3 thoughts on “What Would Citizen Centric Institutions Look Like?”

  1. Though provoking, as always. It’s exciting (and sometimes nerve-wracking, no doubt) to live in a time when we are making so much of this up as we go along.

    Thanks, Brad and John.

  2. Hi Brad,

    I wonder sometimes at the effort to reduce complex issues to such simplicity that they start to lose meaning.

    Let’s start with the definition of “institutions.” They are entities that “decide and do things on their behalf.” What this definition, and the subsequent discussion misses, is the governance of these institutions. Instead, we have this kind of teetery-tottery mental image of a clumsy transaction centered thing that, I think, misses both the implications of purpose and scale.

    Second, why institutions aren’t working like they used to: “technologies now make it practical for people to decide and do things for themselves.” Well yeah, kind of. But some institutions always did that, and they are disappearing. Like town meeting. The fact is, our civic culture is changing. Bob Putnam has written enough about that I don’t need to rake his coals. But there’s more: “The problems that led communities to delegate authority and dollars to centralized organizations are going away.” Really? This is amazing, from many reasons. Take problems of the commons – we’re worse off than ever. How about “wicked problems,” for example the flu, or persistent poverty. Not only have centralized institutions had limited success, there’s nothing to suggest that technology is going to make us any better off addressing them.

    Okay, third: institutions must be “citizen centric.” I’m wrestling with this a bit. How is the DMV not citizen centric? If its not citizen centric, what kind of centric is it? And first and foremost, shouldn’t an institution be problem-centric – in other words, have a purpose to which serving citizens well is a means to address the problem?

    For an excellent resource – and I actually think there are many – I’d start with “Tools of Government: The New Governance” (http://www.amazon.com/Tools-Government-Guide-New-Governance/dp/0195136659) and of course, to give it the “new tools” spin, Elaine Kamarck’s excellent work at Harvard (http://www.hks.harvard.edu/about/faculty-staff-directory/elaine-kamarck)

    Sorry to sound a little off-energy here, but I really think alot of work has gone into these questions and the problem shouldn’t be overly simplified.

  3. Thanks, Lars, for your thoughtful critique. I agree with you on a number of points and I am not so sure on others. Part of the problem may be my poor job of selecting from John’s original article. I would strongly urge a full reading (and maybe we can comment over there: here’s the link.

    BTW, I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with the DMV and in many states these are actually good examples of what a citizen-centered public agency can do. However, I am not sure that is an “institution” in the sense that we are talking here. Maybe we would be better off saying “civic institution.”

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