Many generalize our government as stifled by bureaucracy and unwilling to take risks. However, this is not always true: Government can be innovative and dip its figurative toes in the pond of creativity.
During GovLoop’s latest online training, a panel of public and private sector experts discussed the myths and misconceptions surrounding government. Many of the panelists also contributed to GovLoop’s latest guide, “Agency of the Future: Common Misconceptions Holding You Back and How to Break Free.”
History Behind the Myth
The panelists acknowledged that while there is often some truth behind myths, there is also a history and well-meaning sentiments behind them, too.
“We have really strict rules around personnel, hiring, and slow processes because, at some point, people made decisions that weren’t the best decisions,” said Dan Hoffman, the City Manager of the City of Winchester, Virginia. “In the private sector, that happens too, but it doesn’t make the Washington Post.”
Nikki Lee from 18F at the General Services Administration agreed with this sentiment and believes that existing systems can bolster these beliefs about government modernization, for example. Lee added that government employees may stick to traditional work methods out of an awareness of the importance of their work, which serves the public.
“When we work for the government and we get it wrong, we’re worried that the lives of people we serve will be deeply affected,” she said. To prevent hurting the public, government employees may go the cautious route.
Chris Rice, a Senior Solutions Architect at Red Hat, and Hansang Bae, a field Chief Technology Officer at Netskope, offered a private sector perspective on the matter. Rice shared his experience of working as a lead architect for the government. He challenged the pervasive myth that government moves slow.
“Government can move very fast,” Rice said. “It depends on who within the government is supporting you.” He shared that positive support from government managers allowed him to work quickly and efficiently. “It starts with leadership, and everything follows [from there].”
Building on Rice’s point of leadership setting the tone for innovation and efficiency, the conversation turned to the topic of culture.
“You have to meet the culture where it’s at,” Lee said. After meeting the culture where it is, Lee recommended asking, “What are people worried about and how can I defray those worries?”
Lee also believes that instead of forcing teams to take on a lot of risks all at once, employees should be methodical and consider what small risks are acceptable to address and then build from there.
“The critical thing about culture change is it really is top-down,” Bae said. “If the top leadership isn’t buying into it, everyone is like, “OK, this is another one of those programs. We’re going to say ‘yes.’ We’re all going to say, X, Y, Z, and then wait for the next program to come along.’”
In terms of myths around security and risks in government, both Bae and Rice agreed that addressing the issue requires the use of automation.
Misconceptions around cloud technology also came up during the discussion. The conversation centered around making technology more accessible for non-technical workers. Bae mentioned that cloud is not a new system, seeing that it is more than a decade old.
Bae also wants technical employees to embrace the visibility associated with cloud. Technology experts should teach their less inclined colleagues rather than presenting themselves as a savior. “Don’t be the hero, be the hero maker,” he said. “Go and make that government agency succeed by giving them what they need to be agile.”
Lee stressed the importance of technical literacy among all employees. She acknowledged society’s tendency to lionize the intelligence of tech workers.
“The technology industry has been built up so much and we have placed it on a pedestal,” Lee said.
Don’t Mind the Myths
Yes, there is truth behind some of the myths about government, but these misconceptions do not have to prevail forever. By tweaking agency leadership, meeting the culture where it is, and embracing different ways of using technology to solve challenges, these myths can be busted.
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