The book Reinventing Government by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler, released twenty years ago had a big impact on me. I created the non-profit Center For Reinventing Government due to the change in thinking the book brought about for me.
Ted Gaebler has been the City Manager of Rancho Cordova for ten years. Rancho Cordova is a California city located in Sacramento county that was incorporated in 2003, with a current population of 64,000. The point of Reinventing Government is that governments must seek innovation to get things done despite regulations and without causing bureaucratic gridlock. Through his many years of governmental experience Gaebler learned that often times middle managers suppress and discourage new ideas from their employees.
To encourage innovation, Gaebler holds a weekly session in an office with a sign on the door that states “Office of New Ideas”. In the office any city employee, without permission from their superiors can present ideas for employee initiated projects. New ideas are supported and often funded with seed money to get things going. Staff are encouraged to take risks and mistakes are accepted as part of the learning process.
Soliciting ideas from employees, seems like such a no brainer idea, yet all to often in government it is rare event.
While working for an educational institution (Erie BOCES), I was called into my superiors office for having the nerve to email an idea directly to the organizations CEO. It was made clear to me that such conduct was unacceptable behavior and would not be tolerated. The first week of my employment I was excited to attend a conference about education law issues. I thought it was a great sign that my employer valued training and learning. I was shocked to be informed upon arriving at the conference by a superior that asking questions at the conference was frowned upon because a year or two before an employee who asked a question upset the department head. Can you imagine being told not to ask questions at a conference?
Every local government needs an Office of New Ideas. What do you think?