Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Platform Government cuts costs AND improves services

Who ever wins, loses (or draws) the UK's General Election next month, we are in for a world of pain.

But that may equate to the single biggest opportunity we've ever had for fundamental, structural, governmental change (not the small c 'change' you may have heard the politicians tell you they want - theirs is the kind of change which leaves them in both command and control).

The leaders can tell you they will cut a smidgeon here to invest a little there but the reality of the burden of the UK's record breaking deficit and debt is that we must expect both a reduction in services AND an increase in the amount we all have to contribute for them.
If you had a contract between you and UK plc you would be quite within your rights to tear it up and take your business elsewhere.

Unfortunately we don't have that option (yet... the when of that 'yet' is quite another story which we must leave for another day. Suffice to say the networked world doesn't recognise geo-political borders).

Government, does however have an option which can both better target resources AND engage voluntary effort which will have the net effect of both cutting costs AND improving services.
And just as businesses require crisis to change (excellent performers, or flat-line ones like the Ad Industry tend toward head-in-the-sandism) so perhaps our crisis of cuts and tax rises will provoke just the kind of strategic shift in how we govern ourselves that we so clearly need.

I'm talking about Platform Government of course.
To reiterate: an organisation should use its available resources to discover people who care about the same issues they do, bring them together, surface what they think needs fixing and work with them (enable and join with them) to fix it.

Government - or 'resource allocation against the needs of the people' to give it its full name (ok, that's my definition) has:

  • Never had a better set of tools to discover the real time needs of people.
  • Never had a better set of tools to engage with people.
  • Never had a better set of tools to enable people. I'm talking about social networks, technologies and tools of course.
Government must be redesigned to meet the needs of, and take advantage of, this networked world.

Our current process of Government, like mass media, has been built to serve the lowest common denominator needs of a mass production world. It's resulted in one-size-fits-all policies, resource allocation (and, incidentally, political parties).

That world is ending.

Now we can all find people who care about the same stuff we do in real time. We can come together to discuss an issue. We can surface what needs fixing. And in engaging in the conversation we discover that we care enough about this thing that we are prepared to act to make it better (at least enough of us to make change). The Government can be a platform for exactly this kind of collaborative innovation.

Apply this to things such as policy development: Instead of a small group of Government appointed experts beavering away; share the aim.
A platform government approach would open its doors to that freely given expertise and insight.

And how about that issue of resource allocation? Ongoing online listening will not only reveal where the people who care about each issue are (so you can invite them to participate), it'll also reveal what the issues that matter are, where, and in real time. And it'll reveal this in a long-tail, rather than lowest common denominator, way - ie it will reveal all the niche interests that need serving, rather than the single biggest need.

The result of this is a wikifixing approach to resource allocation - to make Government services a better fit with actual, real-time need. That equals less waste and more effective services for more of the people they are meant to serve. Real efficiency.

The flipside (other upside of this remarkable win-win) is that in engaging people in the change they want, you get an army of volunteers to make the change happen. More people willing to take responsibility instead of leaving it to 'the government' to sort out. More people willing to put their action where their conversation is.

And that means better services can be delivered at lower cost because more of us get involved in making, sharing and delivering them.

We could maintain taxes at current rates, provide better services at lower cost, and pay off that deficit.

Oh, and we'd also end up with a Government people felt part of - which is kind of a good thing, since it was meant to be ours all along.

Who knows, we may even start trusting politicians again? Ok, maybe that's an ask too far...

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?