It turns out that even creative, out-of-the-box thinking follows certain laws and principles. This is a good thing. In government, we are challenged not to pave the cow path. What does the future of Gov 2.0 look like? How do we think differently about providing valuable services to citizens?
Genrikh Altshuller noticed a pattern to creative thinking. As a clerk in a Russian patent office processing 40,000 patents between 1946 and 1969, he realized that inventions and patentable ideas follow predictable laws of evolution. Altshuller postulated TRIZ (the Russian acronym for the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) as a model that describes how technical systems evolve towards their increased ideality by overcoming contradictions.
According to TRIZ, technology evolves by overcoming contradictions. In order to predict the evolution of Gov 2.0, let’s consider a contradiction that must be solved. Data is a good example. Worldwide data is growing exponentially. Even as the technology to store and access data is becoming more efficient and cheaper, data growth remains IT’s biggest challenge (according to Gartner). As part of the open data movement, government data is increasingly more available to citizens. Data is a good. Data is the foundation of information, and information provides value to citizens. The contradiction arises when you begin to think of citizen’s valuable time. The more data (and information) that is available, more often than not, the more time it takes to find, and the more costly it is to distribute.
How do we improve the productivity of citizens looking for information and services via Gov 2.0 and, at the same time, ensure they have access to the growing stores of data they need to find that information?
With contradiction in hand, we use the TRIZ Contradiction Matrix to determine which TRIZ principle may be considered to trigger innovation for Gov 2.0. Using ‘productivity’ as an improving feature and ‘loss of information’ as the worsening feature of the contradiction, one output of the Contradiction Matrix is the invention principle turn the process upside down.
We tend to think of Gov 2.0 as government informing (or creating services for) the public. If we turn this upside down and look at it from this new perspective, we can consider the public informing (or producing services) for government. Hmm … interesting view. We already do this by exposing data for citizens to write code for as part of the open government data movement. But to turn the whole process upside down? Can we crowdsource government? Data, information, applications, and even policy would be managed by citizens. The implication would be government light or, taken to the furthest point on the spectrum, no government at all.
Realistically, government is here to stay. In Canada’s federal election earlier this month, we had only a 61.4% of all eligible voters turn out for a 15 minute commitment may only occur once every four years. Lincoln’s ideal of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” assumes an engaged citizenry. But voter apathy is partly a result of antiquated government practices. Perhaps turning it upside down is the answer. We need to organize government so that citizens can participate. Gov 2.0 and the open government data movement is a start in the right direction. To take it a step further, government data should be open by default. Furthermore, decision makers and the decision making process need to be transparent. We need to leverage Gov 2.0 to lower transaction costs so that citizens engage in policy and decision making.
When it comes down to it, the purpose of government is to serve citizens. Turning it upside down suggests the best way to do is to listen, facilitate, enable, and then, in some cases, get out of the way. Democratization and decentralization of government through Gov 2.0 can reduce the overhead and cost of government services and enable citizens to participate in their democratic right, not once every four years but on a much more regular basis. Only then will “government of the people, by the people, for the people” ring true.