Articles

Going Horizontal on Problem-Solving

Cities you like to visit, cities with a vibe, cities that work.

by / August 20, 2013
Marina Leight; photo by Nicolas Bakkie

Government agencies are specialized. They are supposed to be, and they've done a fairly good job over the years. But that was then and this is now, said Governing magazine's associate publisher for infrastructure Marina Leight, speaking at GTC West yesterday on something called "FutureStructure."

FutureStructure is a framework to solve problems. It is a new way of slicing and dicing problems and creating solutions across the entire government enterprise. Based on systems engineering principles, it cuts horizontally rather than vertically. The old specialized vertical silos, modeled on Industrial Age efficiencies, are falling short in coping with the challenges of community and change, she said.

Driving FutureStructure are such issues as aging infrastructure, government financial constraints, changing demographics, health-care reform, education reform, pensions and more. Also having an impact are the opportunities afforded by technology such as big data, mobility, ultra fast networks, location intelligence and remote sensors.

While governments think vertically in specialized silos, Leight said, citizens think horizontally. Citizens want the water and power to work as it should, the schools to be safe, the trash picked up, and potholes fixed.

So FutureStructure divides infrastructure into three categories or building blocks. Hard infrastructure is roads, water, power poles and so on. Soft infrastructure is things like ideas -- from the Declaration of Independence to a city building code. People are also soft infrastructure. And then you have technology, from hammer and chisel to modern digital technology.

One key difference is that in the vertical universe, people may notice a problem but decide it's "not their problem." In a horizontal approach, teams tackle problems and fix them.

The idea, of course, is to make better communities and better places for people to live and work. Of the three building blocks, soft is the most important, said Leight. Great mayors understand horizontal problem-solving, and the results are cities that people like to visit -- cities with a vibe, cities that work.

For the inaugural issue of Futurestructure, click here.


 

Wayne Hanson

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.