“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.” — Abraham Lincoln
This, We Believe #7 — Progress is a choice.
There is a symmetry between how well we are governed and how much we are capable of trusting one another. The two are connected, not separate.
In truth, the life of our democracy depends, first and finally, on the ability of our government to deliver better results for the people it serves. If a government cannot effectively defend and advance the common good we share as a people, it cannot maintain the trust of the people. And if trust dies, so too, does democracy.
On the other hand, when our government is capable of solving problems, protecting our common good, and expanding the host of opportunities which make life worth living, then our trust in one another also grows. And our democracy breathes and lives.
Public education, public, the health of our people, our environment, our economy — these things do not improve merely by wishing or hoping it so. We must make it so. Progress is a choice.
George Washington, the first public administrator of the United States, understood well the living reality — and the constant vulnerability — of this dynamic relationship. From the first days of the new American Presidency, he was consumed by an urgent drive to make the new federal government work in the eyes of his countrymen.
Washington believed that self-governance was a science; a longitudinal experiment based upon the empirical evidence of what works. In order to sustain the life of our Republic, every generation of Americans has a responsibility to improve, refine, and perfect this experiment with what works better.
Today we can now see and measure what works on a scale – and with a timeliness – never before possible. Powerful new technologies allow us to model and see the dynamics of our physical, natural, and social environments with real-time accuracy and a greater probabilistic certainly like never before. Whether the goal is improving public education, reducing violent crime, or restoring the health of our waters and air, our ability to manage moving things has never been greater.
Like the convergence of new technologies that are bringing about a Third Industrial Revolution in our global economy, there is a convergence of new technologies that are also bringing about a new way of Governing. Broadly speaking, these new technologies include Geographic Information Systems and the Internet of Things. It is the combination of these technologies allows us to turn big data into actionable pictures. And this, in turn, allows us to make better and more timely decisions to achieve better and more timely results for people.
Feedback loops, cause and effect, more timely actions and results — why are these new capacities so important? Because lives depend upon our ability to see, to understand, and to act. The great crisis facing western democracy is democracy itself — its efficacy in the eyes of its own citizens. In truth, saving our own democracy depends upon our ability to better meet the challenges we face as a people. It depends on our ability to solve complex problems and to protect and advance the common good we share.
Smart cities in the United States, and around the globe, are leading the way. It is a movement away from the days of information tightly held by those at the top to information shared by all. It is a rapid progression from the ability to make nice-looking maps, to the ability to anticipate problems with predictive analytics. It’s method and its legitimacy is based on our ability to see, to measure, and to understand what works. It is based on our ability never to lose sight of the individual person. But this shift in governing is still new. Political habits die hard. And the expectations of the Uber Generation are high.
This shift in new technology requires a new shift from the traditional mindset of democratic leaders. And it requires a broader understanding in the minds of the electorate. It requires a letting go of the old political habits of holding information tightly. Instead, it requires a radical commitment to openness and transparency. A commitment that the politics of the past deems “too politically risky.” Therefore, new leadership is essential.
Effective leaders in the Information Age create common platforms for collaborative action. They are fundamentally entrepreneurial and evidence-based in their approach to public action and public policy. They focus the problem-solving dialogue on the emerging reality displayed on dynamic maps that every citizen can see. They develop routines for convening leaders around this platform to measure effectiveness, to lift up successful techniques, and to understand better ways of getting things done. They use geospatial intelligence to drive innovation and accountability into the center of the collaborative enterprise we call “governing.”
It’s all about better choices for better results. And it requires a broader and deeper public understanding of what works and what does not.
With all of the new information technologies available in the world today, our government should actually work — this, We Believe.