Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

Bend them, don’t break them

If you work on a digital services team in government, at some point during the work you do you will have to bend the rules.

That’s because the rules are mostly not set up to support the effective delivery of good digital services. The people on these teams are critical to surfacing issues with existing procurement, budget, and operational policies that negatively impact digital service delivery, and working to change those rules. But until those rules get changed, these teams have to find ways to creatively work within them.

But bending the rules comes with a cost. The bureaucracy is generally averse to change, and when people new to government (as most folks on digital services teams often are) push people that have been in government for a long time to do things differently, it can generate some resentment. And this resentment can accumulate over time.

Breaking the rules gets you into trouble, and that’s the way it should be. But if you work on a digital services team and you break the rules, other people get in trouble too. All of the accumulate animus that has built up over time from pushing the bureaucracy to do things differently can come back to bite you. No one in government should break the rules, but people working to build better digital services need to fully understand the potential for collateral impact.

Digital service teams are in an odd spot. They need to bend the rules regularly to change the way governments work and services get built and delivered. And they also need to be the absolute guardians of the rules, to make sure that crossing the line is never rationalized for what seems like a good reason.

There is simply too much at stake.

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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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