Efficiency in government services

If you want to understand the possibilities for efficient and effective government, one should visit its department or bureau of Business Affairs and Licensing.

On Monday, I went to the City of Chicago Dept. of Business Affairs and Licensing to get a business license for independent consulting. This was the most effective and efficient government service experience that I have ever had.

The Website:
The department website had a business license wizard that walked you through a series of questions to the page with the right forms that you needed to fill out. This was accomplished through 5 questions and I got the correct PDF form. (They did not have the online fill able PDF or it would have been a perfect process.) I filled out the form and went down to the office. You are allowed to schedule an appointment to visit the office online, but I figured I did not need to do that with the holiday approaching.

The Office:
At the office, I waited in a line of 2 people to meet with the information person who asked me about the type of business I wanted a license for and printed out a number. In the waiting area, there were 10 or so people. I was glad a brought a book, except, by the time I walked across the room to get to a seat, they called up my number, which was also displayed on the TV monitor with CNN.

I meet with the Davina, the financial counselor, who asks me a few questions and types in the information from my form. She prints out another form and highlights the questions I need to answer. There are 5 yes/no questions about my “office” and property, and 4 questions on tax related stuff. She tells me that I am to fill them out there so I can ask any her questions. I answer the questions and she types them in the system.

She tells me that because of my zip code, my application has to be approved by planning as opposed to zoning and that with the holiday, I will know by Friday. Then I should come in and review the approval and pay the $250 fee. Then, I will get my business license that same day.

The entire process in the office took less than 15 minutes.

The moral of the story:
Governments can be extremely efficient and effective when it comes to generating their own income. The City of Chicago requires all business to get a $250 business license for profits and $50 non-profits. If you rent or own a space, have a car, need to put signage on the walkway, need to use the sewage system, doing business as another entity, each item is an additional fee. While many other Chicago agencies seem mired in incompetence due to corruption, the experience of the Dept. of BA and L was the model of good citizen service and I left feeling good about the government. If only that could be replicated at the DMV.

Tangibility of governance in Ghana

This morning, I attended a Chicago Council on Global Affairs event with The Right Honourable Baroness Amos of Brondesbury, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council, United Kingdom. Beyond the fact that she gives politicians a good name in terms of being honest, articulate, and very friendly; she gave a balanced account of social and economic activities in Africa since 2005 and the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, when they adopted the Millennium Development Goals.

And yes, I did get the business card of one of her associates to contact her. She could be a high level politician who actual would/could get design and its role in governance.

I wanted to share her response to a question I asked about which African country she thought did an effective job of communicating with its citizenry. The topic had been brought up earlier in the conversation in relationship to how Africa leaders are challenged by the need to manage the expectations for progress after the “lever is pulled” with the openness in public communications through radio talk shows and the newspapers now expected to meet governance standards. Overwhelmed by the criticisms, their  response is to clamp things down in fear, but she said that is when greater communications are required.

My question was the last question, thus her answer was brief. But she held up Ghana and its handling of the HIPC [Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative] controversy as a good example. In 2001, there was huge controversy in the Ghanaian government and public as to whether it should enter the HIPC program in which they would receive debt forgiveness by meeting certain poverty reduction goals approved by IMF and the World Bank. In order to show the benefits of HIPC, the Ghanaian government emblazoned all of its infrastructure results with the HIPC label. This has made the HIPC initiative “tangible” to the people, but has also opened it up to positive and negative criticism, which is the heart of government participation.

Here is a video produced by Now Public, which is a citizen journalism company, called Damned By Debt Relief that captures the critique of the program. But again, it is able to be critiqued because it is so tangible to people.

HIPC has been branded on schools, etc. While this labeling is common for Oxfam, Save the Children, and others, it is interesting to think about what happens when the government does the same thing. 

Image of Bono with HIPC brand on Ghanaian school or something.

Image of Ghanain kindergarten with HIPC sign.

Health Policy and design

Yesterday in my Design and Governmentality class, we had Randall Mark, Director of Policy Analysis for Cook County Bureau of Health Services. We had to present to the undergraduate design classes because of scheduling conflicts, but Randy was great. I asked some of the students later and they said he was cool. We organized the session as a introduction to the topic, a Q&A with Randy, a discussion of the pilot project we did last summer, and then Sara Bassick led in the discussion of the cervical cancer vaccine for girls.

I was very happy with the Q&A. I was going for a Charlie Rose/James Lipton vibe with tables and chairs. One of my students, Jeremiah commented on the set up and said it reminded him of Charlie Rose. Its great when your intentions are carried through in such a way.

Again, Randy was such as wonderful host I have been looking at health policy for a while, but it was great to get Randy's perspective of the relationship between the multiple layers of government and how the Medicaid issues affect us all. We talked about the tools and information that he uses (mostly websites which send in digests and notices) and the role of design. Unfortuately, the current budget crises has resulted in the elimination of their communications staff, but hopefully we can work together to provide design strategy services for the bureau.

I had presented on the future work we were hoping to do with the Bureau, but the students were engaged with the previous pilot study  (the research, the use of plain language, the placing of information in context based on the different users). It made me feel good about the approach we took. So there is a Robert Woods Johnson grant due at the end of the month, hopefully we can get it and do significant work.   

Materiality of governance

As I have been trying to define for myself what design and governmentality is about, today it became clear what inspires my passion about it. I am passionate about how justice and democracy should not be abstract ideals but rather tangible positive experiences for all people.

As I discussed before, in my Design + Governmentality class two weeks ago, we read Foucault’s Governmentality essay which I framed around this quote:

Government is defined as a right manner of disposing things so as not to lead to the common good, as the jurist’s texts would have said, but to an end which is convenient for each of the things to be governed (Foucault 1978: 91).

The students had a surprising response to it. It made them sad and confused because suddenly “democracy” and “justice” were not abstract ideals but were tangible “things” that people could/should be able to touch, see, smell, taste, hear, and experience bodily. Something was lost when they were not lofty ideals. I convinced them that, as the creators of things, this shift is actually empowering because they have a direct role in the making of these concepts tangible and real to people. Then we talked about how design is the mechanism by which concepts are made tangible and real to people. If these concepts are tangible then people feel they can grasp them and change the ideals embodied through the artifacts.

The centrality of this is evident in a breakfast I attended this morning.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs sponsored an event with Paul Rusesabagina, the man profiled in the Hotel Rwanda film. Paul got up and addressed the ideals of truth, justice, and reconciliation in Rwanda. He talked about how the UN had given the Rwandan government $1.2 million dollars to train judges for truth and reconciliation tribunals. Yet in 13 years, no one was trained and less than 5000 people have been tried. He addressed how the failures of the Church, the UN, and France left the US as the only power that can bring the current government to the diplomatic table. Later he discussed with me and Mohammed, that it has to do with the fact that the US is the only force the government will listen to as opposed to the US having any special diplomatic orientation. The point is that in Rwanda, truth, justice, and reconciliation are just ideals with no material essence to them. There is a materiality of governance but the tangible object is the gun.

If got me thinking about what can design do in a situation in which you want to train illiterate people on law and justice to be able to administer law and justice?

Due to the lack of literacy in the general population, the design solution is not textual. The government controls the radio, so aural channels are not available. Photographic images and illustrations can play a role once the production and more importantly distribution challenges are addressed. I’m fascinated by what could be done with dance, especially in situations of fear and oppression. The other night we had watched the documentary Rize, about street dance in South Central LA. Built into the body movements of these young black people were their grasping of freedom and expression of the rage of the lost of friends and family to drugs and violence. Or I think of Brazilian Capoira, a martial art hidden in the form of dance. It would have to be something multimodal but tangible and real.

A young Rwandan man, now living in Chicago who attended the talk, told us about the videos he creates and puts on YouTube. Is this what design and governmentality, design, and policy, should be about? In what form should this experience take?

So what drives my desire to establish an international group on design policy, policy design, and design and governmentality are three things:

  1. Justice, democracy, accountability, openness, participation in governance should be tangible positive experiences for people, not just abstract ideals.
  2. Design (empathetic, inclusive, and accountable) is the mechanism by which concepts of governance (through policy) are transformed into tangible experiences that people can grasp, and if desire, change.
  3. The form of those tangible experiences have to be designed in culturally sensitive and relevant ways and with the direct participation of those affected by the design.

Governmentality and the materiality of governance

Sorry I've been away. It has been crazy busy these last few weeks with the new semester starting.

Last Friday, my Design and Governmentality course discussed Foucault's governmentality and Mitchell Dean's discussion of the concept. The students' reactions were interesting. They felt that the readings took the glamour out of the ideals of justice or democracy. They did not want them to be just "things".

This is what I think is powerful about Foucault's concept of governmentality is that it forces you to address the materiality and thus reality of governance, which for designers, are the exact loci of potential change. As long as these ideals are just ideals, one feels less responsibility for making them real in the world. But if they are only as real as people's tangible experiences of them, you have to work to make it real and tangible for them through things, institutions, and practices. This notion of materiality has become very important to me as a force for social justice in particular. People like the idea of social justice but often fail to make it tangible to people. If it is not sensed, then does social justice really exist.

More later...

E-governance and the Center for Technology in Government

In my NSF grant prep research activities, I have come across a group doing cool work from an E-government perspective. University of Albany has a Center for Technology in Government.

It has been around since 1993 and according to its summary:

  • conducted 25 partnership projects, which produced outcomes that have helped state, local, and federal government agencies improve services and operations;
  • partnered with 57 government agencies, 42 corporate organizations, and 14 academic institutions and research organizations;
  • issued more than 60 publications designed to support the work of government professionals and contribute to the field of research on IT innovation in government organizations;
  • developed 12 prototype systems that have answered critical policy, management, organizational, and technology questions;
  • received 16 research grants and fee-for-service contracts for over $5.5 million;
  • been honored with 8 state and national awards such as the Ford Foundation's Innovations in American Government award; and provided data and support to more than 20 doctoral dissertations and masters projects.

Dr. G Brian Burke is the Senior Program Associate.

They just won an NSF grant (which has a sub-section on Digital Government Research) to establish four international working groups on the topics of (1) International Research on Global Collaboration, (2) Urban Livability, (3) Citizen Participation, and (4) Public Health and Safety.

The citizen participation project focuses on "... creating an International Working Group (IWG on Online Consultation and Public Policy Making. The overarching questions motivating its research will be (a) how to evaluate the policy and other social impacts of online citizen consultation initiatives aimed at influencing actual
government decision making, and (b) how the optimal design of such initiatives is affected by cultural, social, legal and institutional context."

World Usability Day presentation

On November 14, 2006, I presented at the Chicago World Usability Day. My focus was on usability and government, so I talked about some of the research results from my German Marshall Fund, American Marshall Memorial Fellowship, trip to Europe this past summer.

Download Tunstall_WUD06_lo.pdf (1.1 MB in Adobe PDF format)

The title of the presentation was "Design + Governmentality: Comparative perspectives on government receptiveness to citizen-centered design." I defined citizen-centered design as:

A design philosophy and process in which citizens’ everyday knowledge is given extensive attention and inclusion in civic decision-making from policy formation, its implementation, evaluation, and redesign.

I proposed seven factors, the presence of which, indicates potential receptiveness to citizen-centered design:

1_Tradition of direct democracy
2_Citizens’ special interest groups
3_Formal /informal design policy
4_High status of design and usability
5_Design and usability professionals
6_Design and usability education
7_Tradition of user-centered design

I then compared the factors across the US, Poland, Germany, Slovakia, Basque Region in Spain, and Finland. I did not travel to Finland for the AMMF, but it seems to have the current strongest indicators for a citizen-centered design so I included it. Poland has the lowest factors for citizen-centered design, mostly based on its absence of any government support of design and usability.

Overall it was well received. People came up a told me how they appreciated my emphasis on how usability can affect governance (the majority of the other presentations were business focused).

So next steps is to write it up as a formal academic essay, so any feedback would be appreciated.

World Usability Day

I am presenting today at World Usability Day in Chicago. I am talking about my German Marshall Fund trip. In the summer of 2006, I went on a one-month tour of Europe on a German Marshall Fund fellowship, whose purpose is to encourage transatlantic dialogue among “emerging” leaders. My project was to look at the intersections of culture, design, and civic participation in democracy. I traveled to Krakow and Warsaw Poland; Hamburg Germany: Bratislava, Slovakia; Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain, and Brussels the capital of the EU. I did not travel to Finland, which is in the presentation, but some interesting things are going on in Finland so I included it.

More later. this thing starts at 7:30am. I'm so sleepy.

Issue voter recognized in measures

In the discussion of the election results, AP writer David Crary reported on the results of various ballot measures across the nation. There is an interesting quote that points out political recognition of the issue voter:

Conservatives had hoped the same-sex marriage bans might increase turnout for Republicans, though the GOP had a rough night. Democrats had looked for a boost from low-income voters turning out on behalf of measures to raise the state minimum wage in six states. The wage hikes passed in Arizona, Colorado. Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Nevada.

This is interesting where you compare to Europe where there is little history of direct democracy. There is the Initiative and Referendum Institute in Europe that studies the potential for direct democracy. They have a paraphrase of a quote by Winston Churchill about direct democracy being the worst forms of government except for all the rest, but that is a misrepresentation.

On the Enter Stage Right site, writer J.K. Baltzersen quotes Churchill more extensively and uncovers the complexity of the issues:

We so often hear the famous Churchill dictum on democracy:   

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Indeed quoting Churchill can be used against democracy as form of government:  

      The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

It will be interesting to see how Europe views the American experiment with direct democracy.


Change in the guard

So yesterday's election results are in and a change in the guard is expected in the House of Representatives and more balance in the Senate. Interestingly enough, the stock market was lower in the news. I hope it had nothing to do with the flurry of referendums passed to increase the minimal wage.

The new DRE voting interfaces had a few problems in some states, but overall it seemed to work okay.

It is amazing how each election both take away and restores hope in the democratic process. I am struck by the extent to which it exposes the weakness and corruption yet the strenght and the hope of the grand experiment.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about good intentions not made manifest in the world as a form of broken promises. Politics is so much about "good intentions" although the corruption scandals of late both in the US and the world show there are bad intentions afoot as well. Yet the intentions rarely make themselves manifest in the world. That to me is now the main challenge and promise of design and govenmentality: having a mechanism to make good intentions manifested realities. This is somehow my personal challenge.