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Text Summer Design School 2018 with a bright modern background and the Lab at OPM logo

By: Erin Siminerio, Acting Lead, Insights, Veterans Experience Office, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

As part of the Federal Executive Institute within the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), The Lab at OPM is a practice that fosters innovation through human-centered design. Our goal is to teach human-centered design across the Federal Government and to help deliver innovative solutions that address complex public and cross-sector challenges. One way we do this is through courses and workshops. One of our newest courses is our Design School, which we deliver seasonally. We ran a Spring Design School earlier this year in March. Below are some of the reflections from our partner at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We’ll be running our Summer Design School June 18-22, 2018 in DC. Follow us over the course of that week on twitter @LABopm to learn more about the experience. You can learn more about The Lab at our website as well.

Have you ever been to a training and left inspired and ready to change the world? Then, Monday morning hits. You’re back to the deluge of email. Before you realize it, you’re back in your routine, and everything you learned goes right out the window. It’s not your fault; the course was likely poorly designed with regard to being actionable.

I recently wrapped up an incredible week-long experience at Spring Design School (SDS) with The Innovation Lab at the Office of Personnel Management (The Lab at OPM). The Lab at OPM builds a human-centered design capacity in the federal workforce through a mix of project-based work with partner agencies (including VA) and education programs, like Spring Design School. With the unique perspective of being embedded within a federal government agency, The Lab understands first-hand what it’s like to apply human-centered design in the government context. It uses that knowledge to design educational offerings that support participants in their return to their office. As such, Spring Design School was intentionally designed to ensure that participants have “studio time” to apply what we were learning in real time while it’s fresh, so there is no risk of leaving without knowing how to practice what has been preached all week. The Lab also encourages people to come to SDS with real problems that need to be solved, so that the time spent can contribute towards solving a real problem rather than a manufactured one.

I’m a designer-in-training and direct a portfolio of research and design work in the Veterans Experience Office (VEO) at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Our work is enabling the VA to improve the customer experience for Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors with data, tools, technology, and engagements. Although much of the content delivered through SDS was familiar, I haven’t had much time in my day job to practice the art myself. I’ve been primarily focused on directing the work rather than doing the work. Spring Design School provided me the space and time to dig into human-centered design (HCD) without distractions.

When we arrived the first morning, we were asked, “What would be the craziest thing that could happen after a week at Spring Design School?” One of my colleagues answered that human-centered design become a part of everything we do at the VA rather than something a separate group does for select projects. That is my hope as well, and we are working toward infusing this method of problem solving across the VA. In fact, we used Spring Design School to kick off our efforts to build the capacity for human-centered design in our approach to problem solving in VA. A total of 13 staff from VEO (including me) participated in this week-long course in March. Here is a brief reflection of what we learned.

  1. Human-centered design cannot be fully learned in one week.

    During the kick-off of Summer Design School, we were reminded not to expect to be an expert at HCD by the end of the week.  There isn’t a finish line when it comes to learning how to be a creative problem solver and how to put user needs at the center of designing solutions. There also isn’t a cookbook recipe for how to train someone on human-centered design.  It takes a certain mindset plus a combination of education and training on the process, exposure to the methods through project work/case studies, and application on actual projects. It’s a muscle that we are building that will help us be more creative problem solvers and, most importantly, ensure we design effective solutions that meet people’s real needs.

  2. Convening a diverse set of stakeholders expands the world of possibility.

    When we were initially encouraged to break up and mix with others across government and the private sector, some of us were questioning that approach.  Who knows how to solve VA problems better than VA staff? What we learned by trusting the process is oftentimes you learn the most from people who aren’t as close to the work and who can provide a fresh perspective.  This was an invaluable and important lesson learned about getting outside your inner circle/echo chamber, or your comfort zone, and inviting fresh perspectives to expand your thinking.   

  3. HCD compliments and amplifies the expertise that already exists in an agency.

    On Day 1, we heard from a panel of experts across government – some formally trained in design and others not –about their efforts to drive innovation in their respective agencies and what they’ve learned about the ingredients for success—such as reframing problems, working collaboratively and the importance of recognition. The big takeaway for me was that we have much of what we need already within us, we just need to get out of our offices, get some fresh perspective through HCD, and start asking questions to start reframing problems, so we make sure we are solving the right one. 

  4. A number of different disciplines contribute to HCD.

The week was essentially an immersion into the different disciplines that contribute to creative problem solving.  On Monday, we learned about human-centered design and its close cousin design thinking. On Tuesday, we learned how behavioral economics can help us understand what biases affect what people do and how we can leverage that understanding to design more effective innovations.  On Wednesday, we did a deep dive virtually (due to snow) on ethnography and heard from an anthropologist at George Washington University about the dynamic between the participant and the researcher.  Then, Thursday we explored systems thinking and diagramming and got a little more comfortable sketching and drawing.  For someone who can only draw stick figures it took some getting used to, but it was a reminder that pictures can communicate so much more and that we should start drawing whenever we get stuck.  Friday morning we focused on designing for policy and how design is not about simplifying but rather clarifying.  Friday afternoon was focused on final presentations of the problems we brought; the approach we took to solving it; and we presented and received a constructive critique on what else we might want to consider. 

After a week-long immersion at Spring Design School, I feel better prepared to solve complex challenges.  This is not a race, since there is no finish line.  The craziest thing that I hope will happen now is that more people will get an opportunity to build this problem solving muscle and that this way of thinking will continue to spread across government. I believe we will all be better off as a result of it. 

Erin Siminerio, Acting Lead, Insights, Veterans Experience Office, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs presenting during final presentations


It’s the Friday before a holiday weekend. As I walk through the halls, there’s a feeling of excitement as OPM employees discuss their plans, travels, shopping sales and long-weekend events. I feel it too, but as I pass a photo in the hallway on the 5th floor, a different feeling sets in. The photo is of Arlington National Cemetery in the fall. I look at the orange and yellow leaves scattered around the simple white marble headstones and I realize I’m no longer feeling the excitement in the air but instead a combination of melancholy and pride.

Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, grandparents and friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom are lying in their final resting place only a few miles away from OPM in Arlington National Cemetery. Several days from now we will honor the sacrifice made by many service members through the observance of Memorial Day. This day gives us the opportunity to honor and pay tribute to all the men and women who gave their lives in the defense of our Nation and way of life, enabling us to enjoy the freedoms we all know as Americans.

Memorial Day originated from the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves during and after the Civil War. Even today, people volunteer to place American flags or flowers on the headstones of the fallen at National Cemeteries across the country during this day. I invite you to attend one of the many Memorial Day ceremonies held across our Nation to thank our fallen heroes and their families for their sacrifice. It is because of them that we have freedom in America and freedom across the world.

In addition, I wanted to take this time to remind those of you who will be celebrating with family and friends to stay safe. Be aware of your surroundings while enjoying public activities. Wear your seatbelt while traveling, excessive speed, driver fatigue, and driving under the influence are the predominant causes of accidents on our roads and highways, especially during peak travel periods. Don’t leave children unsupervised around barbeque grills or cookout equipment. And finally, be sure to encourage prudent safety measures, especially for water related activities such as swimming, wading, bathing, boating and diving.

We can make this day more valuable and memorable by keeping all of ourselves and our family member safe from needless accidents or injuries over this long holiday weekend.

Have a safe and happy Memorial Day, and don’t forget to remember why we really have the day off.

OPM will soon begin offering vision and dental insurance to military families and retirees through the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP).  The initiative was directed by the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017.  This is an exciting opportunity for OPM Healthcare and Insurance, and we are eager to welcome this new group! 

Many military retirees and their families currently use the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) which is ending on December 31, 2018.  For 2019, most TRICARE retirees and their families can enroll in FEDVIP for dental coverage, vision coverage, or both.  Also new for 2019--many active duty military families may enroll in FEDVIP vision coverage.  Military families and retirees who enroll in FEDVIP this fall will be able to choose from ten dental carriers and four vision carriers, selecting the plan that best meets their family’s needs. 

This will be the first year military families and retirees participate in the Federal Benefits Open Season, which runs November 12 through December 10, 2018.  To prepare, we’re inviting them to visit and learn more about FEDVIP.  The FEDVIP team will ensure that new information is posted to this site as soon as it becomes available, plus send reminders to those who register on the site.  As of April 21, over 20,000 individuals have already visited and signed up for updates. 

As a military retiree myself, choosing a dental plan through FEDVIP was a novel experience when I first joined OPM.  Under TRICARE, we had one dental plan option available to us.  When I was offered a choice of multiple dental options under FEDVIP, I learned to compare plans based on the dental care I expected during the year ahead.  I also asked my dentist if he participated in any of the FEDVIP dental networks.  Because I don’t usually need complex dental work, I was able to choose a lower cost option with a dental carrier preferred by my dentist.  I elected a “self only” enrollment in a plan, but if I had a family, I would have covered them too, using a “self and family” enrollment in the plan that best met our collective needs.

I have had a great experience as a FEDVIP dental enrollee for several years now.  In fact, the more than 3.3 million Federal civilian employees who are already enrolled in FEDVIP give it high marks for quality and value.  This year, we look forward to providing Federal employees, annuitants, and their families with the dependable FEDVIP benefits they rely on, and to welcoming military families and retirees for the first time.   

To prepare for open season, TRICARE eligibles can head to to do their plan choice research with information designed to make their experience with FEDVIP as easy as possible to navigate.  Federal civilians will continue to use their familiar Benefeds enrollment website.  Plan options, benefits, and rates will be the same for both groups in 2019.

Let me close by reminding everyone of a few key dates:

  • Fall 2018:  2019 FEDVIP plan rates are available
  • November 12–December 10, 2018:  Federal Benefits Open Season
  • December 31, 2018: TRICARE Retiree Dental Program ends
  • January 1, 2019: 2019 FEDVIP plan year begins

Thank you—we appreciate the opportunity to serve you through FEDVIP!

On Wednesday, May 23rd, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will celebrate the 15 Year anniversary of the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council. This event will hail the Council’s accomplishments and renew our commitment to the federal workforce and the American people to create human capital management strategies that attract, develop and retain a high performing, engaged and diverse federal workforce.

I am proud of the many accomplishments of the CHCO Council, especially having served on the Council in its early years. The Council has been instrumental in the success of many projects around the government. While it is not possible to quantify and list the impact of the CHCO Council on the Human Capital community, below are some examples of the great work the CHCO Council has accomplished through the years:

  • Natural Disasters: From Hurricane Katrina to Hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Harvey and the wildfires in California, the CHCO Council members have supported the Federal Government, the affected communities, and provided policy advice to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The Council has coordinated government-wide response activities during natural disasters and worked with the OPM to establish special authorities to assist in the response and recovery efforts.
  • Veterans Hiring: Under direction from the Director of OPM, the Council on Veterans Employment in conjunction with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council formed a working group to examine veterans’ preference in the Federal Government and submit recommendations to the Director of OPM on improving the ability of veterans’ preference laws to meet the needs of the new generation of veterans and hiring managers. Based on a review of Federal veterans’ preference statutes and regulations, the members of the working group developed 28 recommendations during the course of this study.
  • Performance Management: The CHCO working group on performance management, created in April 2011, was asked to provide general and broad recommendations for a potential government-wide model for performance management. The work group met weekly through the summer and developed a comprehensive set of recommendations that resulted in a new model for employee performance called GEAR. GEAR stands for Goals, Engagement, Accountability and Results and stresses that the responsibility for performance management improvements rests with everyone in government.
  • Feds Feed Families (FFF): In 2009, the Council responded to the Serve America Act and formed a partnership titled the FFF food drive campaign. Through this campaign food is collected from Federal employees across the country for local families in need. Today, the CHCO Council supports FFF with the leadership of USDA.

Job well done, and I look forward to seeing all of the future initiatives of the CHCO Council. Happy 15 years!

UnlockTalent has been around for a few years, but recent updates to the site have made this tool more helpful than ever to Federal agencies in assessing their organizational health and utilizing data from multiple sources to gain insight into their workforce. UnlockTalent is free to use and requires only a simple registration process to gain access to the wealth of data available to users. Data from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) are used to populate the features of the site, and the UnlockTalent team plans to incorporate additional data sources in the future to continue to enhance the tool.

New Feature Now Available! One recently updated feature of the site is the Agency Indicators page. Until recently, registered users of UnlockTalent were able to view this page at only the governmentwide level, but the feature has now been expanded to the agency level. The Agency Indicators page allows users to gain more insight into their agency’s workforce through data in order to create the most effective work environment by forecasting the short- and long-term needs to enhance decision-making and improve the overall health of the organization.  The page is organized into five sections consistent with the new Human Capital Framework (HCF): workforce demographics, talent management, performance management, strategic planning and alignment, and evaluation. This new feature makes UnlockTalent a very helpful resource for leaders and human capital professionals across government in evaluating the new Human Capital Framework within their own agencies.  I invite you to explore the new features on the UnlockTalent website, today!


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