What I Heard This Week at Outlook

This week, I had the opportunity to attend Governing’s Outlook in the States and Localities event held in DC. Like every year, the room was chock full of industry folks hoping to hear something that would enable them to improve their relationship with state and local government, each listening with a unique filter for that little nugget of gold.

Of course, I was there for exactly that reason as well and I did discover a couple nuggets of gold. Not being the greedy type, I thought I would take a couple moments and share what I heard. The two key themes that jumped out at me were:

  • The importance of innovation
  • The desire to further improve citizen engagement

The discussions around innovation and reinventing government were quite interesting. The government speakers sounded like forward thinking private industry business executives. I heard phrases such as; think different, be bold, fail fast, fail forward, etc. There was a focus beyond the typical topic of efficiency, moving to that of effectiveness. Doing something cheaper that is not also effective is still a waste of resource. Further, the panelist discussed how to get an innovation to stick. It seems, far too often, someone in government will come up with a creative approach to solving a problem only to have it later squashed by the sheer weight of bureaucracy and culture. The advice? Protect the reformers, protect the reforms. Make room for people to try new things, knowing that some will fail. Allow failure (not to be confused with negligence) to be acceptable as the price to pay to gain innovation. Give new ideas the time to take hold and nurture them during the early phases.

Not bad advice. Sounds like a few successful tech companies I know of.

Moving on to citizen engagement. I believe the most insightful comment was the need to eliminate the transaction-based relationship with citizens and replace it with a long-term relationship that takes into account the entirety of a citizen’s situation, wants and needs. In Oakland County, CA, they have created a “One Stop Shop” environment intended to address ALL the needs of an individual at one time, from one source. What a novel idea! It’s kind of like a Super Target where you can buy everything from clothing to electronics to housewares to food to, well, you get the idea. Additional points made that stuck with me were:

  • Know what the citizen wants and give it to them
  • Know what the citizen values and deliver that
  • Know the citizen’s expectations and out-perform them
  • Re-build trust by being truly transparent – no spin
  • Mine data to learn and engage citizens with the gleaned insights

So, what is it common about these two themes? Well, they both require people in government to be in a position to make much better decisions. To see what they couldn’t see before. To prove an idea quantitatively that was only a gut feeling in the past. To truly understand the impact of government on the individual citizen. To do more things in a much “smarter” fashion.

Is it making sense why these were my two big take-away themes? Do we want a government that is smarter and better engaged? Of course we do and the path to this is found, yes, that’s right, in the data.

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