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Partnerships for Innovation: Private and Public Sector Collaboration at Google

As GovLoop has reported, customer service is essential to the agency of the future. Fortunately, advances in technology are allowing agencies to excel in delivering customer service. For example, social media allows customers to engage directly with organizations while analytics allows companies to learn how to serve their clients. In public and private agencies real human beings are responding to online queries through live chats and other technology. While most of the times clients pose questions and employees provide answers, in some occasions citizens can engage with agencies by suggesting ideas of their own. Google has become a leader in maintaining this feedback loop. In fact, Google’s commitment to engaging with customers produced a truly out of the ordinary innovation at Google headquarters in Australia.

In June 2013, the Sydney, Australia monorail closed. The 25-year-old system was under-utilized and according to The Daily Telegraph, “It’s been slammed as ugly, intrusive, and revealed to be one of the most expensive public transportation systems in the world.” Still, the system had sentimental value to some Sydney citizens and many were saddened to hear the iconic structure would be turned into scrap metal. Therefore, a Sydney resident decided to bring a private sector company (Google) into a partnership with the Sydney metropolitan government to find an unique use for the decommissioned monorail: office space at Google’s headquarters.

Paul Cowan, an engineer who works with Google, jokingly submitted a request for Google to purchase the monorail and use it as transportation between the spread-out buildings of Google’s campus. A member of the Google facilities team responded to the request with her own jokes yet ultimately concluded it was not viable. As more members of the staff began to hear about the idea, many decided that it should not be treated as a joke, but as an innovative solution for improving headquarters. In addition, purchasing the outdated infrastructure could support the city in a financial and sentimental way. Google purchased two monorail cars, lifted them into a second story window and now are using the carriages as “unorthodox meeting rooms.” In this case, Google’s complaint and query system worked. An unusual request garnered a personalized and surprising result.

In the midst of a government shutdown, this example is especially important. If agencies begin to focus more on customer service, citizens may be able to bridge the gap between private sector and public sector to create partnerships that produce solutions. During the shutdown, the federal government has enlisted the help of a private consultant to distribute death benefits to veterans of families. What could more private-public partnerships accomplish during shutdowns and budget crises?

Do you know any real-life examples of effective private sector and public sector partnerships? List them in the comments below and they could appear in our upcoming series on partnerships for innovation and service.

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