The other day while enjoying breakfast with a consultant friend I heard her talk of about how smaller local governments didn’t have the resources to afford her, or her firms services.
Hogwash I thought! Fresh from the launch of CivicCommons.com at the Gov2.0 Summit I jumped in and asked, surely a couple of the smaller municipalities with similar needs could come together, jointly spec out a project and pool their budgets. It seems like a win-win-win, budgets go further, better services are offered and, well, of less interest but still nice, my friend gets to work on rolling out some nice technologies in the community in which she lives.
“Government’s doesn’t work that way.”
Followed up by…
“Why would we work with one of those other communities, they are our competitors.”
Once you’ve stopped screaming at your monitor… (yes, I’m happy to give you a few seconds to vent that frustration) let me try to explain in as cool as a manor as possible why this makes no sense. And while I don’t live in the numerous municipalities that border on Vancouver, if you do, consider writing you local councillor/mayor. I think your IT department is wasting your tax dollars.
First, government’s don’t work that way? Really? So an opportunity arises for you to save money and offer better services to your citizens and you’re going to say no because the process offends you in some way? I’m pretty sure there’s a chamber full of council people and a mayor who feel pretty differently about that.
The fact is, that governing a city is going to get more complicated. The expectations of citizens are going to become greater. There is going to be a gap, and no amount of budget is going to cover it. Citizens increasingly have access to top tier services on the web – they know what first class systems look like. They look like Google, Amazon, Travelocity, etc… and vary rarely your municipal website site and the services it offers. It almost doesn’t matter where you are reading this from, I’m willing to bet your city’s site isn’t world class. Thanks to the web however your citizens, even the ones who never leave your bedroom community, are globe traveling super consumers of the web. They are getting faster, better and more effective service on and off the web. You might want to consider this because as the IT director in a city of 500,000 people you probably don’t have the resources to keep up.
Okay, so sharing a budget to be able to build better online infrastructure (or whatever) for your city makes sense. But now you’re thinking – we can’t work with that neighboring community… their our competitors.
Stop. Stop right there.
That community is not your competitor. Let me tell you right now. No one is moving to West Van over Burnaby because their website is better, or their garbage service is more efficient. They certainly aren’t moving because you offer webbased forms on your city’s website and the other guys (annoyingly) make you print out a PDF. That’s not influencing the 250K-500K decision about where I live. Basically, if it doesn’t involve the quality of the school it probably isn’t factoring in.
Hell even other cities like Toronto, Calgary or Seattle aren’t your competitor. If anyone is moving there it’s likely because of family or a job. Maybe if you really got efficient then a marginally lower muncipal tax would help, but if that were the case, then partner with as many cities as possible and benefit from some collaborative economies of scale… cause now you kicking the but of the 99% of cities that aren’t collaborating and sharing costs.
And, of course, this isn’t limited to cities. Pretty much any level of government could benefit from pooling budgets to sponsor some commonly speced out projects.
It’s depressing to see that the biggest challenge to driving down the costs of running a city (or any government) aren’t going to technological, but a cultural obsession with the belief that everybody else is different, competing and not as good as us.