Dr. Stacey Dixon

Champion of Innovation

With a personal philosophy that includes saying yes more than she says no and learning something new every day, Dr. Stacey Dixon is propelling innovation forward within the Intelligence Community.

Dr. Stacey Dixon has spent her career championing change and innovation in the Intelligence Community (IC). Her unique career path includes science-focused leadership positions at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) as well as jobs supporting IC oversight committees on Capitol Hill. Her current role, as Deputy Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), allows her to combine her passion for science with well-honed managerial skills to help advance technology and tradecraft that benefits the entire IC. (Read more about Stacey's career.)

Stacey credits her success to a philosophy that includes saying yes to new opportunities more than she says no, doing consistently good work wherever she is, and trying to learn a little bit every day. She also acknowledges the supportive managers and colleagues she’s had throughout her career as well as the network of contacts she’s developed along the way.

Stacey notes that employees and innovation both thrive in workplaces that encourage creativity, where leadership is supportive and people like coming to work—both because they like their colleagues and because they know they are working on something critical to broader mission success. She makes a concerted effort to create that type of welcoming environment wherever she is.

The way Stacey has approached her work in many ways mirrors how the Intelligence Community increasingly approaches research, innovation, and even workplace culture. In the past, IC elements were siloed, with each organization working on projects to benefit only its own workstream or type of intelligence collection and production. Budget allocations and the need to protect sensitive tradecraft methodologies or technologies didn’t encourage larger projects or interagency collaboration, even for groups with overlapping missions. These small-scale, small-risk projects did bear fruit, but their impact was generally limited only to the sponsoring organization, not the broader IC. This resulted in incremental innovation and change as well as, in some cases, duplication of effort. 

“We’re not only helping the Intelligence Community problems but we’re helping the country stay safe as a whole.”

The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, as well as the rapid emergence of new technologies—and with them, new threats—since the turn of the 21st Century, forced the IC to re-examine the way it worked. The result was the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in 2005 to foster cross-IC collaboration and, not long after, the establishment of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) in 2006.

IARPA’s mission is to conduct cross-community research and innovation with the goal of developing solutions that multiple IC elements can apply to their operational missions. Because IARPA doesn’t have an operational mission, it can engage in high-risk, high-payoff research that isn’t generally feasible for individual IC elements. IARPA’s unique position means it can take research to a level that’s difficult to achieve anywhere else, making each program manager a force-multiplier whose efforts have the potential to help not only the IC but society as a whole. 

IARPA’s strong partnerships with academia and industry are indicative of the broader IC’s evolving approach to innovation. Many IC agencies now have their own innovation-focused arms and actively partner with external specialists in academia, industry, and the non-profit sector, creating a workplace culture that doesn’t shy away from change. Stacey notes that in any organization, not everyone will easily embrace change—be it a new technical tool or a new process—but it’s important to help people see the benefits of moving forward. 

Stacey firmly believes that in order to succeed, innovators need five things: resources, time, support from leadership and colleagues, space to take risks, and space to fail. The IC is increasingly providing those to its workforce, to meet the challenges of today and keep the nation safe into the future.

Learn more about IARPA.