A countless number of the expert speakers and innovators at #AspenIdeas Festival are either current or former government leaders who are helping guide the process of where and how communities, philanthropy, arts, and business can come together to solve the most intractable issues of our time.
From a discussion with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) on mass incarceration, to Improving Urban Public Schools with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D-Chicago) and Preventing Violence in America with Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D-New Orleans), civic leaders face many of the same challenges of the past century. But this generation of civic leaders are often tasked with solving them without the time, training or talent to match current needs — regardless of relevance or cost effectiveness.
As we’ve noted before, governments are hamstrung by legacy processes while a fast-moving public demands increased responsiveness. At the same time, opportunities for collaboration between the public and private sectors have never been greater. As one local government leader put it, “We’re now riding the second wave of civic pro-bono and civic innovation.”
So how can 20th century government effectively scale 21st century solutions to resolve these intractable challenges?
Well, to capitalize on the immense interest in civic collaboration, governments at all levels need training to leverage this new generation of public-private partnerships. Civic leaders and public employees could benefit from executive-level training in public sector innovation to:
· Get familiar with the opportunities and the obstacles;
· Learn how to avoid conflicts of interest and how to match the right partners to the right projects;
· Make agile development and rapid prototyping work in the public sector, and when to leverage open source tools versus proprietary tools;
· Leverage both new and well-established financial (and financing) tools to better align incentives for private investment in public services.
Best of all, key elements of this approach do not require new infrastructure:
Leverage existing partners, networks, and facilities. Cross-sector approaches are being deployed in cities across the country such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Take for example the recently launched Aspen Urban Innovation Lab that hosts deep-dive roundtable dialogues for its Urban Innovators in Residence that include cross-sector participants to examine pressing issues in D.C.
Engage cutting-edge private sector partners. Cross-sector partners can leverage networks of highly-trained professionals to design effective certification standards, deliver new and compelling executive education, and deploy innovative new approaches in tandem with public sector partners.
Apply modules from curricula developed at places such as the Presidio Institute, University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business, Stanford d. School, University of Chicago, and Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Design for agile. Government doesn’t need another static approach to training. Standards and certification should always address the latest thinking, approaches, and technology. Cross-sector, eternally iterative networks can make this a reality.
What’s needed now is what a friend calls the “connective tissue” — and it seems to us that Aspen Institute — which has the convening power as well as the “air” (research, policy, thought leaders and influencers) and “ground” game (community leaders, advocates and others) could be the answer.