Whether it’s building a workforce, expanding health IT or integrating ideas to achieve common goals across defense agencies, the need for results-oriented programs on rapid timelines will drive innovation despite dwindling finances.

To do so, however, may mean thinking far beyond the best practices government typically lives by.

These were among the ideas bantered about in panel discussions on business innovation on smaller budgets at this week’s Executive Leadership Conference. While it remains arguable whether government can truly do more with less per what’s become a cliche mantra, it’s clear it can do something.

Patsy Stevens, Systems Innovation Group Manager at Office of Personnel Management, said leaders must focus on data and lessons learned across agencies in order to achieve results.

“A lot of times that which equals what worked is not always the best practice. You also have to know what doesn’t work,” Stevens said in a Monday morning session. “We’re working with data to drive decisions. When an innovative idea occurs…now we have data to push it. … There’s not just one silver bullet or solution.”

Discussions that began around the looming budget doomsday eventually moved to some insights on how to leverage hiring practices and utilize crowdsourcing to foster innovative ideas within federal budgets, regardless of size or policy limitations.

“The law enforcement guys and emergency management guys get to see what they’ve done and see they’re the same and fail quickly and move on,” said Donna Roy, Executive Director of Information Sharing in the CIO’s office at DHS. “We also have a users group of over 200 people who consistently tell us ‘No, that’s not going to work.’ I don’t think we’ve found the right formula to crawl through the noise to get the value.”

That said, several panelists said community engagement is crucial to innovation. Several suggested incremental but measurable results through leveraging community involvement will allow progress on smaller budgets.

However, moderator Lena Trudeau, Office of the Commissioner, Federal Acquisition Service, often had to provide levity during a Monday afternoon panel discussion often dominated by complaints surrounding budget policies that lack cost-saving incentives and hinder progress.

“We can’t let a crisis go to waste,” Trudeau said. “It provides us with an opportunity to do things differently. Martha Johnson (Administrator, General Services Administration) says our stomachs are being stapled. …. Folks, we’re in no danger of starving any time soon.”

GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler agreed.

“We’re not going to solve the budget issues in a few minutes,” Ressler said. “But you can find a small tactical problem and think about solving it in a new way. And instead of solving it yourself, engage your community.”

For more coverage of the Executive Leadership Conference, see ELC here.