Yesterday, I spent the day at a meeting on “city innovation” at Harvard’s Kennedy School, with 30 or so CIOs, CTOs, and other technology executives from around the country. I did a short presentation on predictive analytics and cities (slides here) — thanks so much to everyone who sent in comments and who emailed me with suggestions.
The “aha!” moment of the day came during a coffee break conversation with Boston CIO Bill Oates. Bill was describing how frustrated he felt by the city’s procurement process (this is widely known as a problem across government). He said that he felt like he was “handcuffed” by having to prove — up front, and before actually doing anything — that he wasn’t being dishonest, wasn’t corrupt, and was serving the city’s best interests. What if, he asked, he could instead proceed ahead and prove — after the fact — that his actions were pure. Using transparency, rather than bureaucracy, to establish accountability and ultimately trust.
This strikes me as a big idea.
What we have now — in the era of increasing information liquidity — is an opportunity to re-think the way we establish trust. This idea has been proven out by web services (think Ebay, Airbnb, StackExchange), and I think it’s time we start thinking about how this applies to public sector policy and regulation.
After the conversation with Bill, I ran back to my seat and sketched out the idea, then quickly turned it into a slide for my presentation in the following session. This is what I came up with:
The idea that the purpose of bureaucracy and (certain forms of ) regulation is to establish trust is perhaps obvious. But something about it struck me as a new way of looking at things.
I understand that it’s hard to get past the permission-based way of thinking. Before information was available in real-time, it was the best way to make sure bad things didn’t happen. But we have a new tool — real-time information — that makes a new approach possible. Yesterday at Harvard, we were discussing this in the context of government procurement. At USV, we’ve been talking about it a lot in the context of online privacy (I’m pushing Brad to write about his idea for this soon).
Hopefully you’ll find this helpful — I think I’ll be coming back to it w/ some frequency now as we continue to work on this stuff.