Reconsidering Analog Solutions in the Digital Era

Friday, April 21, 2017

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

Earlier this week Kent wrote a piece entitled Deep Dives, or Long Drags in which (to summarize) he posited that while we've all agreed that the world is more complex, we've done little in terms of redesigning our institutions to deal with that complexity.

It's a conversation he and I (and others) have had repeatedly and I often boil it down to "If we were looking to solve problem x and we weren't bound by our current institutional array where would we start?"; essentially advancing a clean slate approach to thinking through the problematic. Now perhaps that's an unreasonable starting place given we can't simply start from the ground up, a more realistic starting point is likely the Tamarack deep dive that Kent references:
"There were no panels, no real keynote speakers, and no “big names” as hooks. Most of the conference programming was led and delivered by three experts from Tamarack. It was more like a curriculum than a conference; they clearly spent a lot of time deciding on what participants needed to learn and preparing sessions to get it across. It came with a textbook-length package of tools and further reading."
At which point Kent pivots into the practical operations of an organization that tends to prioritize short term tactics over long term strategies.

Herein lies part of the problem

The professional non-partisan civil service is -- we are told -- supposed to take a long view, play the long game, have a long shadow of the future. However digital technologies that are designed to make things as easy, intuitive, and expedient as possible are conspiring against those who would play the long game (See: 5 Things About Online Public Engagement).

It not a stretch to say that the same technologies that allow us to gather more information, to be better informed, and to make more evidence based and/or stakeholder informed decisions are also the technologies that create paralysis by analysis, jam our communications channels, and inflate the perception of risks associated with any course of action (presumably because we can better foresee the consequences).

Herein lies a possible solution

The Tamarack example is an interesting one to me because its analog, not digital. Its about putting the right people in the room and working them through a process within an appropriate amount of time and with the appropriate (and detailed!) supports. Its not too far off from the school of thought that argues we ought to be spending 95% of our time defining the problem and 5% solving it.

We often jump to digital as a driver of or potential solution to our most pressing problems, maybe we ought to pause more often before we do. Perhaps we ought to reconsider the merits of analog (slow!) solutions in the digital era.