Last Friday, the National Association of Counties held an Innovation Summit as part of their annual meeting in Ft. Worth. I was asked to give the keynote speech on what local government leaders can do to encourage innovation in their counties, but I also attended the other discussions.
As I listened, in the back of my mind were recent articles about the increasingly important role local government can play – in the face of a dysfunctional Federal government and the global connectivity that enables local governments to work together and provide better services.
So the first question is whether these county governments can step up to the challenge, or as the title of this post puts it: Is County Innovation An Oxymoron?
While certainly not all of them are innovating, it is striking how many are. Because so little is reported about local government innovation and there is not an active peer network among these innovators once they leave their annual meeting, the counties often don’t know what each has done. That, of course, limits the spread of these innovations.
But that will change. The counties are about to create a peer-to-peer online community, thanks to Bert Jarreau, NACo’s Chief Innovation Officer.
Moreover, the cost of computer technology and networks is going down and becoming more widespread, which is great for counties with smaller budgets, who want to innovate, but have felt they didn’t have the money and staff skills to do so.
With “cloud computing”, where all kinds of software, hardware resources and data is available on the Internet, these counties don’t need to buy their own expensive equipment or hire large numbers if IT experts. Instead, they can pay for what they use.
With many of their employees already owning smart phones and tablets, these counties can get access to mobile apps. Since people have already figured out how to use apps on these devices, training is simple. And software in the app market often costs dramatically less than traditional software.
With videoconferencing, social media and other collaboration tools, it is also possible for these county innovators to support and help each other at any time.
These three big trends – widespread technology, cloud computing and mobile devices – may seem familiar to those in the IT industry. But the reality is that this combination is relatively recent and still maturing.
All in all, however, this adds up to an unprecedented potential for innovation in local government. It just needs the right platform and the people who will act as a catalyst for that potential to be realized.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis