Much has been written about how the results of this year’s Presidential election reflected the feeling on the part of people who live in rural areas and small towns that they have been overlooked and that the severe problems in those areas have not received sufficient attention by public and business leaders.
This Washington Post story, sub-headed “How an electorate fed up with the elite propelled Donald Trump to victory”, is a good example.
Although we frequently hear that 80% of Americans live in cities now, that still means there are 60,000,000 Americans in the countryside – not an insignificant number as we saw last month.
Even the news stories that feature broad economic trends don’t highlight the uneven nature of those trends in these areas. For example, the decline in manufacturing employment was a standard talking point on the recent campaign trail. But many observers seem to have forgotten that many bigger manufacturing plants had long since departed cities for the countryside. So when manufacturing employment declined, it hit the countryside more deeply, even while that pain was less visible.
So, sadly, the feeling in rural America of being forgotten is not unfounded.
To make matters worse, in too many small cities and rural areas, many people speak negatively of the prospects for the area. This helps create a downward spiral by persuading the brightest young people to leave.
As sociologists, Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas, wrote in their 2009 book, “Hollowing Out The Middle:
“The biggest question facing anyone who grows up in a small town is whether he or she should leave or stay. A little further down the road, those who make the initial decision to leave, usually after graduating high school, must decide whether to return to the cozy familiarity of their hometown or to continue building lives elsewhere. The fact that this small-town rite of passage should be so intimately bound up with the very future of the Heartland allows us to see how the hollowing-out phenomenon plays out in the lives and decisions of young people, and how their pathways are shaped by the communities and people who surround them as they grow up.”
“The Heartland’s most valuable export is not crops or hogs but its educated young people.”
For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the Intelligent Community Forum helping these communities to take advantage of new opportunities open to them in a new century in which close physical proximity of millions of people is not necessarily the only strategy for economic success.
I’ve written before about how technology enables rural residents to take advantage of the kind of resources that you used to be almost exclusively available to residents of big cities — global economic connections, education and culture, even world-class health care — while maintaining the quality of life that draws them or keeps them in the countryside.
With all this on my mind a few weeks ago, I was asked by the Aspen Institute to keynote a community dialog in Sutter County (Yuba City), California. This was part of my participation in the small working group advising Aspen’s project on the future of libraries.
Although Sutter County is not, by any means, among the most devastated of rural communities, it is still concerned about its future. My observation was that they had some strong assets that are otherwise underappreciated in the conventional economic development perspective.
First, I was impressed by the local leadership, which seemed to have its act together. Leaders who have vision and an understanding of where the world is going are essential for community development.
Second, they have a diverse population, with a variety of experiences including an understanding of entrepreneurial success. Like some other flourishing small cities around the country, Yuba City also has its immigrant groups. It is, for example, known all over North America and India for its long-established Sikh community, which draws tens of thousands of people to the city each year – and can be a connection to the global economy.
Third, they have a library that is prepared to play its role as the central institution of the knowledge economy and help the residents of Sutter County take advantage of new opportunities that I see in a new connected countryside. Much of the Aspen workshop/dialog was focused on the steps the library can take to make this a reality.
It will be interesting to see how well Sutter County achieves its vision and what other communities can learn from it.
And, perhaps for a short time, the situation in the countryside will get a little attention among public officials and the media. But even being remembered, once in a while, really isn’t much of a program.
While Sutter County and places like it across the country are trying to assure their future, it would be easier if national policy recognized and helped them respond to the socio-economic-technological challenges and opportunities facing them. More than merely reducing the sense of being forgotten, it could help accelerate a renaissance in the countryside.
A part of my research in graduate school included modeling a small,
but influential, network of individuals – the US Supreme Court. I used
the mathematical models tools available. I even represented the court’s
decisions in a Markov chain and computed characteristics like its
You can be excused if you’ve never heard about any of
this or even about Markov chains. Nobody at the time was much
interested either. But I suppose I should have stayed with it, with
books now being published on the impact of the Internet and network
It emphasizes the importance of networks and
declaring that there is still a wide-open gap in the tools most of us
have for understanding these networks.
In an interview about the book, he set out his goal:
live in an age where almost everything changes because of
connectivity… The seventh sense is the idea that some people have an
instinct for how this works that’s better, sharper than the rest of us.
The book is designed to teach people how to think about connected
systems so that they can have the same kind of edge. The people who see
what’s coming in financial markets or in politics have that edge. It’s
important that the rest of us develop it, too.”
However, the book
is worth reading for what it is, not what he wants it to be. It is
unusual in probing the subtleties — both positive and negative — of our
network age, not the usual breathless or self-promoting material.
of the book describes the various ways that being connected can change
the characteristics and behavior of businesses, organizations,
governments – everything that we’ve inherited from the industrial era.
has been made in various other reviews and discussions of this book
about its the scary descriptions of security issues and other dangers in
networks. That wasn’t news to me and shouldn’t be news to most network
users who have been paying any attention.
Some people have
complained that the book is so wide ranging and repetitive it can be
frustrating to read. Parts go into related space, where he worries
that it’s not just the network, but artificial intelligence that is
surpassing us in ways we don’t understand. But this isn’t a blog of
literary criticism, so I’ll skip over that and go to the substance.
his day job at Kissinger Associates, I thought the most interesting
themes had to do with the interaction between the new global technology
network and the traditional institutions of government, business and
Two themes, in particular, stand out:
notes that the transition from agricultural to industrial eras was
accompanied by major wars, revolutions and destruction, along with
rising wealth. He asks what similar events are likely to happen in the
transition to a networked age. Perhaps ISIS and this year’s disruptions
in the American Presidential elections are only early warning signs of
what’s to come.
He ends the book recalling Plato on the
need for wisdom in rulers, after he has presented a picture of two
inadequate sets of rulers – the engineers who control the network, but
do not understand governance and human interactions and the traditional
government leaders who don’t understand then network.
we all seem to be connected, Ramo writes that the Internet is really
divided into various gated communities. He states that “gatedness is
the corollary to connectedness” and this gatedness is a potential
At one point, he worries that you will have to be among
the rulers — presumably those with the seventh sense or at least those
controlling the gates — or the ruled. He says the network gives people
more power against the gatekeepers than in traditional institutions, but
also notes that the average person may nevertheless need to be inside
the gate to lead a satisfactory life and make a living – so there’s
really no choice after all.
Aside from the problem he mentions, why is this important?
no matter their ideology and internal practices, in the past few
centuries, all governments are fundamentally in the business of
controlling a specific bordered territory — maintaining the physical
gates. He posits that the Internet’s gatekeepers — Facebook, or Apple
iOS, etc. —are taking over that role in the cyberworld. He says that
they are the powerful ones to watch out for in future wars between
networks and the state and between networks and other networks.
others have considered the potential of a conflict between governments
and the Internet. Last summer, for example, the Wilson Quarterly had an
article responding to this concern, “The Nation-State: Not Dead Yet”.
biggest weakness in the book and others of this kind is that the lack
of nuance in the discussion of networks. The fact that there can be a
distribution of power and gates in networks doesn’t end the story.
Partly the problem with these books is that the question of what nodes
(and entry points) of a network are most influential isn’t one that
can’t be answered merely in words.
Pictures help convey a bit more, and – going back to my graduate school research – mathematics helps even more.
as you read Ramo’s book and his concerns, you get the sense that his
view of the network is similar to this picture of Indiana University’s
Big Red network:
But perhaps the world outside of such tightly
controlled campuses is more like the collaborative network of Oak Ridge
Or something different.
And although a node’s
place in a network can show its potential influence, these graphs merely
show connections, not actual influence or power. Unfortunately, the
publicly available analysis of influence over the billions of nodes and
endpoints of the Internet is still primitive. Moreover, to his point,
it is also changing.
This book is a bit like Jefferson’s view of
the Louisiana Purchase before the Lewis and Clark expedition. Jefferson
had a sense it was worth buying, but needed to send out scouts to find
out the details. While they didn’t learn everything there was to learn
about the territory, much of what they did learn was changed over time
That too will characterize our understanding of the network we explore each day.
At the annual summit of the Intelligent Community Forum two weeks
ago, there was a keynote panel consisting of the mayors of three of the
most intelligent cities in the world:
Michael Coleman, Mayor of the City of Columbus, Ohio from 2000 through 2015
Mayor Rob Van Gijzel, Eindhoven, Netherlands, from 2008-today
Paul Pisasale, Mayor, City of Ipswich, Queensland, Australia, from 2004-today
Both Eindhoven and Columbus have been selected as the most intelligent community in the world and Ipswich has been in the Top 7. Columbus also was just selected by the US Government as one of the winners of its Smart City challenge.
topic was intriguing (at least to those of us who care about economic
growth): “International Economic & Business Development — Secrets of
international development at the city and region level”.
did have interesting things to say about that topic. Mayor Coleman
pointed out that 3,000 jobs are created for every billion dollars of
global trade that Columbus has. He reminded the audience that making
global connections for the benefit of the local economy is not a
one-time thing as it takes years to build relationships that will
flourish into deep global economic growth.
That reminder of the
long term nature of creating economic growth was a signal of the real
secrets they discussed — how to survive a long time in elected office
and create a flourishing city.
Part of what distinguishes these
mayors from others is not just their success at being elected because
the voters thought they were doing a good job. An important part of
their success is their willingness to focus on the long-term, the
By contrast, those mayors and other local officials who
are so worried about re-election instead focus just on short term hits
and, despite that, often end up being defeated.
This requires a
certain personal and professional discipline not to become too easily
distracted by daily events. For example, Mayor Coleman said he divided
his time into thirds –
Handling the crisis of the day (yes, he did have to deal with that, just not all the time)
Keeping the city operations going smoothly
Developing and implementing a vision for the future
another statement of the importance of a future orientation, Mayor
Pisasale declared that “economic development is about jobs for your
kids” — a driving motivation that’s quite different from the standard
economic development projects that are mostly sites for ribbon cuttings
and a photo in the newspaper.
He was serious about this statement
even in his political strategy. His target groups for the future of the
city are not the usual civic leaders. Rather he reaches out to
students (and taxi drivers) to be champions for his vision of the
Mayor Van Gijzel pointed out that an orientation to the
future means that you also have to be willing to accept some failures –
something else that you don’t hear often from more risk-averse, but less
successful politicians. (By the way, there’s a lot more detail about
this in the book, “The City That Creates The Future: Rob van Gijzel’s
This kind of thinking recalls the 1932 declaration by the most
politically successful and re-elected US President, Franklin Roosevelt:
country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands
bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method
and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above
all, try something.”
That brings up another important point
in this time of focus on cities. Innovation and future-orientation is
not just about mayors.
Presidents aside, another example of long term
vision comes from
Buddy Villines, who was chief executive of Pulaski County (Little Rock, Arkansas) for twenty-two years until the end of 2014.
a time when many public officials are disdained by a majority of their
constituents, these long-time mayors – successful both as politicians
and for the people of their cities – should be a model for their more
Among the three kinds of often successful, but non-conformist, brand strategies that Professor Moon describes is the “breakaway brand”.
She starts with the story of Sony’s AIBO, an expensive, but not very useful and frequently non-functioning robot. In light of its very real limitations, the company positioned it not as a robot, but instead as a household pet. Branded as a pet, its quirky behavior and unresponsiveness to its owner’s commands at times (due to system errors) was acceptable, even expected. And many AIBO owners developed real understanding and affection for their “pet”.
In elaborating on the strategy, she wrote:
The new frame of reference — PET as opposed to ROBOT — has become an almost magical transformative device, transforming an instrumental product into a playful one, transforming a series of product flaws (“the voice recognition doesn’t work, and the thing rarely obeys commands”) into actual product benefits (“it’s a pet with a mind of its own”).
This, in a nutshell, is what breakaway brands are: They’re transformative devices. By presenting us with an alternative frame of reference, they encourage us to let go of the consumption posture we’re inclined to bring to a product and embrace entirely new terms of engagement instead. …
You could even say that breakaway brands revel in our stereotypes, since they make their living turning them upside down. We dream of someday owning a robot that will wait on us hand and foot, so what do these brands do? They give us a robot that we have to wait on hand and foot. …
These brands are the antithesis of well-behaved, and their mutiny is directed squarely at the category assumptions we bring to the table. And sometimes the transgression is more than a touch provocative; it’s a bit twisted as well. …
What a breakaway positioning strategy offers is the opportunity to achieve a kind of differentiation that is sustainable over the long term. … it has no competitors; it remains sui generis.
Then I put the book down to watch the news.
While I don’t normally write about politics and I’m not going to provide opinions about the candidates for US President here, this description — in a book published six years ago — struck me as being so clearly relevant to the 2016 rise of Donald Trump that I think it’s worth sharing.
Donald Trump hasn’t been educated as lawyer or political scientist or policy analyst and has not held public office. Instead, he is a businessman, with an education from one of the best business schools in the country and obvious skills at promotion. I have no idea if he has ever read this particular business book, but even if he hasn’t, he’s been pursuing exactly this strategy in politics with all of the extreme reactions — both positive and negative — that come to businesses pursuing breakaway brand strategies.
This helps me to understand the Trump phenomenon better. And the breakaway rethinking of the brand of President may also explain why Trump has maintained his support among voters regardless of whether they approve or disapprove of any of his positions and statements.
By the way, my guess is that this tweet indicates that Professor Moon herself is not at all happy about Trump.
And lest we think this is a one-time phenomenon, Professor Moon notes that:
In addition, these brands leave an indelible mark on their categories even after copycats emerge. In fact, this is what I tell my students: When you witness the birth of a breakaway brand, you are often witnessing the birth of an entirely new subcategory, one that is likely to alter the complexion of that industry well beyond the next business cycle. …
This, then, is what I mean when I say that breakaway brands succeed in transforming their industries. They leave their imprint by expanding product definitions, by stretching category boundaries, and by forcing competitors to play catch-up for years to come.
Of course, it remains to be seen how large a share of the “market” (the electorate) is attracted to this particular breakaway strategy — or if some other candidate in the future will find a new way of breaking away from what may have been the once-new, but then became conventional, behavior.
A few years ago, when my son was a high school teenager, he was totally absorbed in online multi-player games. One day, I heard him talking to his friends during the game (using a form of voice over IP, like Skype). So thinking these might be high school buddies, I asked who he was talking to. He said there was one boy from Korea, another from Mexico and a fourth from Russia.
As I told the chief elected executive of our county at the time, my son’s body was there all day long, but his mind was spending lots of time outside of the county (even the country).
Not the old philosophical debate about a mind-body problem, but a new digital age version has emerged: a new kind of problem where body and mind are in different places.
Moreover, we are actually in the early days of the Internet because our communications with each other generally are not visual. Without conversational videoconferencing, a major means of communicating fully and building trust is absent from online communities. We’ll really see the impact when those visual tools are more widely used.
This situation poses an increasing challenge for public officials.
With their attention focused in all kinds of places around the globe, people are virtually living in multiple jurisdictions. To which jurisdiction does that person have primary loyalty or interest in? Could they be good citizens of more than jurisdiction? In any case, if their attention is divided, doesn’t that have an impact? What if they just don’t care about local officials and their government?
Some cynical political advisers might well like a situation that reduces citizen attention and engagement since it makes the outcome of elections and lawmaking more predictable. But smarter elected officials realize that eventually a lack of public engagement stands in the way of getting things done. In other countries, lack of engagement, knowledge and trust for the government has led to failure to pay taxes or even physically leaving a jurisdiction forever.
Over the last few decades we’ve seen an erosion of trust in this country as well as the Pew Studies, among others, have shown.
Some people attribute the lower trust to the time people spend online, which they view as another form of Bowling Alone, as Professor Robert Putnam titled his most famous book. If anything, the causality may be the reverse – it might be the case that people seek to be engaged in online communities because their physical communities are no longer as inviting to them as a result of the overall decrease in social capital that Putnam portrayed. But that’s a separate story.
Although this may strike many public officials as something new, the study of virtual communities and their implications go back at least as far as Howard Rheingold’s seminal book on the subject in 1993.
Much of the research that has been done so far would indicate that online communities and physical communities have many characteristics in common – both positive and negative.
Size is a good example. Does a person have a greater sense of belonging to an online community of a few hundred or a physical, offline city of a million?
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much research or data collection about where people are spending their mind-time and what its implications are, especially for government. For that reason, the Algorithmic Citizenship measure is interesting to follow.
Please let me know if you’re aware of other attempts. And I’ll keep track of the work of the Citizen Ex project.
Thetitle may put you off. You may be
thinking that we’ve all been reading that the NSA has been doing plenty of
are there other uses for listening by the government? – not necessarily for
national security or to listen in to personal phone calls?
social media on the Internet have developed over the last several years,
companies have found a gold mine of information that can help them better
understand their customers’ views, needs and moods – and to better assess the
value (or lack of value) of the products and services they offer.
called sentiment analysis,
this has been applied in a variety of ways.
(Note: in a blog post I can only touch upon what is a large, developing
and growing topic, so if this intrigues you, use this piece as just a starting
firms use sentiment analysis to determine the future direction of corporate
securities. See, for example, Stock Sonar. Sentiment140
is a company that measures sentiment about product and brands.
CrowdFlower uses five million people in
its sentiment projects. Earlier this
week, the company released its Data For Everyone Library
which makes that information available on topics as different as immigration, Coachella
2015, wearable technology and sports, among others.
expect that there would be many elected and other public officials who might
want to check their daily sentiment index.
Now they can do it.
it’s not just about satisfying the egos or re-election needs of individuals.
can use sentiment analysis of publicly available tweets, posts, etc. on the Internet
as an important addition to their toolkit of ways to understand what is working
and not working for their constituents.
It can also be a way to discover issues that are bubbling up, but haven’t
yet reached the stage where they explode in the faces of officials.
“The airline launches a Listening Center to centralize social, industry, and operational data. … [It] is an internal resource that combines social conversations, industry news, and operational data into one central hub… To monitor what customers are saying about the brand, industry, or a specific topic, Southwest uses a keyword-based listening tool that pulls in mentions from social platforms like Twitter. As for staying on top of its operational information, like departures and arrivals, Southwest has a satellite Listening Center inside of its Network Operations Control center (NOC). This real-time insight allows the airline to identify issues and engagement opportunities quickly … and then react accordingly via the channels that customers are using.”
Government could combine into one hub its own operational data, news about other important events going on in the public and private sectors and what citizens are saying in public forums. Now that’s a listening post that would provide clear positive benefits for everyone – without any scary Big Brother controversies.
President Obama is now in his second term and he seems to realize that his ability to get things done through legislation is limited. So he is very much dependent on his executive powers, including executive orders which can get him partly down the road he wants to go.
As chief executive, he also has at his disposal the formidable executive branch of the Federal government. Every day, millions of Federal employees make decisions affecting the lives of tens of millions of other Americans in countless ways. However, to an outside observer, the President has not adequately mobilized these employees to help him achieve his goals.
Partly this is due to the fact that, like many other Presidents, Governors, Mayors and other public sector chief executives, he has focused on the formal organizational structure of the bureaucracy. But, besides the President’s wishes, Federal employees face pressures from Congress, their own career bosses, the personal agendas of Cabinet secretaries and other political appointees.
This is why in his classic book, Presidential Power, Richard Neustadt starts with the story of President Truman speaking about what his successor, President Eisenhower, would face:
He’ll sit here and he’ll say, “Do this! Do that!” And nothing will happen. Poor Ike. It wont be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.
Many a chief executive in the public sector has heard “yes” many times, only to find out six months later that nothing happened to actually implement that supposed affirmation by staff.
In the election of 2008, many Internet observers were impressed by the Obama campaigns use of Web-based tools and social organization to win a tough primary campaign against the “inevitable”, establishment candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Yet, the lessons of the campaign seem to have been forgotten when the President took office in 2009.
Now the President has another chance and he should consider creating his own “fifth column”. I realize the phrase “fifth column” has negative connotations, since it has designated a group of supporters who are hidden within and undermine the enemy camp.
But that may be exactly what the leader of an entrenched bureaucracy needs – a group of supporters, at all levels, who will help him achieve his goals. The President can mobilize an informal network of the large number of change agents and innovators in Federal service, a network that can exist in parallel to the formal organization. By doing this, he can also provide encouragement to those innovators, who may sometimes feel lonely and could get support from each other.
Of course, there were be those who object to anyone, even the President, trying to sidestep the formal organization chart. That’s nice in theory, but many long time senior executives in Federal service already know that, in practice, its the informal relationships that let them get things done. Why shouldn’t the President learn these same techniques?
I’ve been quiet on the blog for the last few weeks during the summer doldrums and vacations – a great time to catch up on reading books, including some that were published a while ago.
Here are quick highlights of some of my more interesting summer reading.
1. Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century by Cathy N. Davidson (2011)
This book describes how we should be thinking about life in the 21st century. In many instances, Davidson completely upends well established patterns of the industrial era. She is well known in academic circles as a neuroscientist and former dean at Duke University, where she introduced the widespread use of technology among students. The book covers a variety of topics, including education, work and aging.
2. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)
Kahneman, Princeton Psychology Professor and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, has pulled together the basic knowledge in cognitive science and how people actually make decisions. If you want to catch up on what’s happened in behavioral science since you left college, this is the book for you. It draws out some of the implications in a variety of contexts. (Later, I’ll be posting a blog on the implications for public officials who want to gain acceptance for innovations.)
3. When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication In The Late Nineteenth Century by Carolyn Marvin (1988)
If you believe what you read and watch on the news media, we live in an age unparalleled rapid change in which technology causes people to become detached from each other by technology among other awful new phenomena. Marvin takes us on a history of technologies, like the telegraph and telephone, which we now take for granted but once were new. The same kind of observations we get today about the Internet were foreshadowed long ago. (Later, I’ll post a separate blog with some wonderfully juicy quotes along these lines.)
4. Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford (2011)
With so many people saying they are innovative, Harford shows how those people will not succeed at innovation unless they develop some patience, even an appetite, for the failures that often precede success. He provides fascinating examples.
5. Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution by Jack Rakove (1997)
In this year’s unusual election of ideological contrasts, there has been an underlying (and often visible) debate about the views of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the constitution. Rakove’s book provides the details of their debates and their own ambiguous feelings about many of the decisions which we now treat as is handed down in stone by the supreme being.
These were politicians with great insight into political behavior and how it might be shaped. Their concerns were well-founded, since some of what they worried could happen has happened. But, in part, they were reacting to experiences in the 18th century that we do not share today.
It also revealed the Founding Fathers’ concerns about those who sought some clear original meaning in what they wrote – and when their short term political objectives encouraged them to make the same kind of arguments about original meaning that politicians today make.
Fantasy sports has been popular for many years. Now, with http://www.FantasyPolitics.co/ , we have the equivalent in politics. Here’s what its creators say:
Fantasy Politics is a fun opportunity for you to build a team of national politicians and pundits and get points from their real life actions. Our 20+ different Power Score™ scoring criteria are based on everything from polling to social media followers. See how smart you really are. Join a league of other political junkies or invite your friends today!
This must be some sort of reflection on the state of modern politics, but I’m not exactly sure what that is 😉
But, of course, if this Fantasy Politics website takes off, the pundits will judge it with greater certainty than I can now. Then maybe the next website for these folks will be Fantasy Pundits.
Liz Gannes, AllThingsD, had an interesting article about Zuckerberg’s political vision for Facebook.
Although the average person tends to think of those who run Internet companies as somewhat anti-social geeks, I’m more often struck by their strong political views and mission. I cannot think of an example of an official corporate statement from a CEO of a traditional company that would contain the sentiments below. It goes beyond the usual corporate social responsibility mantra.
(There was also another news story that Facebook will not yet operate in China because they didn’t see how their model would work, given the political system there.)
Of course, even assuming that Zuckerberg’s intentions are as good as they sound, the question is whether the typical pressures on public companies will diminish the priority of these goals.
Highlights from Zuckerberg’s letter:
Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected. …
There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future. The scaleof the technology and infrastructure that must be built is unprecedented, and we believe this is the most important problem we can focus on. …
We hope to change how people relate to their governments and social institutions.
We believe building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.
By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible. These voices will increase in number and volume. They cannot be ignored. Over time, we expect governments will become more responsive to issues and concerns raised directly by all their people rather than through intermediaries controlled by a select few.
Through this process, we believe that leaders will emerge across all countries who are pro-internet and fight for the rights of their people, including the right to share what they want and the right to access all information that people want to share with them.
Finally, as more of the economy moves towards higher-quality products that are personalized, we also expect to see the emergence of new services that are social by design to address the large worldwide problems we face in job creation, education and health care. We look forward to doing what we can to help this progress.
The speed and accessibility of digital information and services increases everyday. Whatever a government does online can be viewed by not only its own constituents, but by anyone else.
This building trend is likely to lead to increasing competition among governments. Competition between governments is not new – we have a long history of wars between nation-states to prove that point. Even when relations between governments are peaceful, there has been a strong economic (mercantilist) competition to attract (steal) businesses and the jobs their plants and offices presumably bring when they move.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. Instead, what will be at stake is the very loyalty of citizens and the relevance of public leaders to those citizens.
This may seem odd. Historically, governments – no matter their political ideology – have been about control over physical territory and the people who live within the borders of that territory. But the Internet is all about breaking down borders between people. As the Internet increases in use, these borders become weaker. This is true, as we have seen in some countries last year, even when the government has governed through the use of threats of physical violence and coercion.
We have also seen an ever-larger percentage of people who earn a living by the creation and delivery of knowledge, ideas and other intangible services, rather than the industrial era’s tangible services and goods. These people can and do take their work with them, instead of going to an office or factory. They may split their time each year between multiple locations, but they can still be in virtual touch with any place.
This has two implications for the way they look at government. First, it sets up a competition for the attention and allegiance of these people. Which, if any, of these locations is the one they consider primary? In a way, the governments of these different locations are in competition.
Second, while government still delivers many physical services, like maintaining streetlights, government too is finding that an increasing proportion of its activities are intangible services. Much of what used to be conducted over the counter or desk, such as filing applications or making payments, is now done on the Internet.
As society has become more complex, government finds itself also delivering digital information about problems from avoiding insect-born diseases to financial literacy. For many of these intangible services, a person can look to any number of government websites, not just the website of the nearest government agency.
A few years ago, the Health Department in Westchester County, New York, created a web site on women’s health. That site received visits from people who lived way beyond the New York area, even as far as South Africa.
So government leaders can no longer take for granted the interest of the people who might physically be located within their jurisdiction.
This doesn’t mean government will disappear. There will always be some geographic and physical responsibilities for government, like maintaining roads. But from a citizen’s viewpoint it may become more like a visit to McDonald’s. When I need it, I want to find it nearby, to be clean and to have good service, but I don’t have any particular loyalty or interest in McDonald’s beyond that.
While they may not normally go out of business, governments can certainly shrink because the lack of interest makes it hard to raise taxes. And, of course, some governments have disappeared as when city and county governments have consolidated in various parts of the US.
So what’s a leader to do? To begin, public leaders must recognize that this competition is intensifying and that, like smart executives of consumer products companies, they have to think about market differentiation and market strategy. As well, to strengthen the brand value of their jurisdiction, public leaders will also have to start to exercise the creativity that has made companies like Apple and Starbucks so successful.
To get your creative ideas flowing, I’d suggest two classic books on innovative strategy: “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen and “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.
As your thinking develops on this, please let me know so I can share your ideas with others.
I made a presentation two weeks ago at HICSS-45, one of the largest and longest running international systems conferences. They had a running track on e-government and related topics.
Unlike the public officials I normally interact with, this provided an opportunity to talk with the university researchers who are delving deeply into the impact of the Internet on government, politics and society.
One of their requests to me was for a list of questions that non-academics are interested in getting answers to. I reached out to various people who are currently or have been in government positions and came up with the list below. (I’ve imperfectly organized the list by category.)
This list is not only of value for academics looking for interesting topics, but also for non-academics to step back and think a bit about the consequences of what they’re doing.
Politics and Governance:
What evidence is there that governments around the world are using the change potential of new technologies, especially social technologies, to not just “do things differently” but to “do different things”? What are the distinguishing characteristics of those governments who are doing so?
We have heard anecdotes about how eGovernment has increased trust in, confidence in and legitimacy of government, in place like Mexico. What survey research, before and after the introduction of eGov, is there that demonstrates this relationship? For what kinds of citizens is the effect most positive or not? For what kinds of governments is the effect the greatest?
Technology is supposed to be part of a wider shift to co-design, co-production and co-development of public policy and public services. What are the conditions that facilitate this or inhibit this shift?
Is there a link between eGovernment and other aspects of the Internet that enhance or diminish the resilience of societies?
How much of the benefits promised by eGovernment have been achieved? What are the conditions that lead to greatest likelihood of delivering on its promise and potential benefits?
What is the pattern of use of eGov services and other eGov tools? Has it been increasing, decreasing, or plateauing? How do demographic, attitudinal, behavioral, and other factors affect the degree to which a person will use the Internet to interact with government?
To what degree and in what ways does the experience of citizens as consumers in the virtual marketplace on the Internet affect their expectations of how government should work?
What are the priorities and expectations of citizens, politicians and bureaucrats for technology-enabled government? What accounts for any observed differences?
How is technology changing what it means to be a public servant and public servants view their relationship to citizens?
What are factors – personal, societal, governmental, technological – that result in citizens moving from inattention to lurking to higher levels of participation in Internet based public policy discussions?
Is there a relationship between increasing use of social media by government “actors” (politicians or bureaucrats) and trust/confidence in government?
Noting that there are a variety of Internet-based tools, how do different technologies enhance or diminish the ability of people to collaborate on public policy or political action?
As technology makes it possible for people to participate in “local affairs” from a distance, how and when do they decide to participate virtually? For those who have allegiances to more than one jurisdiction, how do they decide what is their primary allegiance and concern?
How do you build a network that is secure, yet integrates the technology in the homes and offices of citizens with the technology owned by the governments serving them?
As the movement to the Internet of things means that government covers the geography it controls with sensors everywhere, how can this mass of real-time data be quickly analyzed and correlated, and then systems control and respond to anomalies that are detected?
Governments have experimented with various technological means of interacting with citizens, from web-based versions of paper forms to social media to geographic mashups, etc. What software works best for what kinds of interactions?
Please feel free to contribute other questions so we can continue the dialog between the researchers and the rest of us.
Another part of my work on economic growth is focused on how the traditional job in the traditional large corporation is becoming a relic of the past. It came out of an industrial era in which large corporate bureaucracies were created for reasons of efficiency. See the economist Ronald Coase’s classic work on the theory of the firm.
The internet, however, has made it easier for people to collaborate in a more informal way and to create projects of great value – such as Linux and Wikipedia. I describe this as a movement from Coase to Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody).
This role of the Internet has already begun to affect the economy. So it was with interest that there was some recent publicity on CNBC and MSNBC about the success of Thumbtack and ODesk, which help people find income on the Internet, rather than finding traditional jobs. See, for example, “Online Work Replacing Full-Time Employment: Record Unemployment, Recession Mentality Lead Companies to Alternative Hiring Strategies” at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44017638
The MSNBC interview of ODesk’s Gary Swart was frustrating to watch as he and the reporter kept talking past each other. The reporter kept saying that these were not “real jobs”. Mr Swart was diplomatic enough not to argue that those “real jobs” were no longer so real. Nor did he offer the rejoinder that many of people who use his service to identify sources of income were probably quite pleased to be able to have the flexibility that Internet work provides. These people also find they make more money than they would make at a so-called “real job” flipping burgers.
Even in an economy with traditional job unemployment measuring at anywhere from 9-18%, most Americans are concerned – perhaps not so much about “jobs”, but about the fact that their real income has gone down, even if they have a real job. Anything that boosts their income is positive and an indicator of the strategy for the future.
He points out how the quality of decisions declines as too many are made, in part because the decision makers have not conserved their willpower for the tough decisions.
The immediate thought is that this explains a lot about what has been happening with decisions by the Presidents/governors/mayors and their legislative bodies. Are they too suffering from decision fatigue?
In this day of total communications via the Internet is this fatigue worsening?
Or does the Internet offer a way for officials to devolve their overtaxing decision making to more citizens via the Internet?
[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, March 1, 2010.]
“A group of leading social and information scientists and government practitioners met February 23-24, 2010 at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to lay out a research agenda to address grand challenges in information, technology, and governance.” – as the organizers of the workshop described it.
I was among the three dozen people who participated in this wide ranging discussion about the various trends in government and its use of technology. But there was one critical, if unstated, question that was just below the surface in most of these discussions: how perfect does government have to be?
Traditionally, most government leaders would say that the public sector is expected never to make mistakes – although plenty of mistakes do happen. Some of the participants in the workshop pointed out the various ways that e-government systems are vulnerable or can be the source of erroneous information.
Certainly, in some areas – such as protection of children from parental abuse – a single mistake can have tragic, fatal consequences. But not all imperfections in government are that serious nor does every program area result in fatal tragedy when things go wrong. Nevertheless, many elected officials feel they live in a world where the slightest imperfection is blown up in the next day’s media reports.
In the face of the intensely combative style of politics that many of us have gotten used to, it is difficult to imagine getting a break from voters for any imperfection. But consider the expectations that people have developed as the Internet has become a more important part of their lives.
One of the most successful Internet websites and perhaps the best example of Internet-based collaboration and collective action is the open encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Clay Shirky, in his compelling book “Here Comes Everybody: The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations”, compares Wikipedia to traditional encyclopedia companies.
“Wikipedia … a chaotic process, with unpredictable and wildly uneven contributions, made by nonexpert contributors acting out of variable motivations, is creating a global resource of tremendous daily value. A commercial producer of encyclopedias has to be efficient about finding and fixing mistakes… Wikipedia … does not have to be efficient − it merely has to be effective. If enough people see an article, the chance that an error will be caught and fixed improves with time. Because Wikipedia is a process, not a product, it replaces guarantees offered by institutions with probabilities supported by process: if enough people care enough about an article to read it, then enough people will care enough to improve it, and over time this will lead to a large enough body of good enough work to begin to take both availability and quality of articles for granted, and to integrate Wikipedia into daily use by millions.”
To the point about quality, researchers have found that the error rate in Wikipedia articles is no worse than those in the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
With Wikipedia as just one example of the kind of Internet-based activity that people value, despite its short term imperfections, is it possible that citizens may be more open to a similar approach in the public sector? − an approach that emphasizes citizen engagement (and even citizen delivery of services to other citizens), despite the imperfections of citizens, in contrast to the promise of perfection by government agencies?
Because it is seems so difficult to get things done perfectly in government, many newly elected officials start out proclaiming one or two major goals they want to accomplish. Often, the major consequence of this approach is to make it easier for political opponents to know what to attack.
The alternative that is more in synch with the way people increasingly operate on the Internet is to start many more than just a couple of initiatives, with a promise only of improvement, but not perfection.
There are two other benefits. First, this certainly makes it harder for those who oppose you merely for political reasons to decide what to attack. Second, and partly because of the first benefit, you may find that only 5 of 100 initiatives fail. The rest eventually succeed in providing improvements that are visible and supported by the voters.
So perhaps government does not have to try to be perfect all the time and if it doesn’t try to be perfect, it may actually work better.
I put together this PowerPoint to help government officials understand how the Internet is changing people’s perception about how government should operate and to scare them a bit if they don’t respond to this trend. It is intentionally edgy and provocative.
[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, April 27, 2009.]
This post is not about a completely new idea, at least not for readers of this blog. It is a continuation and reinforcement of an earlier post, titled “Create Public Services By Enabling People To Serve Each Other”, in which I described the idea of government leaders facilitating citizen collaboration as a way of delivering at least the first line of public services. We’re not talking about just getting citizen “input”, but instead this is about creating citizen action.
If you remember the last post, this isn’t new. Among other companies, ATT has done the same thing for awhile at http://forums.wireless.att.com/cng/. But the article describes in some detail how Verizon runs this service and what motivates the minority of volunteers who are willing stand up and become leaders of the volunteer community.
In government, we would call these people auxiliary deputies in a police force or doyennes in a special park.As I noted before, what these private companies have learned is that people who do not work for the company are often more credible with other customers than employees.
When these companies use these public forums, of course, they need to have a certain tolerance for criticism. Looked at the right way, though, this criticism is a form of free market research and can alert a company early to a brewing problem before that problem gets completely out of hand. That same logic applies to government.
Given the declining fiscal outlook for the next few years, citizen collaboration may be the only way that some public services can be adequately sustained in the future. I suppose that Verizon, which arguably does not have the greatest reputation for customer service, feels that it cannot do any worse with volunteers. That Verizon can get people to do this is a marvel to me. It should be much easier in the public sector, since people have a direct interest in the success of their community and government.
And government can start with some basic services where the only necessary expertise is having gone through the process before. So, a senior who has gone through the process of applying for “meals on wheels” or para-transit can help a senior who hasn’t done so yet. Similarly, a parent with older kids can be the one who can explain how to another parent with younger kids how to enroll for Parks Department programs.
What examples can you add to this list? Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, November 1, 2009.]
Tuesday is another election day. It’s especially important to many local elected officials since so many local elections occur this year. As this election season comes to a close, there is that frustrating feeling among public leaders that many voters just don’t understand what the government does.
Sure, the obvious public services – for example, public safety and education – are known. But the full extent of government services is unknown to great numbers of those who benefit from those services.
What can be done about this? Some governments have taken ideas from non-fiction cable television channels, including two mainstays of the Discovery Channel – Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters.
With the low cost of video equipment, this is easy to do. There are even products now, like the Flip HD video cameras that are smaller than a cell phone, easy to use and quick to upload to the web.
Miami-Dade County has created a series of videos that show some of the “dirty jobs” that County workers do for the public on its “Inside County Jobs” television show. This started as one-minute video about training of firefighters and led to the realization that Miami-Dade could do more. See the first installment athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7aivNoPsxg
So, following the model of Discovery’s “Dirty Jobs”, with its own host/participant, there is compelling footage of filling potholes, unplugging storm drains, fixing stop signs, lab testing, trash recycling and the other activities seen and unseen that residents often take for granted. Here’s another example — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj7U1A_pq2s
The video is available both on the County website and on YouTube. In addition to its success with the public, the videos have had a positive effect on employees, who now take to their jobs with a greater sense of purpose and pride.
Westchester County, for example, had a volunteer team put together a movie in the style of a 1930s film noir detective story. During the course of his investigation, the “detective” interacted with all kinds of county workers. The County Executive played an abridged version of the movie in one of his “State of the County” speeches in an effort to educate the public about the variety of activities of county government.
Video isn’t the only tool. The leaders of Oakland County, Michigan, responded to the gaps in public knowledge by taking the “Mythbusters” title to attract attention, but presenting their material on the web. They tackled some of the toughest issues posing a question in True/False form and then busting the myth for the wrong answer.
So there is hope to engage a distracted public and upgrade their knowledge of what your government does, by using some of the inexpensive tools now available. Your creativity is the only limit.
[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, March 2, 2009. Since then, I have worked with Oakland County, Michigan to put in place a program like this. More on that in a later blog post.]
When computers were introduced into white-collar businesses a couple of decades ago, one of the first effects that people noticed was that companies began to shrink the ranks of middle management. Middle managers, whose major job was collecting, summarizing and reporting data to higher management, were no longer needed once the computers could do the same thing, only faster. The very highest management, the CEO, essentially could get direct reports from the lowest person in the hierarchy. This phenomenon was labeled ”disintermediation” because it eliminated the intermediary.
With the presence of personal computers and Internet connections in the majority of American homes, there is now the potential to similarly reduce some of the barriers between you (the chief elected official) and the average citizen.
Traditionally, the top officials of government would almost always deliver public services through paid civil service staff or the equivalent paid staff in non-profit agencies or private companies through outsourcing contracts. The staff is the intermediary between you and the public.
Doing things this way goes beyond the various forms of citizen suggestions that some government websites offer today – elected officials can actually facilitate the creation of public services by enabling citizens to help each other.
In the current recession, some leaders will immediately think of the potential cost savings that can occur when shifting some public services from paid staff to volunteer citizens. But an even bigger and longer lasting problem is the pending retirement of the baby boomers, who account for a large fraction of government workers. How will they be replaced? Should their positions be filled or should we look for new ways to deliver services?
The Internet connects citizens to each other and the government; the software technology is available. The missing piece is the leadership to put this new approach in place.
What kind of services might you start with? One good way to start is the first line of services – for example, finding out how to get a park pass or sign up for ”meals on wheels”. This kind of service does not require years of specialized experience, but just having gone through the process. One slightly more experienced citizen can help another inexperienced citizen with such information.
If you’re concerned about the quality of information, you can have paid staff monitor the discussions -but that will take considerably less staff than having them answer all of the questions to begin with. The paid staff can then be focused on the more complex problems that do, in fact, require their special skills and background.
And there are three other benefits to this approach. First, it draws more people into the process of governing – voters who might feel more a part of your team or, at least, have a better understanding of what your government deals with.
Second, when the private sector has set up similar mutual support for its customers, they found that the customers preferred this way of solving problems. Also, many customers felt that someone who was not a paid staff member of the company was more credible.
Third, although there can be criticisms of the government on these sites, that acts as an early warning system to you as the head of the government. Without this direct citizen support, it might take much longer for you to learn about a festering problem in the bureaucracy, which makes it that much more difficult to fix the problem.
For some examples of how private companies have done this, take a look at these websites:
While these sites mostly use text, it is also possible for citizens to talk to each other as well. And, as you develop more experience with this and network broadband becomes a reality, there are bound to be greater advancements and uses of citizen collaboration to deliver public services.