5 Steps Through the Fourth Industrial Revolution


Insight from my year-end purge of my inbox.

While most of you took vacation during the week between the Christmas and the New Year, I like to work those days. I consider it a “Class B” vacation. I use the time to sort through my excess papers, recycle old papers and catch up on reading items in what I call my “reading inbox.”

This reading inbox is more a wicker basket, but it contains articles that I’ve torn out of magazines, stuff that I’ve printed and highlighted for re-reading and the odd reports that are referenced in conversation and meetings that I attend. I spend my Class B vacation time reviewing this menagerie of accumulated stuff. I try figuring out why I kept it, and in general, make sense of what I kept. As always, I am on the lookout for new and over-looked ideas, trends, connections and themes that I might have missed earlier. In other words, I’m looking for thoughts and ideas that I could take back to my day job.
What’s in my inbox?

The majority of the articles and reports that I’ve collected from 2017 fall into a few general categories. Articles and reports describing some aspect of “Smart” and the Internet-of-Things dominated the pile. Articles and stories on the collection and use of data, and the evolution of Chief Data Officers held a strong second position. Reports and discussions that covered the use of technology within social services and social equity held the third position.

The 4th Industrial Revolution?

It was the third largest group of papers and articles that surprised me. This group contained mostly articles that focused on the direction of future trends and issues. In itself, that is not odd. What struck me was that each spoke of the future as the 4th Industrial Revolution. These articles described current and developing systems as disruptive technologies such as robotics and drones, virtual reality and artificial intelligence and how they will change the way we work and live. This is unlike the 3rd industrial revolution which is identified as the development of computers and IT (digitization) since the middle of the 20th century.

This new era is considered different because of the impact of robotics, VR and AI will have on human-to-machine interaction. I realize that we are on the cusp of great technology shifts and disruption even more sweeping than even those of the past decade. But I just can’t agree with these hyper-positive predictions and assurances that the global economies will see supply-side marvels and productivity gains for all.

Revolutions and Governments typically don’t work together well.
Ultimately, this 4th revolution will emerge (actually is emerging) through businesses first via Silicon Valley and will change consumer behaviors and expectations first. This is much like how our IT innovations occur today, but consumers and citizens are one and the same. These expectations continue to grow and will start including citizen interactions with government.

Governments’ approach to regulation and policymaking was once correctly paced when decision makers had time to study specific issues and develop a response or appropriate regulatory solution. Given the pace of today’s innovation and the even more rapid pace of change that would occur in the future, how will policy makers meet this challenge?

It’s not particularly easy to translate technologies and the solutions they may offer into the high-level policy issues upon which they, as elected officials, focus their discussions. Policy is meant to guide without being prescriptive, be kept broad – at a high level – and left general enough to be inclusive yet leniently focused on the base elements and issues at the root of the matter.

Legislative change meets the 4th industrial revolution.
It goes without saying that the legislative processes at the local, state and even federal levels will need to adjust due to what these technology changes offer. Changes not only to the speed of change but the breadth of these changes. Legislative bodies and our policy leaders are facing a crisis of change. Government officials and policy makers will need to catch up with the digitization that their agencies have gone through.

5 steps to move forward
To break-down the process, here are five steps that legislative bodies might incorporate to put this new environment into their work.

1. Organize existing data.

GI Legislative bodies should look to bring the information they already have into one location. Oftentimes, officials can draw fresh conclusions just from bringing uniformity to disparate datasets.

2. Collect new data.

If policy makers want to stay abreast of complicated problems, it’s important to collect fresh data. That can mean sending a drone out to identify and track homeless encampments or using cost-effective mobile field data collection to enhance and freshen data repositories.

3. Reassert and revisit community values.

If step two is about collecting and refreshing data repositories that are used for decision making, step three is about using that data to align the universe of potential decisions with the communities’ values and goals.

4. Inform decision makers.

Next comes the need to communicate with others within the legislature and around the executive branch. Dashboards help organize the details conveying policy goals and measures. They make it easy to see how decisions alter costs and workforces.

5. Engage citizens.

This final step gets to the core of government: improving the lives of citizens. Residents within the government’s jurisdiction should know about the resources available to them. More importantly, their expectations are changing, and they presume to be involved in the decision making. And, depending on what a project entails, they may be able to help crowdsource it.

Maps can provide a solution for all these steps. Maps provide a common platform for all data because everything happens somewhere. They are easy to share and can be viewed by people who may have a difference of opinion. Maps make it easy to illustrate data in more narrative, interpretable ways, perhaps bringing us all together to find solutions in collaborative manners that are helpful to us all.


Richard Leadbeater is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Megan Dotson

Very thought provoking article! I’ve seen the power of maps and agree that visualizing data in this way can help translate complex topics and ideas into digestible information to allow for a knowledgable conversations. Can’t wait to see what your next “class B vacation” provides.