Forget Sweet Tea, Government Needs Red Bull
Originally posted to Changepapers.org on November 13, 2009 by Leslie Boney + Matthew Muñoz
If North Carolina is to drink the sweet tea of innovationalism — then state and local government needs a shot of Red Bull.
Necessity demands it
Unable to print money, the recession is starving non-federal government agencies in the short term, while the public's distaste for taxes challenges the long term. Words like tax increase and euphemisms like tax reform and revenue enhancement receive about the same amount of public support as "chlamydia" and "leprosy."
No matter the words — people dislike taxes and there's a steady trend away from more of them.
Citizen expectations are rising, thanks to past business success. Consumer experiences set benchmarks for citizen experiences — tough standards for governments to reach. Many citizen consumers think — if the gratification isn't instant, if the journey isn't emotional, if the brand isn't human, and if I'm not at the center of it all — then what's the point? What are a group of citizens with high expectations likely to demand of their government? What will they think if they don't get it? Will they value government more if they do get what they want? They just might.
Googleification brings choice, meaning citizens can go elsewhere for services previously provided by the government. Forget government supported co-ops — you can go off the grid. Forget public libraries — you can surf for online book swaps. Who needs government-enabled cable — satellite and Hulu are easy. Basic service questions, oft handled by government workers, appear through both government and non-government sites. Sophisticated academic courses, taught online by the best faculty, can cost less and be more convenient (disclosure: Leslie works for the UNC system) than the face-to-face format.
None of these trends will take all the customers of government — they'll start by taking the citizens likely to vote — but think about it: are citizens who don't use the library more or less likely to vote for a new branch?
Add it all up — starving funding, inflating expectations and exponential choice — and it means an increasing population of people with government some governmental independence, who may be less likely to support things they perceive to pay twice for.
How will government respond?
Fortunately, government can innovate. New technology makes it possible and smart people make it probable – if we can turn them loose on solving the problems – if we can let them innovate.
Government may be a little late to the party, but here are just a few innovative things government is doing to become more efficient and to explore new revenue streams:
The innovations to date in government would generally fall into what we called in Paper 03, "little I" innovation, but they do fit our definition of innovation: they show "the ability to translate new ideas and technologies into new systems, products and services.
But that's just process efficiency. Imagine a government that was optimized for innovation. Where would it innovate? And how? There may be some lessons from the experience, painful and positive, of businesses over the past twenty years. We'll look at that in the next post.
A closing thought
Nobody we know is working in government because they believe they have a right to a taxpayer-funded job. They work there because we want our towns and cities and counties and state to keep getting better, and they believe government can help. The changes in our economy enable us to serve people better; they demand that we do it more efficiently and effectively. That means changing the way we do business, and the kind of business we do, over and over again. That means becoming a truly innovative government.