The role of government is going to change. As individuals find it easier to collaborate and solve problems, traditional government structures will need to be reshaped and rewired. So how do we start this change?
The people’s pilot light
I first found myself thinking of the role of government as a “pilot light” at a Department for Communities and Local Government event on digital inclusion. Most government bodies are prone to consider themselves as somehow permanent but what would they be like if they got their collective heads around being only sometimes on? The pilot light on the boiler that hums quietly away, then sparks into life when things get a bit chilly.
That, of course, is very Keynsian and at the moment government is turning itself to full roar and bunging on all 4 rings on the gas cooker in an attempt to get some heat back into the economy.
What is interesting though is how we habitually structure most government on an assumption of permanence. That means that when we need more government we struggle to find the capacity and when we need less we are clumsy at shrinking, often reluctant to scale it back and put the excess capacity to useful work elsewhere.
32nd Birmingham and District Leisure and Tourism Light Foot (reserve)
This is why I think government needs reservists. In the good times these people will be working happily in private industry, training a couple of weeks of the year with government oppos, creating links and bridges that wouldn’t otherwise exist, speeding up the modernisation of government by sharing new ideas and ways of working.
Of course social/private firms and the third sector already provide contractual spare capacity for government. – I’m wondering if it makes sense to create some stronger culture of treating government as something that gets deployed where and when it is needed.
Rehydrate in case of emergency.
We need to create the core notion of government that grows and shrinks depending on the task in hand. This habit will be key to responding to self organising citizens. Why clean a street if the people who live there use some of their combined social capital to keep it clean for themselves? Often it’s simply because we planned to clean it, it’s our job – what are they doing cleaning it anyway!
This is not a complete answer, nor a wholly formed thought, so help me here please. How do we re-structure government to respond to widespread self organising citizens?
(image “It starts here” from Mikey G Ottowa.)