A higher innovation culture score at R&D labs leads to dramatically improved organization performance. That is the conclusion of a joint study by InnovationOne® LLC and the US Department of Energy (DOE).

The study hypothesized that the higher the innovation culture scores of DOE labs, the higher their performance. The InnovationOne Culture Index© was used to measure DOE lab innovation cultures. More than 2,000 DOE employees from six DOE R&D labs participated. The performance of the labs was measured on 13 equally weighted metrics.

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Recent reports have highlighted the need to increase innovation and productivity of the US Department of Energy Labs. The Department of Energy’s Advisory Board wrote in its 2021 report, “One of DOE’s challenges is to “produce the innovators.” Innovation turns ideas into practical solutions that advance the mission of the organization. Innovation needs to permeate the DOE more than ever for the United States to remain the world leader in technology.” The report detailed five key areas that must be addressed to enhance innovation. The first area was innovation culture, particularly (a) leadership commitment and (b) alignment of incentives promoting innovation.

Another report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the effectiveness of DOE technology transfer (TT) stated, “Most labs and sites we spoke with said that fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at the lab improves technology transfer” (US GAO 2021). The GAO reiterated that “NNSA and DOE leadership could more consistently promote the TT mission by, for example, expanding TT programs and reinforcing support for TT efforts in department or agency communications” (U.S. GAO 2021).

Research on the private sector consistently shows that improvement with innovation investment and cultures dramatically increases financial results. But what of public-sector research labs?

US Department of Energy Ethos Project

The Ethos Project of the United States Department of Energy (DOE) contracted with InnovationOne® to measure if lab culture and an emphasis on technology transfer to industry and entrepreneurialism improve lab performance. InnovationOne administered a modified version of the InnovationOne Culture Index© in six Labs. The modifications added seven questions regarding employees being encouraged and recognized for generating innovation, working on technology transfer projects, and being entrepreneurial.

Leading the Ethos Project was Jason Stolworthy, J.D. M.S. Director of Technology Deployment, Idaho National laboratories, US Department of Energy. Analysis of lab scores was conducted by Jason Stolworthy, James P. Keating, M. Eng., MBA, Laszlo Gyorffy of IdeaScale, and from InnovationOne Brooke Dobni, Ph.D. and Victor Assad, MA.

Research on Six DOE Labs

Six DOE national laboratories were selected, with population sizes ranging from more than 1,500 to more than 10,000 employees, producing 2,328 responses. The surveys were sent to more than 1,000 employees at each lab to achieve greater than 350 responses and a 95% confidence interval, with a margin of error of less than ±5% at each lab. The scores of the six labs varied greatly, from 60 to 71 on the 100-point scale of the InnovationOne Culture Index©.


The results show that performance correlates strongly with culture. Higher innovation culture scores improves R&D lab performance. In fact, improving a culture score by just one point (on a 100-point scale) can increase performance in innovation, commercial deployments, partnerships with industry, and academic publications by up to 30 percent.

In addition, our analysis revealed the three most important factors for increasing innovation.

They are the degree to which:

  1. Leadership encourages innovation.
  2. Researchers can recognize the value of their intellectual property.
  3. Processes are effective at capturing and securing intellectual property.

Improving commercial outcomes for the Labs also depended on three factors. The level to which researchers:

  1. Are trained in innovation skills.;
  2. Understand and communicate value propositions and market needs.
  3. Recognize how innovation contributes to the mission of the Lab.

Improved Innovation Cultures Lead to Higher R&D Lab Performance

Getting innovation culture right means more innovation and breakthrough technologies, perhaps up to three times as many. The next time you are thinking of launching a bold new initiative or looking for your organization to achieve more significant impact, think about your Lab’s culture. Is it an innovation culture that will maximize results? If not, that is where you should start.

We invite you to read the Ethos Project press release, A New Ethos: INL Leads Study of Innovation Culture at Six National Labs.   

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About InnovationOne®, LLC.

InnovationOne®, LLC helps organizations worldwide build a culture of innovation and make it sustainable. InnovationOne® uses a scientifically developed assessment to measure, benchmark, and improve your organization’s culture and capability to innovate and enjoy better outcomes and financial results. Companies scoring in the top quartile of our InnovationOne Culture Index© reported higher financial performance by as much as 22 percent. Measure and ignite your culture of innovation. Contact us at Innovate@InnovationOne.io.