Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

Black Holes & Government Tech Debt

It’s very hard to see a black hole.

It’s hard because even rays of light fall victim to their gravitational pull, so scientists usually identify them by looking at the behavior of planets around where they suspect a black hole may be located. The immense gravity of a black hole changes the way neighboring planets move, so scientists – looking for the telltale signs of an invisible gravitational behemoth – can identify where they exist.

Technical debt in government digital platforms is like that too.

We can’t “see” technical debt, but we can look for other telltale signs to identify where it exists. In this blog post on the Ad Hoc blog, I argue that one way to identify where technical debt exists is to look for lines. Very long lines.

Lines are the physical manifestation of technical debt. And like black holes, technical debt can have an immense gravitational pull, trapping those that need government services in a long cycle of confusion and frustration.

In this post, I explain more about how long lines for government services can undermine people’s trust in government, and suggest some ways that governments can pay down their technical debt and shorten the lines.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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