“The Stargate Trap”: From Politics to Implementation

Cross-posted from Wired to Share – In a new book that applies systems thinking to complex government initiatives, “If We Can Put a Man on the Moon … Getting Big Things Done in Government,” authors Bill Eggers and John O’Leary describe the moment that a public initiative translates from design to reality – the moment of legislative passage – in scifi terms, as the Stargate. In Chapter 3, “The Stargate Trap” they describe what can happen at that moment:
“The best that can be said of the Stargate Trap is that is sometimes kills bills that deserve to die. More often, the damaging distortion effects on a policy proposal are profoundly negative. Sometimes a bill sits out there and gets picked apart like a wounded animal by opponents, eventually being killed. Sometimes a bill gets loaded with so many goodies and special exceptions to gain the support needed for passage that the final bill becomes unrecognizable from the original idea. Or perhaps the bill is rammed through will little debate. None of these routes through the Stargate enhances democracy.”
This is powerful book because it traces the “big idea” from the political to the bureaucratic, providing myriad U.S. and international examples of both failed and successful processes. But it also confirms many of the fears I have about government process, writ large in today’s California water and national health care initiatives.
I’ll be blogging more about the ideas in this book in the days and weeks to come. Happily, Man on the Moon’s important look at government process is just as readable as today’s business bestsellers – welcome and refreshing in the arena of public policy. It also combats process traps, including the dangers at the Stargate, with action-oriented “Field Guide” sections for success in democratic reforms.
Earlier tonight, Gov 2.0 Radio interviewed Eggers and O’Leary. You can check out that podcast here.

~ Adriel Hampton is a San Francisco public servant and host of the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast.

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