Think IDEO, but for government

This entry may be last before the new year, and to be honest, has been a long time coming. You see, I’ve got this thought in my head and it seems to have taken up residence. I’m not sure how much you know about me, or how much you care to know, but I’ve spent the last four years in the public sector. I could bore you with all of the details but let’s just say that I’ve experienced both the best and the worst this sector has to offer.

My initial experience was so abhorrent that I’ve made it my mission to try to make it better for others; I look to my father for inspiration and to my children for lessons in collaboration. I like to think that I have helped inspire public servants to be courageous, to rethink old mental models, and to alert them to the art of the possible.

I’ve met many great people, inspiring thinkers and doers, and for that I am incredibly fortunate. Many think I am living the dream, that I am one of the few who have come as close as you possibly can to an entrepreneur in the public sector. There was a time when I agreed with them, but that time has passed.

We are ready for so much more

I was on the bus on my way to work yesterday and overheard three public servants speaking. One of them was talking about her son who was working as a student two days a week for a federal agency. He was doing so well that they wanted to bridge him in full time, only he didn’t want that. In fact, “It is the last thing he wants, he is looking for something where he can be entrepreneurial.”

It’s not surprising, despite the best efforts of some of our best and brightest, even the most well-intentioned attempt at public sector innovation is suffocated by the traditionally bureaucratic: committees, policies, and briefing notes. Perhaps it’s time for a complete redesign.

Or at least I am

I want to spend the next leg of my professional career working on all facets of public sector redesign. I’ve said before that:

Never before has technology allowed us to paint such a clear picture of what is informing decision-making, policy, and program delivery. Embracing a more open ethos and grabbing hold of enabling technology will do more for our public services than we could possibly imagine. It starts with a simple switch: connecting what we used to write in the margins of our paper based notebooks on the web.

In short, I want to focus on designing and implementing open systems for the public sector in virtual, intellectual and physical space. I want to help ensure that the most innovative ideas, practices and people are no longer lost, ignored or marginalized.

I have ideas on how this can be done both within existing public sector organizations, and as a private firm. I’m open to discussing this with anyone who gets me even one inch closer to being able to pull this together.

Think IDEO, but for government.

This column was originally published to by Nick Charney.

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Lauren Modeen

Nice. I think in order to move one inch closer to the goal, government (like business) needs to start putting a stronger focus on design. As Steve Jobs says, “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Lauren – Rotman’s is the best kept secret out there! I’ve been following their work on integrative thinking and business design for several years and have enthusiastically advocated that organizations model what they are doing.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I share your frustration with working as a public servant. I’ve been banging my head against bureaucracy for over 30 years, but believe that you have to be an “insider” to make true change. For inspiration, ideas, and a vision of what the future of work will be, I have always turned to Fast Company magazine, especially their “Work Smart” section (

Keep up the fight!

Nicholas Charney

Hey all – the video I embedded didn’t come through from the RSS feed importer, so I updated manually.

Just opened all the links in new tabs …!

Thom – there is no equivalent in Canada working on public sector issues IMO. This needs to be built.