AWS Public Sector Blog

Building a culture of innovation to better serve citizens

lightbulb innovation

Public sector organizations—from state and local governments, to nonprofits, federal, and defense agencies—often ask us, “How does Amazon innovate?” Our approach centers on four pillars that help us innovate on behalf of our customers: culture, mechanisms, architecture, and organization.

Culture. At AWS, we rely on the Amazon Leadership Principles to drive consistency in the people we hire, to empower individuals at all levels of our organization to be leaders, and to ensure we keep the customer at the center of our decisions. These principles guide us in our decision-making and keep us accountable. They are embedded throughout our hiring, development, and feedback mechanisms, and provide a framework for how we want our leaders to lead.

Customer Obsession is our first leadership principle. We tend to use the word “customer” frequently at Amazon, but public sector organizations may use different words to describe the unique types of customers they support. For example, your customers could be constituents or residents who receive some type of service from your organization. Or you might also have internal customers who work in another part of your organization. See how Saint Louis University demonstrated Customer Obsession by creating a chatbot platform for their students.

Another principle that’s important to the public sector is Bias for Action—knowing when to move quickly and take action to improve the citizen experience. Speed matters in servicing your customers’ needs, and many decisions do not need extensive study. Learn how the City of Johns Creek showed Bias for Action and set up a call center, which reduced after-hour voicemails by 90 percent.

Mechanisms. Mechanisms are processes that help turn inputs into the right outputs to address a recurring business challenge. They allow organizations of all types—from small nonprofits to large government agencies—to scale, to help leaders operate beyond their direct line of sight, and to facilitate innovative thinking. Our Working Backwards process is a mechanism—it ensures we’re building the right things and making the right decisions for customers. In this process, we start by defining the customer and their needs, and then outline a press release to help us visualize the customer outcome. Writing the press release helps us define the customer benefit and experience right from the start. We then write and answer anticipated frequently asked questions (FAQs) that Dive Deep into the details of the new service and address the questions that our customers and other stakeholders are most likely to ask. Finally, we bring the customer experience to life through visuals—initially rough sketches which, over time, may evolve into more polished diagrams, wireframes, or storyboards. In this way, the maturity of the visuals match the maturity of the idea. These three elements—the press release, FAQs, and visuals—serve as a mechanism to allow team members to discuss, debate, and help evolve the idea into reality.

Architecture. It’s important for public sector organizations to build a technical structure that supports rapid growth and allows them to keep up with citizens’ expectations. Creating a self-service platform without gatekeepers allows your team to access the storage and compute, networking, and databases services they need to build so your organization can scale. With AWS, you can build for experimentation and free your team from unnecessary constraints so they can move fast.

With the cloud, you can provision thousands of servers within minutes. AWS offers a broad set of global cloud-based services that can be used in any combination so you can conduct rapid prototyping (with low risk and at a low cost), scale quickly when something works, and grow with our continuously expanding services. Learn how is using the cloud to scale computer science education to students.

Learn more about cloud fundamentals and how to improve operational efficiency and citizen engagement with the AWS Cloud through our Initiate eLearning Series. You can also Learn and Be Curious by exploring how health and human services, elections, K12 education, justice and public safety, and transportation organizations are using the AWS Cloud.

Organization. At Amazon, we encourage small teams to experiment early and frequently to invent on behalf of our customers. We strive to follow the “two-pizza teams” concept (that no team should be so big that it requires more than two pizzas to feed them). Having smaller teams minimizes the need for communication, reduces time spent in meetings, accelerates the decision making process, ensures the team has ownership and autonomy, and enables each team to provide deep focus in one area. Read how the AWS Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) at University of British Columbia used a small team to innovate and deliver accessible education.

Innovate with us

We encourage you to think about how your organization can use culture, mechanisms, architecture, and organization to develop innovative new products and services that meet the needs of your customers, citizens, or constituents.

Want to learn more about Amazon’s culture of innovation? Hear from Noah Eden, principal digital innovation lead at AWS, in our Initiate eLearning Series. This series also covers foundational cloud concepts, like building a business case for cloud migration, cloud contracting, and machine learning.

Tune into our podcast where Ben Butler, AWS Global Lead for the CIC program, discusses how AWS is addressing societal challenges with digital innovation. If you are interested in exploring opportunities to innovate with AWS, submit an innovation challenge to one of our 12 AWS CICs where the use the Working Backwards process to solve worldwide societal challenges, including biodiversity conservation and Alzheimer’s disease. If you are looking to build a new product or service on AWS using the Working Backwards process, ask your account executive about the Digital Innovation Program, or email us at

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