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News Link • Government

It's time to step away from the shiny object


This is the third installment in The Government Fix, a new series on redesigning how government works, published in partnership with the nonprofit think tank New America. Read the first and second installments here and here. –Eds.

Last month, I ran into a friend at a government conference. "I am so tired of innovation," he said to me. "You know? The word. Innovation. Ugh. What does it even mean any more?"

"Something shiny," I replied, sighing.

"Exactly what successful 'government innovation' is not," he replied, heaving a sigh of his own.

Government loves innovation, the shinier the better. It gets to feel modern ("We have an app for that!"). It generates headlines ("[City name] will use blockchain to solve food deserts!"). And it feels like a real solution. ("Why yes, Amazon Prime, I would like that 40% off-deluxe-espresso-drip-coffee urn crafted by empowered Italian grandmothers by 10 a.m., thank you.")

[Source Image: AnatolyM/iStock]

But here's the truth. One of the worst-kept secrets of government "innovators" is that when you start with an answer of a shiny solution instead of with the question, "What problem are we trying to solve–and why?" you rarely solve anything. In fact, you're far more likely to create problems. Think abandoned projects, hemorrhaging costs, and government systems vulnerable to data hacks.

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