Gov 2.0 and public sector innovation needs both business and technology heads

At the Gov 2.0 lunchtime event last week (video coming soon), Darren, Manager, Media and Community Information, from the ACT’s Emergency Services Agency talked about how closely he’d worked with Richard, his technical lead, to create their social media presence and new website.

He proudly told us the website had cost only $43 to build, using internal skills and an open source platform, and was hosted in two locations – Sydney and Melbourne – allowing it to scale to two million users per hour.

He talked about the iOS app his team had built, ‘The Spot’, which allowed the agency to post to the website and social media at any time from any place, and was being extended to support keyword-based social media monitoring – again at low cost.

It made me realise something I’ve known for a very long time, but not really put into context in a government sense.

To develop successful cost-effective Gov 2.0 solutions, organisations need the same skills as a entrepreneurial start-up company – a ‘hustler’ and a ‘hacker’, or in more politically correct language, a ‘business guy’ and a ‘technical guy’.

Thinking back over all the successful websites and Gov 2.0 initiatives I’ve delivered, they all involved these two sets of skills,

As for myself, I’m the ‘hustler’ – with the skills to dream big dreams, identify market gaps and process improvement opportunities and sell them (at least part of the time) to the people who control the purse strings.

I’ve always worked with at least one ‘hacker’ – someone with the ability to turn concepts into code, ideas into reality. Whether it at a large government agency, or a tiny start-up, whether developing a national consultation platform for health, a map-centric data site or a leading games reviews site, without a hacker, many of my ideas can’t get realised. Without a hustler, many hackers can never navigate the ‘people web’ to get the resources and support required to realise big dreams.

Of course there are rare exceptional individuals who are both in one package – hustler and hacker. However they are often not as successful as expected due to the sheer time required for both tasks and they can burn out extremely quickly if left to flounder to design, sell and deliver all on their own.

Hustling requires research, networking, contracts, following processes and jumping hurdles. Hacking involves intense thought to translate ideas into a developable concept and concentrated coding to realise the vision.

Government agencies seeking to innovation or implement Gov 2.0 initiatives need to look to build successful combinations of hustlers and hackers to succeed in their goals by integrating people with business heads with those with technical heads into the same ‘cross-functional’ teams.

If your agency is looking to promote innovation or adopt Gov 2.0 techniques, then take a leaf out of the book of organisations designed to innovate. Don’t assign a business innovation champion, but neglect to involve ICT, or have the ICT team responsible for Gov 2.0 with no idea on what they are meant to do (and little time to do it in anyway.

Identify your hustlers – people good at coming up with ideas and selling them to management – and introduce them to your hackers – the coders who your other coders go to for help.

See where the sparks fly, which hackers and hustlers find common ground – ideas of what they believe should be done in order to replace how things are done.

Foster and support these pairs and larger groups, give them the opportunity and space to fail, and to succeed.

Then you’ll see the innovations flow, new ideas for using technology to solve old problems and fix process gaps, ways to save money and improve performance – both incremental and disruptive approaches to change your agency into a productive, effective and risk-balanced organisation.

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