Political writer Patrick Atwater is an author, entrepreneur and frequent Calbuzz commentator who has a major jones for reforming California’s government. Following publication of his idealistic and intelligent book, “A New California Dream,” Atwater is now offering cash money through his Stag Hunt Enterprises, Inc. in an essay competition to seek out “world-beating ideas” of how technology can be brought to bear on bureaucracy in California. Details here.
In his most recent inaugural address, Gov. Brown reflected on the endemic nature of the issues California faces, issues that extend well beyond the borders of the Golden State:
“Many of these issues have confronted California one way or another for decades, certainly since the time of Gov. Earl Warren. It is sobering and enlightening to read through the inaugural addresses of past governors. They each start on a high note of grandeur and then focus on virtually the same recurring issues — education, crime, budgets, water.
I have thought a lot about this and it strikes me that what we face together as Californians are not so much problems but rather conditions, life’s inherent difficulties. A problem can be solved or forgotten but a condition always remains. It remains to elicit the best from each of us and show us how we depend on one another and how we have to work together.”
I must respectfully disagree. I believe that recent advances in information technology have the potential to revolutionize what constitutes government, transforming how we tackle the basic task of figuring out how to live together. And in that vein, what we face together as Californians might be most profitably framed not as conditions – facts of life we simply must accept – but as challenges, higher peaks to which we might aspire. A condition can only be mediated or managed but a challenge can be tackled in new ways.
Here’s a crazy idea: what if the fuel for California’s next Gold Rush lay buried within its governmental bureaucracy? Not through some policy or program but in the revolutionary power of technology to transform the very notion of government.
It’s important to remember that we no longer live in the time of Earl Warren. The computer and internet revolutions have transformed how we as humans live, work, and play. Yet walk into any school across the state and you’ll find a bureaucracy built around the same basic logic that the original progressive movement pioneered over a century ago.
I believe in the basic principle that an effective government adapts to the realities of the world and that California’s “twisted, dysfunctional, Byzantine, gridlocked system” needs a dramatic overhaul to meet our pressing challenges – like the fact that a child’s opportunity is far too much a function of the zip code they’re born into. I’ve spent the last few years of my life exploring how we might build a government good enough to build that needed equality of opportunity.
Yet more than anything that service has demonstrated how humbling these mountains truly are and that these challenges demand “loyalty to what is larger than our individual needs.” In that spirit, I’d like to offer you a personal invitation and $5000 in prizes to articulate the revolutionary potential of technology solutions to California’s basic challenges – budgets, schools, water, environmental quality, and issues that go beyond our current frameworks.
Budgets – How might machine readable financial data that’s easily interoperable across municipal jurisdictions transform how we manage public resources?
Education – How might a teacher to community matching platform for awesome learning opportunities be used to transform our current school model?
Water – How might recent developments in big data and the internet of things sensing technology be leveraged to adaptively manage every drop of California’s precious water?
Environmental Quality – How might new virtual pathways be leveraged to reimagine how analysis and public comment is integrated to make environmental determinations?
Terra Incognita – How might technological changes like the Singularity or Mars colonization transform what needs to constitute government?
The key goal in all of these questions is to articulate what this technological potential means for government. What new pathways for tackling public problems are possible with these tools? The following pages reflect my best insights from these past few years to explore that territory, providing rough maps of where you might look for gold.
These explorations are not a panacea for all of California’s ills but they do represent the possibility of a creative and pragmatic step towards building a better direction for this great state. Still some may dismiss these changes – or this entire expedition – out of hand as unknown and unproven but let’s remember that’s just the defining nature of a frontier.
Luckily, however, if California excels at anything it’s this: pioneering the new. Submissions are due by midnight at the end of June’s second fortnight. We’re excited to see what gold you all dig up.