Better Government

The Benefits of a Better Town-and-Gown Relationship

A pervasive trend in city government is the creation of the position of chief innovation officer. The establishment of these offices is a recognition by city leaders that institutionalizing a focus on cultivating new approaches to improving performance will likely produce more and better ones than if it were simply left to chance. Some innovation offices will perform better than others, but I’ll bet that they prove to be more than a fad.

In that vein, perhaps the next cool thing in city halls ought to be the “HERO” -- the higher education relations officer. I got the idea that city governments ought to create a formal position focused on the strategic use of their colleges and universities from David Birdsell, dean of the City University of New York’s Baruch College School of Public Affairs. As Birdsell reminds us, colleges and universities are major assets to any city, bringing in students, purchasing goods and services, sometimes attracting substantial research dollars, and usually contributing substantially to the arts and cultural life. And often they are among the city’s top employers. READ MORE

The 3 Flavors of Corruption

While serving as mayor of Kansas City, I was investigated by several entities, including the Missouri Ethics Commission, for allegedly using city staff and property to campaign for a light rail initiative that was on the ballot. I was eventually exonerated, but only after a great deal of bad press and time spent by my staff and me supplying documents, answering interrogatories and being interviewed by various investigators.

In my previous work as a government auditor, I had frequently dealt with scandal and impropriety, but I had never envisioned myself as the star of the show. This was a new and sobering experience, and I came away from it shocked at my former naïveté. Now, when I see media reports of apparent ethical lapses involving public officials, I tend to group them into three broad categories. READ MORE

Why Loneliness Should Matter to Governments

Humans are pack animals. It’s bred into our genes. As John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick wrote in their 2008 book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, early humans “were more likely to survive when they stuck together” and “evolution reinforced the preference for strong human bonds.”

MORE: Read the rest of the December issue. READ MORE

With Big Data Comes Bigger Goals

I once had a police chief tell me that there was nothing that he and his department could do about overall crime or citizen safety. He wasn’t alone in his thinking. When I started working in performance auditing decades ago, getting government organizations to accept responsibility, even for outcomes directly related to their own missions, was difficult. It was seen as unfair, for example, to hold an employment training agency accountable for its graduates getting jobs because so many other social and economic factors contributed to that outcome.

In the last few years, however, things have changed. I now hear agency directors and elected executives talking about “moving the needle on population-level outcomes,” such as reducing the incidence of childhood obesity or, more broadly, increasing the overall health of a community. READ MORE

Lessons from the Grateful Dead on Replacing Workers with Technology

In the foreword to David Dodd’s The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, Robert Hunter, the band’s “lyricist in residence,” wrote that the song “Uncle John’s Band” represented “the first lyric I wrote with the aid of that newfangled gadget, the cassette tape recorder. I taped the band playing the arrangement and was able to score lyrics at leisure rather than scratch away hurriedly at rehearsals, waiting for particular sections to come around again.”

What Hunter was describing, of course, was an improvement in productivity resulting from the application of new technology. Productivity is usually measured in terms of the labor cost per unit of production, and in most cases improvement is achieved by using new technology to reduce head count. For instance, a steel mill that once employed 10,000 workers produces the same tonnage with only a thousand employees, bank tellers are replaced by ATMs and elevator operators become a thing of the past. But in Hunter’s application of new technology, no one’s position was eliminated. It’s an example of what has been called “the quartet effect” at work. READ MORE