I will be speaking at the Center for Science, Policy & Outcomes in Washington, DC on May 9th.
#IdeasToRetire: Information Systems in Public Management, Public Policy, and Governance
Death of ideas are painful. In his classic 1962 book, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn traces how “normal science” precedes. In normal science, a field evolves based on prior scientific achievements and is built, brick by brick, from an existing paradigm. The current paradigm grows and evolves and gradually an entire community coalesces around this set of beliefs. Scientific practitioners take great pains to defend the set of beliefs and, over time, the scientific community acts to suppress innovations that conflict with the existing paradigm. Further, the community makes no efforts to discover new ways of doing things, performance anomalies are covered up, discarded or ignored and there is no effort to invent new theory. Even worse, there is an active effort to suppress new theories and those who espouse them. It is only when an existing paradigm is utter bereft of value that the community starts to examine the existing paradigm and challenge it.
Information systems are fundamentally transforming how we manage public institutions and conduct public policy. Yet, even a causal glance at the mainstream public management and public policy research outlets reflects a glaring omission of serious research into information systems when it comes to their design, management, governance, and evaluation. This state of affairs is not acceptable given the critical nature of information systems and their potential to impact how we govern. For all of the investments that the public sector has made in technology, we still see dismal failures in IT usage, management and implementation in government. A critical issue that stands in our way to realizing the full potential of IT when it comes to transforming our public agencies, delivery of public services, and the crafting and execution of public policies – antiquated ideas that hold us back. Adherence to these ideas is causing two undesirable outcomes: (1) an unacceptable gap between the promise of technology and its current failure rate and (2) a failure to fully realize the benefits of technology. In this talk, I will share findings from the #IdeasToRetire project. Our conclusion from this project of this is simple: government is stymied by outmoded ideas and can do better. Fixing this requires both thoughtful insight and courage.