Systems & complexity

Government needs to build bridges to solve wicked problems

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

When academia and business converge, it piques interest. In their recent book Bridgebuilders: How Government Can Transcend Boundaries to Solve Big Problems, Professor Donald Kettl, renowned for his work Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence, and William Eggers, the executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights, bring a unique perspective.

They confess to having been in the realm of enhancing government efficiency and effectiveness for longer than they care to admit. They have witnessed an array of reforms aiming to expand, contract, devolve, privatize, and rewire government.

However, they cannot ignore the prevailing sense that government programs frequently fall short of their intended impact. Whether addressing homelessness, opioid abuse, crime, or immigration, the government often struggles to fulfill its promises.

The authors attribute this predicament to the traditional vending-machine model of government, where a problem is identified, an organization is established to address it, and money is allocated with the expectation of results. Alas, this model no longer suffices, as funds flow in, but results do not adequately materialize.

Solving problems in a complex world

To better enable government to solve problems in a complex world, they identify ten crucial behaviors that governments need to adopt:

  1. Knock down barriers, as most problems will involve stakeholders from across society, so it’s important that government is able to act effectively with those from profit, non-profit, and academic sectors.
  2. Seek mutual advantage, with this especially important when projects have multiple stakeholders who will need to have common strategies.
  3. Nurture private partners, as it’s vital that private partners are instilled with a public spirit for success to be achieved.
  4. Build trustworthy networks, because developing trust in government will require collaboration across sectors.
  5. Grow catalytic government, as governments usually do more to shape and integrate solutions as they do to cultivate them themselves.
  6. Focus on outcomes, because too often governments get bogged down by internal procedures rather than focusing on what they ultimately hope to achieve.
  7. Make data the language, because its through data that both information is shared and actions are delivered.
  8. Redefine accountability, so that rather than traditional, top-down authority, we have more modern systems.
  9. Cultivate cross-boundary leaders, because when working across boundaries, leaders will need to learn to share responsibility.
  10. Make the exceptional routine, as the new era of public management requires the ability to deploy bridgebuilding across government.

The authors attribute much of this shift in mindset to the COVID-19 pandemic. They highlight the success of Operation Warp Speed—a notable public-private collaboration that yielded tangible and significant results, with the development and distribution of vaccines.

Climate change, considered the wickedest problem of all, requires collective efforts. The authors contend that no individual, community, country, or continent can address this issue in isolation.

Public-private partnerships

These developments signify a broader trend of public-private mission-based transformations, countering Mariana Mazzucato’s notion that big government is the sole solution to wicked problems. The authors point out that even NASA has begun procuring space vehicles through a competitive marketplace and forming partnerships with various companies for its ambitious projects.

The authors present numerous arguments countering the supposed “failure of capitalism” put forth by Mazzucato. They highlight that since the late 1980s, business spending on research and development (R&D) has exceeded that of the federal government.

Additionally, foundations and private individuals are investing substantial capital in the pursuit of major innovations. Philanthropists in the United States have donated billions of dollars, with the Gates Foundation alone outspending the World Health Organization on global health issues.

Indeed, the authors assert that public policies necessitate private partners. They emphasize that venture capital is unlikely to fund highly risky endeavors such as deep space exploration, which typically falls under the purview of government. However, private investment excels in supporting early-stage innovations.

If this partnership can be effectively harnessed, it can lay the foundation for enhancing democratic governance in the twenty-first century.

Article source: Government Needs To Build Bridges To Solve Wicked Problems.

Header image source: Created by Bruce Boyes with Perchance AI Photo Generator.

Rate this post

Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

Related Articles

Back to top button