You are here

Innovation and Organizational Learning

HP&IOL’s Mission

To foster a resilient workforce, advance innovation, and promote a culture of learning at the individual, group, and organizational levels within the USDA Forest Service.

USDA Forest Service Challenges

The USDA Forest Service has been entrusted with several multifaceted and often contradicting problems: managing lands for multiple use in the face of conflicting demands; managing wildland fires in an increasingly complex environment; and hiring and retaining a diverse and world-class workforce that can adapt to a changing environment. If solutions are not found, the very foundation of our Agency may be at stake. If solutions arise, the USDA Forest Service will enjoy a position of leadership among its peer agencies, partners, stakeholders, and the American public. It is this challenge that provides a platform for the legacy of the 21st century Forest Service to be secured.

A visual representation of the HP&IOL Innovation Engine

Figure 1: A visual representation of the HP&IOL Innovation Engine.


HP&IOL envisions a thriving, creative, and innovative USDA Forest Service that meets the needs of future generations, extends its legacy as a world leader in public land management, and engenders pride in its workforce.


  • Develop, explore, and integrate safety and health practices to promote injury and illness prevention efforts across the organization and to help people sustainably, adaptively, and collectively manage their minds, bodies, and purposes within complex environments.
  • Serve as a bridge to connect groups so that diverse perspectives can be shared and mutual learning can take place (e.g., agency leadership, field-going personnel, researchers, practitioners, administrative support personnel, partners, and external academics).
  • Facilitate individual, cultural, and organizational growth through continuous improvement and learning.
  • Seek out and understand conditions that promote the capacity to learn, adapt, and thrive at all levels (i.e., individuals, groups, and organizations).
  • Oversee the Agency’s organizational response to incidents, accidents, and other learning opportunities while emphasizing systemic perspectives.
  • Create knowledge from lessons learned and facilitate its incorporation into common practice, organizational subcultures, policy, procedures, and protocols.
  • Serve as a core network node by facilitating and supporting the Agency’s ability to capture, distribute, and foster adoption of workplace innovations.
  • Identify and map existing communities of practice and facilitate the creation of new communities of practice within the Agency.

Program Organization and Responsibilities

HP&IOL is made up of four distinct, yet collaborative functional areas:

Five Functional Areas

Figure 2: This graphic depicts the collaborative and synergistic relationship between the five functional areas of HP&IOL.

These functional areas are housed under a single directorship and alongside several support positions (see figure 2). This strategic structuring is intended to define specific roles and responsibilities for each of the four functional areas so that emergent tasking can be more easily directed to the appropriate group without placing undue pressure on the other functional areas.

Functional Area Responsibilities

The Human Performance Functional Area, led by a Deputy Director, is tasked with improving health, safety, performance, and resilience at the individual, team, and organizational levels across the agency. One success underway is the Comprehensive Wellbeing and Resilience (CWB&R) Train-the-Trainer program, which uses local Champions to disseminate the program in a sustainable manner.

The Organizational Learning Functional Area, led by a Deputy Director, acts as a catalyst for increased organizational learning capacity—not only within the fire community but across all facets of the Forest Service. Organizational learning is being fostered through capturing and facilitating the integration of systems-level innovations. Currently this area is leading/facilitating a repeatable fire meta-review that examines ten years of agency accident, incident, and normal work data.

The Coordinated Response Protocol (CRP) and Learning Review (LR) Functional Area, led by a Deputy Director, oversees the Agency’s organizational response to incidents and accidents. The majority of this functional area’s program of work is comprised of providing on-going safety review oversight; creating, updating, and maintaining the Coordinated Response Protocol (CRP) and Learning Review (LR) guides; helping with the Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) guide; and planning and implementing the CRP/LR annual training as well as two FLA annual workshops.

The Research and Science Application (RA) functional area is integral to the overall program. This provides guidance for research needs for the RD&A as well as expertise and guidance on best practices for the effective diffusion of innovations. The other functional areas can look to the RA functional area for suggestions and support with regards to research methods and the integration of research and innovations into application.

Other Support Positions

Several additional positions fall under the purview of the HP&IOL director. These positions collaborate with all four functional areas to help highlight, promote and publicize the programs, offerings, and innovations that are produced by HP&IOL. These support positions are an integral part of HP&IOL as they ensure that all team functions are running smoothly.


Change will happen, it is a matter of whether we will be passive observers or active participants, and that all depends on our success at facilitating an exchange of innovation and ideas throughout our organization. HP&IOL has the position, talent, and direction to use the “innovation engine” concept as a way to broker meaningful and lasting change in the USDA Forest Service and beyond.


Primary Points of Contact: