Jennifer Pahlka’s 6 Lessons Learned for Change Agents – NextGen Opening Keynote

Next Generation of Government training summit, is a two-day training summit preparing future leaders of government. Hosted by GovLoop and Young Government Leaders,the Next Generation of Government Training Summit began in 2010 and has enhanced the working and personal lives of 1,000+ Generation X and Y government employees. The sessions and workshops presented during the two day summit are jam packed with information focused on educating, inspiring and training emerging government leaders to further enhance their day-to-day career and the betterment of government overall.

Jennifer Pahlka, Deputy Chief Technology Officer & Founder of Code for America, kicked off the summit. Pahlka is known for her TED talk, Coding a Better Government. In 2012, the Oxford Internet Institute awarded her the 2012 Internet and Society Award and in 2011, Government Technology named her one of 2011’s Doers, Dreamers and Drivers in Public Sector Innovation and the Huffington Post named her the top Game Changer in Business and Technology.

Previously, Pahlka spent eight years at CMP Media where she ran the Game Developers Conference, Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com and the Independent Games Festival. Pahlka also ran the Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 events for TechWeb, in partnernship with O’Reilly Media, and co-chaired the successful Web 2.0 Expo. Jennifer’s early career was spent in the non-profit sector.

Deriving from her experience, Pahlka provided a great keynote to kick off NextGen, highlighting the power of communities to transform government, and empowering attendees to become change agents within their agencies. Pahlka notes, “There is a community here that cares about government and is having an important, honest dialogue about how government can improve the daily lives of citizens.” Whether the dialogue is through how to best leverage data, emerging technology or transform processes, the hope is that government will work to become more effective and efficient in delivery of services to citizens.

Pahlka spoke about her experience at Code for America and her role in the recent management agenda released by President Obama. She noted to the attendees, “The thing that I want you to know, you do not need the permission of the White House or anyone to contribute to the agenda.” Continuing, “There is also a mechanism for people who really know how to move the agenda forward to get the work recognized and get a spotlight on, and that is for anyone who cares about government.” Pahlka concluded her presentation by giving six lessons for change agents in government.

1- Love what you do

Pahlka said, “You can’t change it unless you really love it. “ She also mentioned the importance of learning to balance contradicting interests, such as knowing how to balance chaos and control, big government and small government, learning the best way to find value for the citizens you are serving.

2 – Respect and Trust

Her second piece of advice was to learn to come from a place of empathy, she said, “Respect the people, but change the system.” Building trust and respect for those who you serve is essential to becoming a change agent.

3 – Dive Deeper, Go to the Source

Innovation requires persistence. Pahlka advised, “Go to the source, if someone tells you cant do something, it may not be the law or legislation, it may be memos and interpretations of that legislation, go do your homework and look at the law and regulation and see if says what it really says.”

4 – Cherish Your Inner Geek

Here Pahlka advised to go out and connect with coders, programmers, IT staff and people who can help you get access to resources or information you may need. “Befriend the geek and channel your inner geek,” notes Pahlka.

5 – Citizen First

I really liked this quote from Pahlka, “Remember who is the boss, the boss is always the user and citizens who you are working for.” This means working closely with stakeholders, build with the user in mind and helping to craft tools that empower your end user, making their lives better.

6 – Build Your Network

The final recommendation from Pahlka was to build a network. She notes, “Use your network to hold yourself to a higher standard. The time to build your network is before you need, build a network because you have shared values and things in common.” This is the power of community and sharing resources, information and ideas.

Pahlka concluded by stating that in her current role she aspires to, “make easy things easy and hard things possible.” She also challenged the audience to continue to go out and continue the transformative work they are doing in the public sector, and defining their role in government, as she states, “Make today and many days to come, your own founding moments.”

Young Government Leaders, a professional organization of men and women employed by or for the government who are “young” in their service and/or “fresh” in their perspective, and GovLoop, an online knowledge hub for government employees whose mission is to help government do their jobs better, have continuously taken NextGen to new heights year after year. NextGen 2013 is no exception. This year, the summit will continue to tackle issues the next generation of civil servants is facing in their professional careers through hands-on training, conversational think-tanks and transformational leadership lessons.

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