Monday, June 24, 2013

Smart Government: Measurement, Improvement, and Innovation

Good Government. Smart Government. Your Government.

Today I would like to expand upon the second core plank of my platform - Smart Government.  That certainly sounds like a buzz word without substance, but there is a lot to unpack.  Quite simply, smart government is about measurement, improvement, and innovation.

Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” - Dr. J. James Herrington

Many times government is like the cartoon character braced to the front of an out-of-control train, laying down train tracks for the hurtling locomotive to ride.  The entire system is geared towards forward motion with little time, or interest, in reflection on what has passed.  Even if this data were available, the mechanisms for fixing bad law are tedious and must be conducted in the face of entrenched interests.

The beginnings of smart government are very simple - $1 for every $100 in expenditures should be used to evaluate program effectiveness, efficiency, and audit.  This approach has been advocated for by groups like Results for America and, most recently, two former government officials in The Atlantic.  In doing so, we can appreciate and promote what works and do away with what doesn't.  This prizes the role of government as an "investor" and "catalyst" over that of a results-blind payor.  The only difference is that instead of the return-on-investment being capital or profit, our ROI is the improvement of lives, sustenance of communities, and social good.

Similarly, Maryland should implement Social Impact Bonds to reward effectiveness in the nonprofit sector.  As described by Jeffrey B. Liebman:

Under the social impact bond model, a government contracts with a private sector financing intermediary we’ll call a “social impact bond-issuing organization,” or SIBIO, to obtain social services. The government pays the SIBIO entirely or almost entirely based upon achieving performance targets. If the bond-issuing organization fails to achieve the targets, the government does not pay. In some cases, the government payments may be calculated as a function of government cost-savings attributable to the program’s success.

This is an exciting idea.  We need to empower our State's best thinkers to solve our social ills.  Imagine how resources may line up if it is determined that doing good can actually turn a profit.

The key to both ideas is measurement, but that needs to be done in a smart way as well.  We've already seen in the education sector how measurement can devour the mission.  Each program and initiative will have its own independent characteristics and goal-posts, which is why it is critical to understand how it will be measured at the front end and in ways commensurate with the size of the effort.

These are small ideas with big power to change the lives of Maryland's least fortunate.  With the right direction of resources, our State could be the "next big thing" in social innovation that attracts entrepreneurs from all over the Country, if not the world, who want to use their experience, skills, and ideas to do good.

If you're interested in helping me promote these ideas and bring them with me to Annapolis, please consider contributing through our website:  

Have a great Monday doing what you love!  Rock on.