How three governments are beating the budget crisis

In my work with public sector customers, I am constantly inspired. Resilient government leaders respond creatively to daunting circumstances time and again, turning to such tactics as alternative funding, new service delivery methods, and innovative partnerships to help them continue providing essential citizen services.

The current budget crisis is no exception. Today, federal managers report average budget cuts of 16 percent, and 73 percent expect their budgets to continue to decrease through 2015, according to a MeriTalk study. But even more striking is that 70 percent say budget cuts are having a “significant” or “devastating” impact on their agency’s ability to achieve its mission.
In the public sector, the mission—helping people—is everything. It’s very hard to face the idea of failure when the stakes are so high. For a while, you can look for places to trim, postpone, or streamline. But when cuts start to reach the core like they are now, government agencies—just like households—start to think differently. They go from doing more with less, or even less with less, to finding ways to do “new with less.”
Three examples stand out to me—governments that are embracing innovation not only to get through this crisis, but also to come out on top.
Federal Government of Mexico
Mexico implemented innovative process management software to help achieve its annual savings goal of nearly MXN$1.7 billion (US$130 million). So far, 2,500 employees are using [email protected], developed by Microsoft partner Pegaso Tecnología, to expedite approval processes by 90 percent and save taxpayer dollars through greater productivity. Not incidentally, faster processes also speed up associated job and tax revenue growth in a time when those increases are greatly needed. Read the case study for more.
City of Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is one of the world’s technology giants. The city got there by thinking differently. Instead of putting technologies first, and then building solutions for staff and later citizens, Barcelona’s leaders put citizens first. They spent a lot of time thinking about what they wanted the citizen experience to be, and then worked backwards from there. “Barcelona intends to be the point of reference,” said mayor Xavier Trias in a video interview, “for new technologies at the service of the people.” Today, this unique, people-first approach enables the city to deliver services that are helping the citizens and community thrive. Get the details in the case study.
Canada Revenue Agency
In Canada, the government is taking bold steps to exploit an innovative—and more efficient—tax-service delivery method: the Internet. In my home city of Ottawa there is a tax office, but gone are the days of standing in line to file your taxes or ask questions. The telephone tax filing service was discontinued last year, and while taxpayers still can print and mail their tax forms, the government no longer mails paper packets for citizens to fill out. All tax services are being pushed online to increase the accuracy and speed of filing and to save the government money. That money, in turn, can be funneled into other services.
While these three stand-out governments demonstrate their dedication to innovative thinking, they are not the norm, according to the MeriTalk study. It shows that many governments have gone straight to traditional budget-cutting tactics such as hiring freezes and service reductions. In fact, only 20 percent of the managers identified innovation as a way to deal with their budget crisis.
I contend that we, as citizens of the global community, need 80 percent of our governments to commit to doing things differently—just as Mexico, Barcelona, and Canada have. Let’s share our examples of innovation so that we can inspire each other to continually do new with less. Who inspires you?
This blog was written by my colleague Michele Thistle, and was originally posted on the Microsoft on Government Blog. You can follow her on Twitter at @MicheleThistle.

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