Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the IBM Center’s new book, Government For The Future: Reflection and Vision for Tomorrow’ Leaders,  part two of the book looks twenty years ahead offering perspectives on the future. This contribution is the next in a multi-part series, Engaged Government: Five Predictions for 2040, authored by Lora Frecks.

By 2040, we will be nearing the end of the Internet Revolution. As the Indus­trial Revolution altered how we organized labor at the start of the twentieth century, the Internet Revolution changed how we share information and work. Looking to the Post-Internet-Revolution Era, we can make some predictions based on identifiable trends. What will an engaged government look like in 2040? We make five predictions.

Prediction One: A More Agile Government

Aided by the quality and quantity of data available from artificial and aug­mented intelligence (Prediction Two) and the support of a more trusting public (Prediction Five), government organizations large and small will embrace an agile approach to problem solving. Government will experiment with small trials of multiple innovative solutions derived from a wide variety of sources. Government will alter its plans in response to evolving data and feedback.

Nearly all problems addressed by government will benefit from a more agile approach. Innovation will become the norm. A more agile government will also have a different approach to long-term problem solving. Once a solution is chosen and the plan implemented, government will periodically collaborate with the public and other partner organizations to assess how well the solution is working and whether changes are needed. These assessments could be triggered by a preset calendar term, which may be overridden by a predetermined number or severity of concerns from the public, organizations, or government employees. The assessments will be regular events with all parties understanding the norms necessary to productively reach decisions. In 2040, participating in assessments will be viewed as a civic duty similar to voting or jury duty.

Prediction Two: An Increased Reliance on Artificial and Augmented Intelligence (AI)

AI will increase the volume and sources of data collected and decrease the amount of “drudge work” which currently requires lots of human atten­tion, time, and energy. AI will generate two giant leaps forward for govern­ment. First, it will provide government with the information necessary to make informed decisions in ways never possible before. Second, it will free employees to focus on data quality and using data to make better decisions.

The rise of AI will be a radical change for government. Executives will have more time to consider and evaluate the work to be done rather than spending all their time overseeing the day-to-day operations of government. There will be multiple databases of information available to government for answering questions surrounding any issue under consideration.

Every field will be impacted. Remote sensors will collect and report infor­mation from many sources. Like the water quality sensors discussed earlier, sensors will track metrics relevant to the weather, traffic patterns, community health, criminal activities, economic development, environmental conditions and usage of public resources such as parks, recreational facilities, buildings and roads. Continuing advancements in technologies with increasingly more affordable pricing will make the testing of almost anything possible.

Government and the public will have agreed on standards for protecting confidential information and where to draw the line between an individual’s privacy rights and the good of the larger population. Government will have rules and norms on how data is accessed. The public will be comfortable with the flow of information and will benefit greatly from the use of “augmented intelligence,” where artificial intelligence supports a human decision. After much testing, routine decisions will benefit greatly when AI supports human decisions.

Prediction Three: The Ubiquitous Need for Collaborative Skills

With the extra time provided by artificial and augmented intelligence, gov­ernment employees will be able to invest time in new ways to work with each other and to work with the public. Collaboration will be necessary, because problems will become more complex. This rise in complexity will derive from our ability to perceive new levels of intricacy in the problems we face. In 2040, it will be impossible for one person or organization to have all the skills, knowl­edge, and resources needed to understand or solve a particular problem.

Collaboration will require mastery of a diverse skillset including commu­nication, negotiation, storytelling and project management skills, and compe­tence with the ever-evolving technologies supporting collaborative efforts. Many of these soft skills have seldom been taught in schools. Universities will add collaboration to their curriculums.

Collaborative skills will be used in many different ways. Good communication skills enable participants to clearly be understood and to recognize when accommodations in communication modes or styles are necessary. Training in negotiations sets expectations for making compromises and adopting a standard of amicable behavior during discus­sions. Storytelling helps each individual and group share their perspective and reasoning in a manner easily comprehended by others. Storytelling is also useful in conveying not only the level of importance of the information being shared, but also why it is so important. Project management skills allow all parties to appreciate the volume of work to be done and the associated expected timeframes.

Prediction Four: A Rise in Volunteerism

By 2040, government employees will regularly produce public services side-by-side with volunteers. Community members will be frequent and active volunteer participants in the work of government. Volunteers will provide both labor and input in the form of ideas, feedback and opinions. Today, there is an ebb and flow of employees between government and the private sector. Government will have a similar ebb and flow between volunteer and paid employees.

This influx of volunteers will be driven by several forces. First, as the nation’s population ages, more people will retire and seek ways to remain actively involved in their communities. Second, the increased use of artificial intelligence and augmented intelligence for routine tasks will give citizens more time to engage with the community on higher-level activities. Third, people will want to contribute to society and help solve the problems facing their communities and the nation.

Volunteers’ “nonemployee” status will require management and opera­tional adaptations to avoid problems for either the government or the vol­unteer. Governments will develop guidelines for identifying the line between volunteer work and paid employment. A spectrum or matrix of employment and volunteering will develop.

Volunteers will be treasured by government. Volunteerism will provide government with access to expertise not otherwise available. Volunteerism will have a dollar cost but, when organized properly, volunteerism will save government both time and money. However, the most valuable benefit of volunteerism will be increased trust in government.

Prediction Five: Increased Citizen Trust in Government

Three changes in government operations will lead to large increases in public trust in government by 2040.

First, government will include volunteers in its work. Government orga­nizations that invite citizens into the work of government will be more open and trusted by the communities they serve. This manifests in the form of engagement and participation when government asks the public for ideas or input regarding what should be done or feedback regarding what government is presently doing or has done in the past. Both engagement and participation are public investments in government. They are also a means by which the public learns about government and its employees. This knowledge demysti­fies government decisions and actions. In 2040, most government operations will routinely include both public engagement and participation.

Second, governments will devote more time and effort toward making operations and decisions transparent. This transparency will be manifested in communications between government and the public. These communications will include sharing datasets like those described in Prediction Two above. They will also include information about how government operates, what gov­ernment does, who runs each portion of it, and how the public can contact government. In 2040, it will be unacceptable for anyone to not be able to easily and quickly find answers to their questions about government.

Third, frequent, well-organized, productive, and thoughtful interactions between government and the public will generate trust. Today, trust in gov­ernment is most visibly demonstrated by votes for public bonds to invest in infrastructure such as roads, educational efforts, or economic development investments. In 2040, there will be new, regular, and visible acts of trust in government. With enough support, community members will be able to peti­tion that specific topics be added to ballots. Moreover, there will be public forums for government issues to be discussed. There will be a means for the public to suggest problems for government to solve and provide feedback for how solutions are progressing.