Next stop for great ideas? Innovation Station


Coco Briseno and Michelle Tucker

Coco Briseno, left, Deputy Director of Planning & Modal Programs, and Michelle Tucker, Division Chief of Human Resources, were co-sponsors of the “Idea Factory” component of Innovation Station’s recent re-launch.

Do you have thoughts about how to improve Caltrans? If so, plan to disembark soon at Innovation Station.
The idea-sharing and challenge-solving website, accessible via an icon on Caltrans’ Onramp webpage, was relaunched in early January by the Innovation Leadership Council after a few years’ absence.

Caltrans Director Laurie Berman told employees that Innovation Station “will help us advance the great ideas that are being developed on the job by all our employees every day. By sharing ideas and lessons learned through Innovation Station, we can become a leaner, more efficient organization.”

Innovation Station website visitors are encouraged to become “innovators” by following these steps: review one of the spotlighted topics, called “active challenges”; post any related idea they care to share with others by filling out a submission form; and later comment and vote on the submitted ideas.

Active challenges will “change frequently,” so Caltrans employees are encouraged to regularly visit the site. In January, Innovation Station visitors could do a deep dive into “Idea Factory,” “Reduce Roadway Trash” and “Better, Faster, Cheaper.”  

“Idea Factory” is described as “a place where your ideas can be captured and further discussed within the Caltrans innovation community. The Idea Factory isn't like our typical challenges with a focused challenge brief, but instead is designed to capture any idea, big or small, to encourage innovative thinking in every task that we perform.”

District 1 transportation engineer Nathaniel Steen’s submission about improving how Caltrans deals with accidents in remote locations has gained a lot of support. He proposes what he calls a Vehicle Accident Notification System (VANS).

Innovation Station poster 2019

VANS could, through being linked with the Caltrans GPS system, “send out a notification to specific people (seniors, supervisors, safety officers, CT dispatch) to alert them that their employee has been involved in an accident and may need immediate medical attention. The VANS system would be able to send the exact location and time that the incident occurred.  The system should also function as a two-way radio.”

“Reduce Roadway Trash” and “Better, Faster, Cheaper” represented typical challenges, and had an idea submission deadline of Feb. 3. After that, commenting and voting can continue for another two weeks. Click on the “Closed Challenges” at the top of the landing page to see how retired topics’ discussions have gone.

To log into Innovation Station, visitors must agree to the terms and conditions, which stipulate that “criticism must be constructive, well-meaning and well-articulated.” Visitors consent to “use no language that is — or that could be construed to be — offensive toward others.” They also are urged to read an idea’s entire thread before commenting on it, and told to avoid addressing personal grievances, pay scales and job classifications, or promoting taxes that are in some way inequitable.

Everyone who possesses a Caltrans employee ID can participate in Innovation Station; the general public has no access to the site. If a challenge or idea is of particular interest, you can subscribe to it and be alerted whenever new content is posted.

All challenges have sponsors who, after the commenting and voting stages are complete, select the most promising ideas for further study. During the first go-round of Innovation Station a few years ago, two maintenance-safety ideas advanced to the point where they were implemented statewide: adding LED lights on stop/slow paddles and flashing lights and messaging on crash attenuators.

If you submit an idea that gets reviewed and implemented, the implemented idea will be submitted to the awards program for review and has a potential to receive a monetary award.