The Rise of Municipalities

I’ve recently been thinking about the success and proliferation of government 2.0 and open data within municipalities. It seems to me that local government is best positioned to provide government 2.0 services and open data to citizens. The state and federal level also have many opportunities, but a lion’s share belongs to municipalities.

At the local level services are more immediate, if only for their geographic proximity. We want to know when our garbage and recycling will be picked up, when the road, sidewalks and fire hydrants will be cleared of snow, what are the best days to water our lawns, when the pothole outside of our house or on the way to school will be fixed, where are the best restaurants, where is the closest park, what is the best bus route or less congested traffic route to get us to work in the morning, and where are the parking spots.

New York City is leading the world with municipal open data and government apps. One example is Work +, which helps people working from home get out into the community by finding places nearby that are good for working. Or how about the Funday Genie, an app for planning a free day with a unique algorithm for a smart, personalized itinerary of fun things to do with your day? Embark NYC provides an elegant and simple app for citizens who want to get around on the New York subway, and it even works with underground with no cell signal. 596 Acres helps the citizens of Brooklyn become aware of vacant public land in their neighborhoods and provides tools to support communities organizing to get access for growing food and providing educational programs. These examples, and many more can be found at the BigApps3.0 site.

But you don’t have to go to the Big City to find great examples of #localgov20. The City of Edmonton has the mobile trash app, iPhone events calendar, Volunteering “Not for Profit” organizations iPhone app, and iFish Alberta, just to name a few. Vancouver has apps that let citizens know when there garbage will be picked up and where to find parking spots.

It will be interesting to see the evolution of municipalities in the next decade. I believe municipalities are well positioned to leverage the changes in government 2.0 and open data. As municipalities provide more locally relevant data and services, we may see a shift of focus and funding from the provincial/state/federal levels of government to the local level. We also may see a consolidation of municipalities into larger super cities such as we see in New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. In Canada, we’ve seen the consolidation of Toronto with its 5 neighboring municipalities in 1998, and a similar consolidation of Ottawa, Hamilton, and Greater Sudbury in 2001.

The other thing that cities tend to do well is collaborate with each other. With tight budgets and important services to provide, local governments are motivated to innovate, share and synergize with other municipalities with the goal of doing more with less. A recent example of this is the U.S. Conference of Mayors task force chaired by San Francisco Mayor, Edwin M. Lee, that wants “to help build an ecosystem that will help cities advance and prioritize innovation to improve government.”

Cities are smaller than state/provincial/federal government, and therefore usually more agile, responsive and closer to citizens and their needs. As we move from a vending machine model of government (where citizens put tax dollars in and receive services) to a more collaborative, citizen-centric approach, I believe we may also see a corresponding shift of some services from the provincial/federal level of government to the local one.

PS. I’m experimenting with a new format for these blog posts. Rather than spending too much time with an idea and ending up with a draft I don’t publish. I’m committing to throwing half-formed, more spontaneous, less self-censored ideas into the blogosphere. In other words, I’m taking some risks and invite collaboration and feedback. Please excuse typos.

Back to you …

Government 2.0: Breaking Down the Walls

On the weekend, I had the good fortune of watching Roger Water’s The Wall at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. The show was absolutely amazing with the largest projection surface (500 feet wide) ever toured in live entertainment. The images of oppression, war, and the building (and destruction) of the wall accompanied by Pink Floyd’s hauntingly powerful music and lyrics was a feast for the eyes and ears.

After the show, I began to think about the power of Web 2.0, Government 2.0 and Open Government in breaking down the walls that society has built over the millennia. We struggle in our organizations and other societal institutions (such as education and health care) with the rigid structures and hierarchies that constrain creativity, responsiveness, communication, autonomy, purpose, individuality and community. These institutions have evolved to mold us human beings into human automatons and cogs in a machine so that we fit in the industrialized processes, hierarchies and confines of order.They are products of the human mind. Scientific management was an approach to management that analyzed and synthesized workflows to improve economic efficiency. In our attempts to become more efficient and effective, we risk losing touch with our humanity and what Daniel Pink  characterizes as the key ingredients of human motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

The social, inter-active web provides a platform to break down the barriers of traditional organizational silos and open up new possibilities for human organization, interaction and commerce. In government, it enables us to communicate and collaborate across traditional boundaries. It breaks down the walls of silos, hierarchy and compartmentalization. The diagram below is an oversimplification. Of course, there are walls within the ministries themselves, between divisions, between branches and between organizational hierarchical layers within the organizations. These walls are not only found in government; they are also prevalent in private organizations.

Government 2.0 can break down these walls. But they will not break without a fight. We all have a vested interest in protecting our traditional silos. We hoard information, because information is power. We fight tooth and nail to keep our data, protect our organizational boundaries and maintain the status quo. We must learn to be more open, sharing, and accepting of new ideas, of ourselves and of each other. It is a struggle, but the benefits will be enormous. “All and all its just another brick in the wall.”

Roger Waters says the following on his website: “I believe we have at least a chance to aspire to something better than the dog eat dog ritual slaughter that is our current response to our institutionalized fear of each other.” What do you think?

Strategic Approach to Government 2.0

One of the challenges that continually surfaces in Government 2.0 initiatives is what I call the tool syndrome. People get stuck on the tools. Should we use Facebook or Twitter? Do we need a blog or a wiki? Come on, admit it. We’ve all been there. I know I have.

The tools question is one that needs to be addressed at some point in the process, but it is not the first thing that should be considered. The first thing that should be considered is the business need. What do you want to do? Why?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been working on a strategic framework that helps organizations articulate and communicate what they want to accomplish and how to go about it. The framework is based on Benefits Realization, articulated by John Thorpe in his book The Information Paradox. Benefits Realization provides the fundamental governance, necessary conditions, and tools and techniques to enable organizations to effectively and efficiently manage business value from IT investments.

The frameworks helps organizations:

  1. To understand and align their programs and investments with their strategy;
  2. To help them quantify and manage the achievement of their business outcomes;
  3. To translate those strategies into meaningful action; and
  4. To achieve results.

My example of the Gov 2.0 Strategic Framework is a draft based on the Province of BC’s Citizens @ the Centre:BC Government 2.0: A Transformation and Technology Strategy for the BC Public Service. It illustrates how the Province’s initiatives/programs lead to the business outcomes articulated in their strategy.

The business outcomes are the circles on the right-hand side of the diagram. The initiatives are the boxes on the left of the outcomes. Usually, a Results Chain will include contributions, assumptions (risks) and accountabilities. I have omitted these components in the interest of simplicity to clarify the pictorial narrative. A document supporting the Results Chain is the Benefits Register which tracks the measure of each business outcome, including baseline and target value. The circles on the bottom are business outcomes that I have not mapped yet. Like I say, this is a work in progress.

The framework (Results Chain) tells a story in a single image and is an excellent communication tool for government executive, public service employees and the general public in understanding government’s strategic approach to Government 2.0.

The Results Chain is used by executive to articulate organization goals and understand the traceability between initiatives and business outcomes. Drafting a Results Chain on a whiteboard will precipitate a discussion that includes investment management decisions, a prioritization of programs, and a high level understanding of each program’s contribution to organization objectives.

Steve Jobs Tribute

We will look back at Steve Jobs in the same way as we look back at Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Mozart.

Steve Jobs not only revolutionized technology, he revolutionized the world. His innovative user-centric interface design will forever change the way we design everything in the future.

Imagine a car designed by Apple. That is our future thanks to Steve Jobs.

I like the way this bagpiper avoids the attention of the media in the following video. His intention is only to pay respect to a great man.

Steve Jobs, RIP.

Innovative Gov 2.0 – Turning it Upside Down

Think differently.

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.

My intention here is to apply the principles of TRIZ to think creatively about the possible advancements of Gov 2.0 and the next stage in its evolution.

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.