November 12, 2008 By Paul W. Taylor
The answer is in the room. The room, in this case, was a discussion of changing the way government works at the conclusion of re:public VII: a gathering of those who choose to lead, an invitation-only event convened in Tucson, Ariz., by e.Republic's Center for Digital Government.
The answer is in the room, taken more broadly, recognizes the power and potential of internal initiative in changing the way organizations work.
As a case in point, Veterans Day came with a pair of announcements that new veterans-only social networks were launching, not by upstart newcomers but by incumbents that have been protecting and promoting the interests of veterans -- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, working with the Ad Council, launched CommunityofVeterans.org on Tuesday and the Veterans of Foreign Wars brought www.myvetworks.com online this week too.
But that may be just scratching the surface. Back in the room in Tucson, the assembled panel had all gone deeper in their respective jurisdictions. Here are brief summaries of their case stories:
Vivek Kundra, CTO for the District of Columbia, says formal cross-agency agreements to surface and share data has made it possible to democratize D.C.'s data -- for the good of the district and democracy itself.
It has resulted in the surfacing of 260 data feeds across D.C. government and a 30 percent reduction in requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
This final judging is slated for this Thursday, but the contest has attracted a steady stream (with at least one developed every day) of open source apps for platforms from Facebook to iPhones Apps -- including ones that let you know when the next Metro train is coming, give you real-time notification of crimes and disturbances in progress or allow you to customize tour routes in D.C. based on your interests.
Kundra says the Apps for Democracy is part of a deliberate process to rethink the way government is done and in which "citizens and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] co-create" the future with and for government.
Kundra says that a future of that time involves confronting entrenched bureaucracies. He asked for and received the authority to make hiring offers on the spot -- successfully attracting 100 new people into public service that would have otherwise been snapped up by the private sector before government-as-usual could act. A more startling HR move is a parallel mechanism for showing others to the door. The district has also implemented daily performance reviews to identify people who are simply not working (out) and get them off the public payroll. The daily performance checks enforce expectations that everybody gets something done every day. If you are not getting it done, you have until tomorrow or the next day to start. And if you never start, your employment ends.
The city of Sacramento, Calif., is partnering with Westinghouse to vaporize and monetize trash. So says Sacramento City Manager Ray Kerridge who, upon first meeting, appears to be the kind of guy who has a well thumbed first edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Listen a little longer and it becomes clear that he could write Zen and the Art of Repairing Government.