” Owens said. “In city government, people just assume it is slow and not efficient. We’re really trying to change that connotation to make our city government intentional.”

Goodrum said this department is about empowering those involved with the City to share their ideas – because it could be the idea that takes the City to the next level.

“The best ideas don’t come from executives,” Goodrum said. “The best ideas come from the people closest to our residents that know what the barriers are and what problems exist that keep us from best serving our community. I’m confident we will see a very strong return on investment.”

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