What do local governments have to get right to create brighter futures for their communities? Here are some highlights based on a Futures Friday conversation among fiscal policy expert and journalist Liz Farmer, government innovation expert Nick Kittle, and futurist Rebecca Ryan.
Use automation and transition services online to free local governments up to do the things that matter, like directly interacting with people, filling potholes, cleaning up parks, and much more.
Decide what to offer intentionally in person because it is the right thing to do and builds relationships and trust with all of their residents. The real challenge for local governments will be to build and maintain trust, not just whether or not to digitize services. According to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears, “Corrupt government officials” remains the #1 fear in America for the sixth year in a row. As services move online or become automated, local governments need to reconsider where and how they can create positive touchpoints and interactions with the community and the people they serve. Otherwise, online services may contribute to inequities because of the digital divide, including digital literacy and access to affordable and reliable broadband.
Leverage remote and online services to give more people the opportunity to participate and serve local government, including subject matter experts to shape debates. In the past, participating in local government (such as speaking at a public meeting) typically required everyone to show up in-person and on-site. Remote participation can support local governance and decision-making by expanding reach, inclusion, and expertise.
Start by giving everyone a chance to think and brainstorm independently first before coming together to discuss, build on each other’s ideas, and find ways forward. You do not have to be in the same room (virtual or physically) to innovate. In fact, it's best to first start apart. Creative ideas can come to us anywhere – on a walk, in the shower, or in the middle of working on something else. Great ideas do not, however, come to us on demand during a specific time slot on a specific day. Starting with independent brainstorming helps innovation teams start with many different possible ideas and solutions when they do get together.
Enable innovation team members to develop and maintain regular relationships and interactions remote and in-person, which helps them successfully get pilot projects off the ground and implemented. Innovation takes place in two phases -- it's about creativity being implemented. Both are needed to be successful.
Individually practice the habits that nurture your creativity, push yourself to the edge of your thinking, and make actual time for deep work. You can find best-selling books on how good innovation actually happens and how to orchestrate it.
Suggested reading: Cal Newport’s Deep Work to make time for what really matters, and A World Without Email to consider systems and work cultures that enable deep work.
Improve your ability to change your lens or perspective. For example, do something every day that will make you deeply uncomfortable for a hot second. It can be something unusual, like writing a poem at midnight, lying down on the ground and staring at the ceiling for two minutes, or taking a different way home from work intentionally so you can notice things you might not notice otherwise. This approach provides you with mental resilience and an understanding of how to adapt. As you learn to do that, you will grow better and better at freeing your mind up and allowing your creative waves to connect.
If we were the city council for all cities in America, what long bets would we make now because we can see their payoff?
Liz: I would bet on municipal broadband. Yes, it’s possible – you can have a publicly operated government business entity that does not cost nearly as much as private companies and provide broadband service to everybody. Some local governments have done this already, most famously Chattanooga, TN.
Nick: The first thing I would tackle is land use planning. We need to plan land use for today and the future, not just based on the past.
Rebecca: I would require that every major decision that future councils make has something like a “seventh generation” consideration, e.g., What is our best guess about whether this decision will advantage or disadvantage our grandchildren's great-great-grandchildren. This way we integrate more long-termism into short-term decisions.
You can watch a recording of Liz, Nick, and Rebecca’s conversation here. Rebecca strongly recommends Liz’s substack, Long Story Short, and engaging Nick Kittle as a keynoter or subject matter expert on sustainable innovation.
Yasemin (Yas) Arikan operates the research vessel. Trained in futures and social science methods, she works closely with Rebecca and our clients to find the local trends shaping their future. She also helps design and facilitate useful activities and materials. Her work includes developing scenarios on the futures of public health, health care, society and technology for associations, foundations, government, and business. Bonus: Yas can help you take your gift wrapping game to the next level. And she can talk with you about it in English, German, or Turkish.