Scott Adams the talent behind Dilbert comics and numerous books wrote a fascinating column in the Wall Street Journal (5-6 Oct. 2011) called “What if Government Were More Like an iPod.”
Adams has some great ideas and here’s a few:
1) Leverage Group Intelligence–“group intelligence is more important than individual genius…thanks to the Internet we can summon the collective intelligence of millions.” While certainly in government, we are using social media and crowd sourcing to leverage group intelligence by making information available to the public (e.g. Data.gov), engaging the public in innovating new applications (e.g. Apps for Democracy), getting feedback and comments on regulations (e.g. Regulations.gov), soliciting policy ideas and petitions from citizens (e.g. We The People) and more, this is only a start. We can continue to advance engagement with people on everyday issues to come up with solutions for our biggest and toughest challenges. One example for doing this is utilizing more tools like Quora to put out questions to subject matter experts, from every spectrum of our great nation, to come up with the best solutions, rather than just rely on the few, the loud, or the connected.
2) Voting With Understanding–“Voting [the way we currently do] is such a crude tool that half of the time, you can’t tell if you’re voting against your own interests. Change can take years…and elected officials routinely ignore their own campaign promises.” Adams proposes a website to see the “best arguments for and against every issue, with links to support or refute every factual claim. And imagine the professional arbiters would score each argument.” I can empathize with what Adams is saying. Think of the healthcare act in 2010 that was over 2,500 pages or the 72,000 page tax code–there is a reason people are overwhelmed, confused, and calling for plain language in government communications such as the Plain Language Act. There is obviously more to be done here using user-centric communications and citizen engagement, so that the average citizen with bills to pay and a family to care for, can still participate, contribute, and vote with understanding unmarred by gobbledygook, “the weight test”, and politicking.
3) Campaigning More Virtually–Make it “easy for voters to see video clips, interviews, debates, and useful comparisons of the candidates positions. In the modern era, it does’t make sense for a candidate to trek all over the country on a bus.” Too much of the political process is the shaking hands and kissing babies–the showmanship of who looks better and talks more sleekly versus focusing on the policy issues. While it is important to present favorably, lead and influence and bring people together, it is also critical to get the policy issues out there clearly and without flip-flopping (which should be reserved for burgers only). The media plays a role in keeping the political candidates on their toes and honest, but the process itself should vet the issues in written commitments by candidates and not reversible sound bites on TV.
4) Quicken The Innovation Cycle–“I’m fairly certain Ben Franklin wouldn’t be impressed by our pace of innovation. He invented the post office and showed us electricity and it still took us nearly 200 years to come up with email. We’re not good at connecting the dots.” This is an interesting point, but it sort of misses the mark. There are lots of good–even great–ideas out there, but from my perspective on organizations, execution is usually the stumbling block. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Patent Office has a backlog of over 700,000 patent applications as of October 2010, so new ideas are plentiful, but how we work those ideas and make them come to fruition is a project management and human capital challenge. While email seems like just a dot or few dots away from the post office and electricity, there is obviously a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid to send an email from DC to Jerusalem in split seconds.
In short, Adams summarizes his convictions for government change in advocating a form of User-Centric Government (my term). Adams actually proposes a 4th branch of government (I think he really mean a new agency) to manage “user-interface” or what I understand him to mean as citizen engagement. Adams describes this new agency as “smallish and economical, operating independently, with a mission to build and maintain friendly user-interface for citizens to manage their government.” Adams would advance the achievement of his ideas and hopes for leveraging group intelligence, voting with understanding, campaigning virtually, and quickening innovation. I believe Adams idea builds on the concept of a Federal agency for innovation that has been proposed previously over the years by The Industry Advisory Council and others to be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).
While there are arguments for and against creating another government agency for driving user-centric government, creating more and better user engagement through understanding and participation is fundamental and aligns with our core principles of democracy and as a global competitive advantage.
While Government is not Apple, learning from some of the best and brightest like Steve Jobs on how to reach people intuitively and deeply is a great way to go!