Western democracies have some catching up to do with consumer expectations. According to a 2015 study completed by the Pew Research Center, 65% of Americans go online to find information they need about their government — but only 11% report finding the government effective at sharing data.
If Amazon, Uber, and a host of other companies can provide better service thanks to the new technologies of the Information Age, why can’t our governments? If the GPS system in my car can navigate me to the quickest route through traffic congestion and fender benders, why can’t my government use these same technologies to better anticipate these routine accidents?
Technology isn’t the problem. The technology is proven. Nor is cost a barrier; the availability of these new technologies is widespread and relatively inexpensive. The problem is the great human variable of leadership.
Old habits die hard. And over the course of time, public administration has developed a very slow, cautious, and risk-averse approach to embracing new technologies — the tyranny of “the way we have always done it” in public service.
In Silicon Valley, people who keep trying new things — even though they sometimes fail — are called innovators and entrepreneurs. The operative myth in government, however, is that people who try new things and fail are fired or voted out of office. What many people remember most vividly about the implementation of Obamacare was not its successful passage, but in many states, its failed launch.
But a new way of leading and governing is emerging. And it is rising up from cities.