,

“State of Change: Fostering practical innovation in Rhode Island state government” – by Emily Dietsch

***********************************************************************

Not a Govloop Member? 30 Secs & Free to Join for Great Info & Perks

*************************



State government has long held a reputation of constancy, at best, and
stagnation, at worst. Non-political offices, agencies and programs

exist in seeming perpetuity, not often subject to the whims of electoral

preference or trends in government and business management. This may be

especially true of a state like Rhode Island, significantly dominated

as it is by a union work force and voting bloc, and proudly devoted to

tradition despite a fierce independent streak.



While these tendencies have enabled a secure, well-supported state work

force, they have also impeded the innovation and flexibility necessary

to sustain it. Consequently, state processing has failed to keep apace

technological, economic, and cultural changes, and individuals’

abilities to foster personal or institutional growth within state

government are slim to none.



Circumstances such as these are always discouraging, but proved

especially detrimental in the crucible of a recent recession. As

Strategic Projects Coordinator for the RI State Treasurer, I witnessed

daily the frustration of talented and committed people grappling with

antiquated systems, limited resources, and constant belt-tightening.

Ideas for improvement lacked proper channels for recognition and

incubation.



My job in Treasury entailed finding and capitalizing on loopholes in

this impossible scenario; one might call it “tenacious cleverness”. As

part of a pilot program I helmed in partnership with the Treasurer’s

Chief of Staff, I had the assistance of a talented group of mavericks

dedicated to developing and implementing a 3-year strategic plan. Our

plan, the first of its kind adopted by any RI agency, was based on

realistic yet ambitious goals to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and

find creative approaches to old and new tasks. A snapshot of our

results speaks volumes: millions of taxpayer dollars saved; an

unprecedented employee review system negotiated with union

representatives; a statewide transparency program for reporting

expenditures online; and vastly improved communication among employees,

as well as with outside agencies and state residents in need of our

services.



We discovered that communication was key to our projects, in fact.

Whether we succeeded or fell flat, the ability to communicate, assess,

and update out teams was essential to progress; conversely a lack of

communication, more than bureaucratic structures or backroom politicking

per se, often anchored stagnation. Harnessing communicative

technologies and systems of constant feedback was key to the rather

drastic accomplishments we achieved in year one of our pilot program.

We took Treasury quite literally from the typewriter age to the digital

era.



Unfortunately programs like ours, and my position within it, are not

often proscribed by state charters and require outside funds. A grant

secured through GovLoop’s scholarship program would enable me to

continue what we began. Despite initial successes, we still need to

intensively assess our first year and delineate potential expansions in

Treasury and statewide. Ultimately what we can produce will offer a

third option, beyond hand-wringing or one-off miracles, for solutions to

governmental ills: a sustained and sustainable program of pragmatic

yet novel innovation.





While these tendencies have enabled a secure and well-supported state

work force, they have also unintentionally impeded innovation and the

necessary flexibility to accommodate it. Consequently, state processing

has failed to keep apace technological, economic, and cultural changes,

and individuals’ abilities to foster personal or institutional growth

within state government are slim to none.

Leave a Comment

3 Comments

Leave a Reply