Better, Faster, Cheaper

Mitch Daniels: Heartland Reformer

An Answer to a Fiscal Nightmare

Goldsmith, on leave as a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and now serving as deputy mayor of New York City, says,

There is a hunger out there for ideas on how to create public value and reduce costs. Good government advocates have been urging reform for a long time. But things are different now. Governments are facing the unavoidable fiscal reality that incremental improvements aren’t sufficient. Public officials of each party are looking at transforming operations. Where in the past with more robust growth officials could tolerate inefficient government operations , today any inefficient activity brings with it a target of opportunity.

BFC is led by Executive Editor John O’Leary, former chief human resources officer for Massachusetts and the coauthor of the Washington Post bestsellerIf We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government. O’Leary’s recent research and writing has focused on breakthrough innovations that have proven effective in radically reducing costs, including the use of social media tools and process reengineering.

The BFC website is dedicated to aiding such a transformation by sharing ideas and working to create an expectation of innovation among leaders and citizens alike. Contributors include John Kamensky and Jonathan Breul of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and William D. Eggers of Deloitte.  “Without question, this is an exciting time for government innovation,” says O’Leary. “At Harvard Kennedy School, we are in the middle of a movement that is sweeping the country. It can be challenging for governments, but those who thrive are those who accept the challenge head on.”

The BFC approach isn’t just about exploiting technology to make governments better or faster at doing the same things government has always done; it is as much—or more—an attempt to rethink the fundamental goods that public leaders are seeking to deliver. BFC government isn’t merely about efficiency—it’s about effectiveness, which means asking the fundamental questions about the public purpose being served by every government activity.

For example, when grappling with the problem of homelessness, for some time New York City saw itself in the business of operating homeless shelters. This meant their goal was to create more shelters, which needed more money and also had the perverse result of doing little to reduce homelessness. Once they reset their mission to reducing homelessness, the city shifted their focus to earlier intervention and supportive housing, thus reducing the problem and helping more people less expensively.

“Understanding what public value you are trying to deliver should always be the first step,” says Goldsmith. “Once that ‘Why?’ question is answered, a variety of BFC tools can help innovative public leaders rethink the ‘how’ of service delivery.” The following BFC tools break down the silos within government and the artificial boundaries among government, nonprofit, and private providers:

  • Embracing competition/outsourcing/public-private partnerships
  • Leveraging technology
  • Changing incentives for producers (rewarding results, not effort)
  • Changing incentives for consumers (driving desired behaviors)
  • Governing by network (leveraging private sector, philanthropic, nonprofit, citizen volunteers, etc.)
  • Using Gov 2.0/Web 2.0 tools (data transparency, wiki-government, “crowdsourcing,” and other new media tools)
  • Changing the rules of the game and revitalizing the productive capacity of government by altering the framework in which public action occurs

Goldsmith’s 2010 book The Power of Social Innovation looks at how these tools were altering the landscape in the area of social services. Serving as deputy mayor under New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg allows Goldsmith to put these academic insights into practice. “None of this matters if it doesn’t produce real results for citizens,” says Goldsmith.

Mitch Daniels and Steve Goldsmith have long demonstrated a passionate commitment for government that delivers great service at an affordable price. As the BFC blog on Governing.com documents, governments across the country are just now embracing these innovative tools for delivering great service for less.

Jayson White works at the Ash Center for Democratice Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School managing the Urban Policy Advisory Group.