Management Insights

What ‘Cognitive Government’ Could Do

From the Internet of Things to predictive analytics to artificial intelligence, a host of cutting-edge technology innovations appear destined to redefine the role of government. Robots, for example, could help governments design better services, while cognitive software applications are already fueling exponential changes in medical research.

But the rate of technological change also raises important questions about the ability of government agencies to adapt. The trend toward "made-for-me" service delivery and citizen-led co-creation is likely to stress the capabilities of many governments, for example. As Jack Welch, then CEO of GE, famously said, "If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near." READ MORE

Leadership as ‘a Kind of Genius’

Twenty-five years ago, as I was growing interested in how cities produce leaders and leaders shape cities, I heard a state business association president define leadership. A leader, he said, "is someone who helps people get where they want to go."

He was speaking to a community leadership class, and I could sense the audience deflate. That's it? Help people go somewhere? Like a bus driver? What about organizing constituencies, offering a vision and persuading the public? What about standing up for people -- or standing up to the powerful? What about holding office? READ MORE

The Dark Side of Government in the Sunshine

Like motherhood, ice cream and the all-expenses-paid vacation, seemingly everybody should like transparency in government. The specter of elected or unelected officials making decisions behind closed doors conjures up visions of corruption and would seem to signify government on behalf of private interests. For this reason, most democratic governments, to varying degrees, now operate under various laws and rules intended to promote openness.

As a card-carrying good-government type, I am supposed to like transparency, and I generally do think it's a good thing. Certainly there are real downsides to secrecy and backroom deals. There are many positive effects that can come from subjecting public processes to greater scrutiny and from requiring the disclosure of processes and data. Transparency itself, however, is not without its pitfalls. So what's wrong with government in the sunshine? Here are a few of my concerns: READ MORE

Corrections Lessons From the States

The federal prison population has grown nearly 800 percent since 1980 as lawmakers created new criminal penalties, mandated longer sentences and abolished parole. During this period, federal inmates' average time served increased from 15.9 months to 40.1. Taxpayers now spend $6.7 billion each year on federal prisons, with corrections costs growing twice as fast as all other Justice Department spending. Yet a third of the inmates who leave federal prison under community supervision return to custody for violating the terms of their release. These sobering statistics have led policymakers in both political parties to seek less costly and better public safety outcomes.

While many in Washington are debating how to improve the federal correctional system, states -- in their traditional role as laboratories for innovation -- have moved from talk to action. Since 2007, more than half the states have made research-based policy changes to control prison growth, hold offenders accountable and protect public safety. Through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative -- a partnership of the Justice Department, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and other organizations -- states are focusing prison space on serious and violent offenders while expanding alternatives to incarceration for those who can be supervised more effectively and efficiently in the community. READ MORE

Public Projects and the Optimism Trap

On Dec. 31, 2007, the "Big Dig" in Boston was officially completed. The largest single highway project in the country's history, it was nine years late and had cost more than $14.6 billion, a stunning $12 billion over budget. And if that wasn't bad enough, the project was plagued by corruption, scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws and the death of one motorist.

It's not that the project itself was unnecessary. On the contrary, for decades traffic to and from Boston's Logan Airport was terrible, and it was difficult for the most experienced Boston drivers to negotiate the tangled streets and constant congestion downtown. The project greatly reduced congestion, air pollution and confusion. But because of its well publicized problems, the Big Dig has become a symbol of big government at its worst -- unethical politicians, contractors who cheat, costly projects, shoddy quality. Whether it's highway projects, weapons systems for the Pentagon, or NASA's two shuttle disasters, the stories of botched government projects seem unending. Why is that? READ MORE