Should the US Government Work Like a Tech Company?

How can we make the government work more like a tech company? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director at Code for America, on Quora.

How can we make the government work more like a tech company? The questions is: do we want government working more like a tech company? I think there are aspects of tech companies that are great to bring into to government, but government has some very important differences in mission, character, and purpose that mean that it shouldn't run exactly like a tech company.

To me, the most important thing government can borrow from (some, not all!) tech companies is a focus on "user needs." Government has accumulated a lot of rules and regulations that make the process of creating technology for users largely an exercise in meeting "government needs." Those "government needs" usually developed from something genuinely important and useful, like the desire to keep personal data secure, or the desire to make technology accessible to as many people as possible, but turned into inflexible procedures that check a box but don't actually make the tech more secure or more accessible.

Doing tech in government isn't about ignoring the government needs. It's about creating processes and cultures that put the user needs first and can make something that really works for the people who are going to use the service. Successful technology leaders in government still get the boxes checked and the compliance work done. They just do that on a product that's worth doing it for.

So if your question was how do you bring that kind of practice into government, then the answer is through respectful, thoughtful communication with experienced government leaders, explaining why this way will likely get better results. Often times also bringing the voices of users into the conversation as well. Check out how Marina Martin did it at the Veterans Administration: this is her talk at the CfA Summit a few days ago. There's no magic to it, just a lot of hard work and staying positive and productive even when it's hard.

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