Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Next Generation Government: Mobile, Measurable, Malleable

This morning, I had the opportunity to serve on a panel for the 2009 Symantec Government Symposium in Washington, DC, under the title Next Generation Government. Special “shout out” to moderator Tom Temin of Federal News Radio and fellow panelists Chris Kemp (Chief Information Officer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration), John Schueler (New Media Director, Department of Energy) and David Thompson (Chief Information Officer, Symantec).

To prepare for my participation, I first turned to my Twitter crowd and asked, “How do you define ‘Next Generation Government’”? Here are some of the responses I received:

@kpkfusion (Kim Patrick Kobza, CEO, Neighborhood America): Inclusive, Responsive, Efficient
@topperge (Matt Topper, Technical Manager, Oracle Nat’l Security Group): Open, Accountable, Innovative
@bobwatkins (Bob Watkins, Technical Training and Freelance Writer): Transparent, Neutral POV (think Wikipedia), Green

With this foundational feedback from my followers, I narrowed the list down to words that meet two critical criteria: triplication and alliteration. Thus, my three words to describe “Next Generation Government” are:

• Mobile
• Measurable
• Malleable

Each word is described in greater detail below:

A. Mobile Government

First, mobile connotes the idea that work is no longer a place, but a set of tasks that can be performed anywhere – whether that’s in a government-owned building in a major metropolitan center or a privately-owned family farm in the middle of Minnesota. In the private sector, this type of flexible work environment is already commonplace. Not so in the public sector where fewer than 10% of eligible employees are teleworking. I believe that three primary drivers will lead to a more mobile government:

1) Collaborative technologies – also known as Web 2.0 or social media – will enable people to exchange information in ways that mitigate time and distance. Public sector personnel will wake up one morning, and about 75 minutes into their 5-mile commute, will recognize that there is a much better way to work. They’ll turn around, turn on their laptop and turn in a respectable day’s work…in less than 8 hours!

2) Boomers will retire, leaving Generation X and Millennials to take the reins. And what does the next generation want but a better work-life balance? Unlike our parents, we don’t live to work. We work to live. We’re projectized people that desperately want to live the critical path – the quickest route from start to finish…so we can give more attention to our personal pursuits.

3) Boomers will retire, becoming bored and realizing that they want to keep contributing. For all that’s been said about it, the impending “retirement tsunami” may or may not happen by 2015. With their workaholic approach and life savings shaved in half, Boomers are most likely not leaving anytime soon. Think about it: the youngest among them are still in their mid-40s and many of them are on Facebook, GovLoop, and Twitter. And surveys by relatively respectable institutions like AARP, Harvard, Merrill Lynch and MetLife indicate that two out of three Boomers expect to NEVER retire. Rather, they plan to cycle between periods of working, volunteering and vacationing.

To summarize: we all want the same thing! But it’s up to you, brilliant and bold Boomers, to put this mobile culture in place now before you head off to work from your waterfront villa in the south of Florida or France.

B. Measurable Government

But now you wonder: How will we know if anyone is really getting any work done in this brave, new, mobile environment? Well, I have a ready answer for you! We make sure that every aspect of our work is measurable. What better builds trust between manager and employee than a clear set of tasks with target dates and appropriate metrics? If I know what needs to get done and by when, why does the how and where matter? By the way, did I already mention that Generation X and Millennials like a project-based environment. Tell us precisely what we need to do, then let us run. Most likely, we’ll form appropriate teams and use technology to accomplish the mission efficiently and effectively…even if the bulk of the work doesn’t get done between 9a and 5p Eastern Standard Time. Oh, and by the way, if we’re already measuring our activities for the sake of creating efficiencies, why not make that data available to the taxpayers who afford our salary? Yes, a measurable government is also better prepared to be an accountable government, especially if the metrics make us look good. To summarize: Project. Parameters. Product. It’s all about trust…trust in our employees and making good on the public trust that keeps us honest and hard-working.

C. Malleable Government

Finally, when I heard words like inclusive, responsive, open, efficient, transparent, and innovative, I needed another “m” word…and malleable came to mind. tells us this word means “capable of being shaped or formed; able to adjust to changing circumstances; adaptable.” As collaborative technologies make our democracy even more participatory, enabling citizens to become more actively engaged in decision-making processes through projects like the Open Government Initiative or the Recovery Dialogue on IT Solutions, let’s hope malleable means that government will implement on the ideas that it receives. Let’s also hope that our government will break down the brick walls of bureaucracy within and between agencies, and replace them with lighter, thinner, semi-metallic layers that enable people to hear one another talking…at least until we can eliminate the silos completely. Then, eventually we’ll be able to rapidly transform or facilitate the formation of inter-agency, cross-industry and multi-governmental teams that adroitly address our most pressing challenges.

So that’s it: mobile, measurable and malleable. That’s what I think we all want, regardless of our generational vantage point. Even if we don’t agree about many things as an intergenerational mix, let’s think of the next generation. Better yet, maybe we can take a page from the Chinese playbook and think many generations into the future…and respond with a sense of urgency today.