Magazine article Government Finance Review

How to Think about Technology in the Work of Government

Magazine article Government Finance Review

How to Think about Technology in the Work of Government

Article excerpt

We may be living in the Information Age, but, ironically, we rarely think carefully about how information might improve how we work. Instead, we tend to think about the technology itself, about how the features and power of what we're about to buy are arguably better than whatever we're presently using.

This tends to miss the real value of information, which is in giving us feedback to learn how our systems work. When feedback is quick and clear, the learning is easier and we typically get good results. That's why most of us find it easy to learn to ride a bicycle. But learning to "ride" the work of government is harder because feedback is often slow and obscure.

To make better choices about technology and how to use it, and to improve the work of government, what we need is better judgments about the impacts of information availability and feedback. Government managers would make substantially better choices if reasonably careful assessments were made of four common ways that information is used to improve work.

Making Work Visible and Accountable. We need to learn what we are actually doing and measure its results. For this, digital data collection and analysis are enormously cost-effective. According to recent IBM studies, more than 90 percent of all of the information ever collected and presently available has been gathered in just the past two years. In education, for example, it is now possible to get not only aggregate annual measures of school performance but also daily feedback on the work of individual students and teachers. More information collection and analysis can make other activities similarly visible. Of course, we need good judgment about tradeoffs between work performance and other concerns, such as equity and privacy. But we should take more advantage of the recently created ability of information to make work visible and accountable.

Making Guidance Accessible and "Ready to Hand." Performance usually improves when we have access to good advice relevant to the challenges we are facing. Mobile smartphones and tablets are making it possible to offer context-sensitive and relevant information to government workers even when they are away from their desks and need to make decisions. Firefighters, for example, can know the layouts and contents of the buildings they must enter in emergencies, and doctors can use video on a tablet to explain medical recommendations to their patients. …

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