The Culture Gap: Solving the talent crisis in the public sector

In the last 20 years, the private sector has invested heavily in the culture of the workplace, but the public sector has failed to keep up. As a result, governments face a growing “culture gap” which will imperil their ability to replenish their talent.

Organizational culture is sometimes misconstrued as merely the perks a company offers, reducing the complex concept to what makes a company “cool.” It goes far beyond that. Organizational culture is the set of beliefs, values, and ideas that are learned and shared. Though often unspoken and implicit, culture determines how things get done. (For more in depth on organizational culture, pick up Corporate Culture and Performance by John Kotter and James Heskitt.)

This article was originally published by Meeting of the Minds and co-written with Shagorika Ghosh.

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Make Tech Work for All

Originally published by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy

It seems a long time ago that Uber fought back against city regulations by offering the “de Blasio option”. This snarky, only-in-NYC option mocked the mayor for running notoriously late. Uber was trying to mobilise public opinion against regulation, but it ultimately failed.

While there are still startups that prefer to sue than collaborate, many tech companies are coming to realise that maybe working with, not despite, city hall is the way forward.

  • Spin looks to roll out scooters with the city
  • WeWork created a new unit to partner with local groups to address urban challenges
  • Google launched a Learning Center to offer free digital skills training

A new paradigm: Equity and sustainability

New York City has been at the forefront of shaping this new paradigm. In 2017, the City launched NYCx to engage the tech industry to solve real-world problems. They assembled a leadership group that includes senior executives from Microsoft, LinkedIn, Union Square Ventures.

With a focus on equity and sustainability, NYCx brings new voices to tech R&D.

  • Co-Lab Challenges invite startups and entrepreneurs to work directly with community residents to solve neighborhood challenges. The Co-Labs aim to ground solutions in the lived experience of diverse New Yorkers, especially lower income communities.
  • Moonshot Challenges encourage global entrepreneurs to think big about cities’ most pressing problems. Built from the work experience of public sector practitioners, the Moonshots propose bold solutions and groundbreaking business models to transform lives of city dwellers globally.

Testing technology in real urban spaces

NYCx opens urban spaces as test beds for new technologies. In each case, technology, public policy, and test space were carefully selected to promote equitable, inclusive innovation.

For example, the Connectivity Challenge demonstrates new, less expensive modes of broadband deployment on Governors Island — and ultimately deployed the winning concept. The Climate Action Challenge invited electric vehicle charging innovators to show how they would serve diverse New Yorkers. In particular, innovators were asked to show how they serve people with disabilities. And the best ideas were invited to similar demonstration opportunities in Paris.

In more residential neighborhoods, the Co-Lab Zero Waste Challenge drew on the experience of public housing residents to select and test technologies to reduce waste in public space. The Co-Lab Night Safety Challenge invited solutions to be tested in Osborn Plaza in Brownsville. At the time, no businesses were open after dark in the neighborhood — an economic inequity the challenge sought to remediate.

A low-cost, easy-to-replicate model

The NYCx team has codified their approach into a “launch pad” to help other cities replicate their approach. In essence, the NYCx approach can be summarised in several steps.

The approach begins with the mayor’s vision. Each challenge is rooted in a specific goal of the City’s long-range plan OneNYC. From that, we seek to identify a probleminhibiting success of the vision. The NYCx team works with an agency to understand the difficulties they are facing with specific OneNYC goals. Alternatively, they may work with a community that’s facing re-zoning or other significant changes on a Co-Lab effort. Workshops with agencies and technologies help flesh out the problem and the potential impact. Often provocateurs like Cornell Tech or CUSP are invited to participate.

The team then turns to research. Targeted research uncovers industry trends, through interviews with the leadership council or with key informants like the Urban Tech Hubor New Lab. Complementary research uncovers agency practice or community expectations. These are done through interviews, workshops, and surveys. The NYCx Co-Labs organize community-learning events to address the disparities of awareness of new technology.

At the heart of the planning process is finding the “aperture” that combines tech innovation and policy opportunity. This aperture is then mapped to an agency’s upcoming decision, planning effort, or procurement to ensure the challenge is actionable. The result is the challenge statement. NYCx seeks global partners for each challenge to help winning solutions scale rapidly. The Cybersecurity Challenge, for example, includes London, Singapore, Korea, and several other jurisdictions as well as an Israeli venture capital firm.

The first round of each challenge makes it very easy to participate. Often an entrepreneur needs merely answer a few short questions about her or his idea, how it’s innovative, and who else is on the team. The key here is to get very broad participation. The second round invites compelling ideas to share more information. Sometimes participants are asked to team up with each other, if they’re ideas are overlapping or complementary. Again, the goal is to get participation, so the legal hurdles are few, with low barriers to entry, and many applicants are invited to provide more detail.

The final round is more targeted, asking a few participants to give demonstrations of their solutions. Often they receive “micro procurements” to support the cost of the demonstration. Finalists may be invited to negotiate a contract with the city or enter due diligence with an investor. It has been effective to offer relatively small monetary awardsbut extensive feedback from potential customers and broad exposure for winning ideas.

The result: Tech that works for people

By starting the needs of real people, NYCx takes a human-centered design approach. But unlike the typical tech startup, NYCx begins with the needs of policy makers or residents of lower income communities.

Cities and communities get potentially breakthrough solutions, often to the very problems that have been exacerbated by the rise of technology. Often the problems of one city are closely echoed by many other cities around the world.

Participating companies get feedback from potential customers. Those that make it to the finals get validation and often significant PR opportunities. Winning entries get help meeting global customers and investors.

As Miguel Gamiño said, the NYC CTO who launched the program, “we’re really trying to make sure technology is working for people and not the reverse.”

Civic Consulting Netherlands

Guest column reprinted from The Raad van Organisatie Adviesbureaus

A motivated group of pioneers

The mission: Pro bono innovation and impact on social issues.

PBLQ Director Henk de Jong, with the directors of BMC, JBR, Lysias, and Mitopics, invited Civic Consulting USA in order to launch the first such partnership outside the US.

The City of Rotterdam joined the private sector to develop an action plan for Civic Consulting Netherlands. The leaders include experts in workforce, resilience, and inclusion.

“Despite all our busy schedules, I want to give something good back to our core business the society.”

Mitopics Director Reinold van Bruggen
A motivated group of pioneers

Win-win projects

The Civic Consulting model has been active in the US for 35 years. Expert consultants work pro bono to create social impact for local communities. In this way, more than $20 million in pro bono projects are delivered each year.

These projects are different from typical assignments, because they require innovation beyond the resources of local government or NGOs.

Alexander Shermansong from Civic Consulting USA shared inspiring examples:

  • The City of Chicago struggled with difficult processes for procuring social services from nonprofits. One-year contracts could take a year to negotiate! In just six weeks consultants redesigned the process to cut the time down dramatically.
  • In New York State, large companies such as Toyota and Xerox loaned Lean experts to train State employees. As a result, cycle time for processes across departments have been shortened 30% – 80%.

“Consultants not only bring positive change through this work; they also change themselves, refreshed by working with peers from other organizations on innovative solutions.”

Alexander Shermansong, Civic Consulting USA

Our ambition is not small

The Dutch context is different, in particular because governments generally have established budgets for external advisors.

But there are opportunities. As Alexander said, “The Netherlands has a rich tradition in volunteering, and there are social projects that require innovation and new partnerships here too.”

The group identified a practical path forward

To replicate the success of Civic Consulting in the Netherlands, the group identified a practical path forward:

  1. Choose a socially relevant and non-controversial topic
  2. Start small, and then build on successes toward larger, system-wide impact
  3. Add value for consulting firms, doing something good for employees and building enthusiasm, while making a difference.

“We must ensure projects are fun to join, where consultants can be proud of their work and energized. Within each firm, participants should be competing to get on the project. The involvement of the business community in a city like Rotterdam is big, but it is about converting willingness to do something into concrete actions with social impact – and that is not easy.”

Ronald van Rijn, Managing Partner of JBR

A potential first case

Marlin Huygens, Rotterdam’s Director of Work, described the City’s goals. For one, they aim to reduce the number of long-term unemployed people on social assistance benefits. In the context of a changing labor market, this is no easy feat – and thus the need for large-scale innovative and creative solutions.

Local NGOs can play a critical role in achieving this goal, but lack the staff and budget to live up to their potential. Therefore Civic Consulting Netherlands will likely focus on supporting local NGO initiatives. And their impact will be multiplied by aligning with social initiatives identified by the City.

Civic Consulting Netherlands will apply this proven method to work with the City of Rotterdam to scope and launch the first project. The next milestone is a pitch during the international Urban Resilience Summit July 2019 in Rotterdam.

The future of justice

Justice is not simply punishing people who commit crimes — it’s also about promoting safer communities.

With the the vision of keeping Brooklyn safe and strengthening community trust in the justice system, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez convened Justice 2020 to give him guidance on how to achieve that goal.

Civic Consulting USA was tasked with designing and managing an inclusive planning process centered on listening to the people of Brooklyn: youth and seniors, victims and system-involved individuals, those with multi-generational roots and those newly arrived.

With the help of more than 70 community members, criminal justice reform advocates and experts, faith leaders, formerly incarcerated people, and police officers, we scoured the nation for new ideas and best practices, analyzed hundreds of ideas, and prioritized a handful into an action plan. (Download Justice 2020 Action Plan)

Civic Consulting was further tasked with designing and launching an implementation program. To date, 194 lawyers and professional staff have been actively involved, and many initiatives are already showing results:

  • 12% fewer homicides in 2018
  • 70% of cases in young adult court resolved with no criminal record
  • 58% reduction in people held on bail pre-trial

As The Wall Street Journal reported, the plan will “make Brooklyn a national model.”

“Evidence tells us there is a very small number of individuals who are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes,” said DA Gonzalez. “This is where our focus should be.”

Bold ideas to create jobs and solve real city challenges

NYCx will open urban spaces as test beds for new technologies.

Through NYCx, the City of New York engages the tech industry to solve real-world problems and call on the tech vanguard to make NYC the most fair, equitable, and sustainable city in the world.

  • Co-Lab Challenges invite startups and entrepreneurs to work directly with community residents to solve neighborhood challenges while aiming to scale solutions for common issues for all New Yorkers.
  • Moonshot Challenges encourage global entrepreneurs to think big about NYC’s most ambitious problems, propose bold solutions, and deliver groundbreaking business models that transform and improve the lives of city dwellers globally.

Thanks to a partnership with The Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, and a team of skilled volunteers, Civic Consulting USA is a key part of of this new program.

A diverse group of technology and community luminaries are guiding NYCx, including:

“NYCx will transform the relationship between city government, community and the tech industry to be more collaborative and inclusive,” says Miguel Gamiño, Jr., New York City Chief Technology Officer.  “If we can test and solve critical challenges together in NYC and achieve our City’s goals, we can offer these solutions for other cities facing similar issues.”