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Sustainable change must be driven from the top

Govloop, one of the most important networks focused on open government, has a great discussion thread taking place focused on the question of Who Should be the Next U.S Deputy CTO? Read it as there are many great conversations taking place about open government as a whole, not just on who should fill this critical role.

One contributor, Megan, notes:

No matter who it is, we definitely need more top-down coordination for OpenGov. OpenGov/Gov 2.0 still seems somewhat haphazard and inconsistent in terms of how the Departments, Agencies, State and Local Gov’t are implementing it.

This is, and has always been, one of my deepest concerns with the approach taken towards open government. The majority of success stories are from organizations with passionate individuals driving his change, not with passionate leadership setting critical operational goals that individuals are solving using new and creative approaches. As I noted back to Megan:

Exactly! I have been arguing it must be top-down driven or we would reach a point where fragmentation would ultimately bite us. We’re nearing that point and it is critical that whomever steps into this role understands that we must balance the creativity of individual passion with top-down strategic vision.

We are seeing people transition from their current roles into new roles, both in and outside of the public sector. In many cases the replacements have not been identified, much less groomed, to take over the key changes brought about by open government efforts. As we bring in new leaders the burden of responsibility goes far beyond simply deploying cool technologies. Cloud computing, mobile, and social media are simply enablers of change, they are not the desired goals of the change.

True leadership…. Fearless leadership… these are what we need today to ensure long-term positive change. Will the White House hire a leader or a technology visionary? Lets see what happens.


Originally posted on Government in The Lab.

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Guy Martin


Excellent points – I think where a lot of us (myself included) get nervous with the ‘top-down’ approach is that it tends to fall into the same old pattern of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I know in the corporate world, this is true, and from my experience in government, it’s twice as true here.

That’s not to say that we don’t need top level ‘cover’, but I’d characterize it as that – ‘cover’ – giving your passionate individuals enough leeway to creatively do their jobs, not dictate (or provide ‘vision’ that doesn’t jibe with reality).

I see the role of leadership in Government 2.0 as clearing barriers to allow talented people to thrive, not attempting to define vision without input from those people who live and breathe the changes that need to happen.


John Moore

All excellent points Guy. Too often organization leaders blindly set goals without communicating or supporting them. I am not advocating a dictatorial appraoach where the message comes from on-high without discussion.

The approach I advocate is more along the lines of leaders stating that open government efforts need to address cost savings (as but an example). Discussions ensue, pushback as part of the discussion happens, and the passionate individuals come back with a plan. More discussion, perhaps pushback, ultimately everyone agrees on a plan that may not be as aggressive as leadership wants but does move the needle in the right direction.

The leader than provides the cover, the resources, etc…, so that the individual (s) can achieve the agreed upon plan.

Is this fantasy? No, been part of it countless times. The norm? No. This requires more effort from leaders, potential organizational changes, etc… It is not easy to start this process in most organizations but, once started, does work.

There are always bumps in the road, of course, but worth the effort. This is one of the reasons I always push back on a vision that focuses on technology over leadership and organizational change. Fix the organization, add technology, constantly review, and real change becomes possible.