David A. Bray currently serves as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent agency of the United States (U.S.) government. As CIO, he supports the eight current goals of the FCC in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland security, as well as efforts to modernize the Commission.
Bray was named the number 3 Most Social CIOs globally and one of the top 70 Most Social U.S. federal technology professionals in 2014, openly discussing new opportunities with the public as @fcc_cio on Twitter and actively blogging about FCC efforts. He previously served as the Information Technology Chief for the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program and Associate Director of Informatics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2000-2005, volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan in 2009 as a special advisor for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and later served as a Senior Executive with the United States Intelligence Community and Executive Director with the National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the United States Intelligence Community from 2010-2013.
Craig Newmark is a self-described nerd, pioneer of the Web, speaker, philanthropist, and a strong advocate of the use of technology for the public good. In 1995 he founded craigslist, which has become one of the world’s most-visited websites with around 50 billion pages views per month. In 2011 he founded craigconnects, his personal Web-based initiative to stand up for organizations “getting stuff done” in areas Craig is passionate about. These include veterans and military families, open government, public diplomacy, back-to-basics journalism and fact-checking, consumer protection, and technology for the public good.
Craig currently serves on the board of directors of the Center for Public Integrity, Sunlight Foundation, Consumers Union/Consumer Reports, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He also serves as an advisor on the use of technology to more than a dozen other non-profit organizations and government agencies.
Craig's philosophy for craigslist, of providing free online classified ad space to people “trying to help each other out," has led to one of the Internet's greatest success stories. While he stepped away from the management of craigslist more than 10 years ago, Craig has continued to do customer service for the company each and every day for 17 years in order to stay, he says, "connected to what's real" The best way to reach Craig is through the craigconnects website, http://www.craigconnects.org.
Karen S. Evans was the Administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology (IT) at the Office of Management and Budget. Evans retired after a long career in the government form this office on January 20, 2009. Evans served as the de facto chief information officer for the United States until the office was created by Barack Obama who appointed Vivek Kundra.
Her other responsibilities are in "capital planning and investment control, information security, privacy, accessibility of IT for persons with disabilities, and access to, dissemination of, and preservation of government information".
Evans served as chief information officer for the United States Department of Energy, and earlier as director of the Information Resources Management Division, Office of Justice Programs in the United States Department of Justice. She also worked with the National Park Service, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Farmers Home Administration. Evans holds a bachelor's in chemistry and an MBA degree, both from West Virginia University.
eGov Roundtable with David Bray, Craig Newmark, and Karen S. Evans
(00:03) Welcome to this special addition of CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman and if this were a regular CXOTalk episode it would be episode number 92.
(00:17) We all know that Federal government and big government and technology is sometimes a quagmire. But there is a lot that is taking place within the government that is interesting and good and really innovative.
(00:33)And so today on this episode of CXOTalk we’re going to have a very special conversation with three people. With David Bray, who is the Chief information officer for the FCC. David how are you?
(00:50) I’m great how are you Michael.
(00:53) Great, David why don’t you briefly tell us about your background and your job at the FCC before I introduce our other two guests.
(01:05) Sure, so right now I serve as the Chief Information Officer at the FCC. I’ve been here for about a year and a half. I came into the situation where they’ve had nine CIO’s in about eight years, either in an acting capacity or a permanent capacity and also discovered they had 207 different IT systems for only 1750 people the FCC as a whole, we are kind of small.
(01:26) So it’s a situation where there’s a lot of need to modernize. A lot of the old Legacy systems. More than half of our IT systems are more than 10 years old at the moment. And also trying to bring both innovation as well as morale building across the FCC particularly with the IT team that we can actually be more innovate and transformative to the IT that we’redoing.
(01:49) Great. Our second esteemed guest is Craig Newmark, who is the founder of Craigslist that everybody knows and also Craigconnects. Hey Craig how are you?
(02:03) Doing really well. My deal as well as the Craigslist, the Craigconnects stuff, well I’ve been doing a lot of public service and philanthropy over a 10 plus year period. But I don’t talk about that for a lot, is that for six years I’ve been quietly involved in Washington, is trying there to figure out how to help people and make things run better, and how to show more and more respect to people in government.
(02:35) This is all been talking for myself and none of it is in craigslist, it’s just Craig talking. Again, just trying to make things – try and help other people to make things work better and to get people more respect that they have already earned.
(02:52) So respect for the government, and our third guest is Karen S. Evans, who played the role – even although she didn’t have the title of effectively Chief Information Officer of the United States and she did that for six years. Karen how are you?
(03:12) Great, thanks for having me I’m very excited to be here.
(03:17) So Karen tell is very briefly about that role and also about what you’re doing now.
(03:23) So that particular role is a political role. I often refer 28 years in the federal government with the last job prior to that one with being the chief information officer for the Department of energy. And now what I do for the last five years I’ve been working in the non-profit world, working on a project called the US cyber challenge, where we are trying to really increase the workforce as it relates to cyber security.
(03:51) Fantastic, so let’s start then with some questions. So we’re going to be talking about innovation, technology, and the government. And so let’s start off with the topic, How can digital technology change and improve the government. And David, do you want to take a crack at that first since among the three of us, you’re the one who is actively and government employee today.
(04:18) Sure, so I think how technology and how you can bring technology to work together and an agency can actually transform and be more innovative, is really the idea that public services and government agencies can become a trusted data brokers between the public and between other stakeholders. That is industry stakeholders, other government agencies, and other key named representatives.
(04:41) So it’s really just how can we bring them together. And so what we’ve been trying to do at the FCC is instead of having 207 different IT systems with data in different locations, we are trying to actually move towards a model where there is actually one comment data platform that is in the cloud, across all of those different systems. Then we have a very thin user interface and readable code, ideally with open API’s that the public canconnect to, other stakeholders can connect to as well as a way of actually trying to make that trusted data broker model.
(05:11) At the same time we launched about 11 months ago a thing called the FCC speed test app, which was actually open source. You can actually download that onto your Google phone, or your android iOS device for free. The code is on BitHub, you can actually look at the code and you can pork it if you want.
And that code if you choose to run it on your smart phone or actually test your connection speed, will give you an immediate result and then obviously report it to a third party that then shares it with the FCC. And what that does is, it actually produces the first crowd source map of connection speeds by provider across the country. As to where in the past, we actually had to use taxpayers resources to test connection speeds at home, and test connection speeds in cities.
Now we can effectively involve the public, again on that trusted data broker model role as they would have sort of involving policymakers and informing the connection speeds across the country.
(06:01) So Karen, David was talking about this notion of a trusted data broker. Is it really all about the technology, or how does the technology and the cultural dimensions how do they fit together.
(06:19) So is not really about the technology and one of the things that we really emphasize, and continues to be emphasized within the executive office of the President, where I was located and where this job is located is really being the focus on citizen services and technology is a means to deliver that.
(06:39) So David gave a very specific example of the mission of FCC, looking at the connection speed, but then involving the citizens in order to come up with a better solution to go forward instead of using taxpayers money.
(06:53) And that really is the role of what my job was supposed to be. What any CIOs job is the strategic use to technology. And in the case of the federal government, their job is all about information. They do a lot of information and collection, but then they have to turn around and do a lot of information dissemination.
(07:11) So that’s the point. Like every agency collects information, but it’s what you do with that information that then helps improve citizen and services.
(07:22) And Craig I know you’re particularly interested in this idea of the type of culture change that happens, and the relationship between the technology and the culture. You’ve been working with the VA and I think with some other groups inside the government so maybe share some of your observations on this.
(07:44) Well you start with the notion and in any organisation, the people at the bottom know a lot about what’s going on and how to do it better maybe than the people at the top – the boss.
(07:57) What technology can do is provide the people with the tools, by which they can work together to provide that kind of Intel’s to the boss and to make concrete suggestions in how things can be done better. It just requires the active support of the boss, and for that matter, to a lesser extent of middle management.
(08:20) I’m talking of empowering employees, with what’s called in Washington, employee innovation efforts, just trying to get that done and trying to get it done everywhere throughout Washington, in all departments and agencies, trying to push that. That’s I think the key to cultural transformation, which is to say ordinary people and agencies should be given that power to act on what they know about making things better.
(08:51) That’s the way I’ve also showing respect for federal employees. Its internal. As a tangent I would just like to say that, since the press is never going to give a break to the people in government, I’ve suggested that federal employees start using their own personal social networks to let citizens know about good stuff going on.
(09:14) I know that there’s barriers to that perceptual or even regulatory, but the idea is that federal employees can make things run a lot better through employee innovation. And then they are going to need to stand up for themselves and demand the respect that they have already earned.
(09:34) Well you know it’s interesting that you said that. David, you spend a a lot of time making known the things you are working on using technology, namely social media.
(09:45) Yes so that was actually very intentional. Both what Craig said and what Karen said is exactly key that a lot of what you are doing when you’re a CIO in any organisation, is you are actually doing cultural change, or ‘cultures change’. And I knew when I got to the FCC again with the history where things were at, that we are in a situation where there was kind of blood on the floor and morale was down and these IT system for the very old and needed to be modernized.
(10:16) And that was going to be a bit of an uphill climb, and if we didn’t get the story up about what we are trying to do now, as well as what we are trying to do in the future, as well as the innovated efforts we are trying to do along the way.
(10:28) So you can actually have services with the public as we also work, and basically take an old – and probably the best analogy we are trying to take an old Douglas plane and actually updated to a 777 while it’s in midair and flying at the same time.So that’s partly what it was on social media.
(10:45) The other thing was back in 2000/2001, I signed up for the ITT for what was called the prepared the bioterrorism response program for the CDC, and again exactly what Craig said, particularly in crisis situations, if you don’t listen to the edge and you don’t listen to the people that are sort of actually on the frontline and what needs to be done, and that can be the frontline in terms of your own organisation, but also the public, you’re not going to be relevant.
(11:10) And so it was both about getting the message out to social media, but also listening to social media and other people from the public, from government and being receptive to actually running the process from them. I actually think I probably learned and listened the most and benefited through my interactions on Twitter in terms of just discussing the challenges of updating IT systems.
(11:32) So Karen, any thoughts on this.
(11:36) I’m glad you asked me, because I’m ready to jump in here. I’m ready to jump in on a couple of these pieces because there is the point that Craig is making about employees and employees innovation, and then using social media and he kind of jumped in just a little bit and mention policy and regulation.
(11:54) And then there is a lot of pieces that David is talking about to. So part of the role of it – when people are like oh my gosh, you did this for six years is to take that employee innovation and to take it through that layer that Craig is talking about and get it institutionalized with bureaucracy.
(12:13) So during the Clinton administration, there was an effort underway that really empowered employees which was the National Performance Review. And there were a lot of these initiatives that came up and then they ended up dying on the vine when the administration changed because they ended up not being institutionalized in the process.
(12:33) And so I think part of what a CIO’s job or part of what my job was, was to really take that process and help empower the employees, because the process in the bureaucracy is not going to change any time soon because we haven’t even talked about congress. And congress has a big play in how the agencies get their funding and their resources.
(13:03) So when you are working in the government and on the one hand you’re kind of isolated trying to get things done yourself, but at the same time there are these rather large forces like Craig was describing the media, and you’re describing the congress. What’s an innovator to do?
(13:35) I would just say in the government speak that’s what we call is political awareness and business acumen. As a senior leader you have to have political awareness and business acumen in order to see what all these external forces are, and then be able to drive for your idea.
(13:54) But Craig has really hit on the crux of the issue, which is breaking through that one barrier of what I would call mid-level management that will stifle innovation if they don’t understand what’s in it for them. And that’s the point what David was making is you’re on managing change on multiple levels.
(14:20)Yeah, and to build on what Karen was saying, so I’m a preachers kid and it’s surprising that the older I got the church congregations and public service are very much the same. The reality is you know, the preacher and minister is trying to bring together many different narratives of the congregation in a way that they can move forward, mainly by voluntary consent in some respects, because a lot of the time is that your trying to motivate people that may not report directly to you but maybe part of your stakeholder base.
(14:50)They maybe outside of the organization or in the peer organization, and so it’s how can you be an effective leader by listening learning, recognizing that you’re going to have blind spots. Allowing people to share their own narratives, bring them together. And then exactly like Karen said, in some respects how do you institutionalize that so that even after you’ve gone that new innovation is actually lasting to go forward.
(15:17) What about the person who is an individual contributor who’s trying to get things done, and Craig maybe these are folks you’re working with and saying what is layered on top of whatever their technical skills might be or their product skills they have to have – what did you say, political awareness and business acumen. That seems a pretty tall order to me.
(15:44) That was Karen’s suggestion. Frankly what I’ve seen of individual efforts to make things work better, they need actually work structure, the people above them who’ll help out. And frankly the only individual work that I’ve seen or what I can recall with a lot of success is Dave’s own social media efforts.
(16:09) Without embarrassing David he seems to be the role model for the use of social media, possibly throughout the entire federal government. I’ve seen a few let’s say senators who are doing a triumphantly good job, but this is the exception.
(16:27) I’d like to change the question a little bit, that is how would we work together to empower all federal employees to start stepping up to start using social media, to tell citizens what’s going on and again to demand the respect that they’ve earned.
(16:51) I suppose I could get something and post it in media or whatever and tell people to learn respect and then they can blame me when they go to far, but I don’t think that would be too effective although it would be funny.
(17:08) So I’m actually searching for, how do you do this. Federal workers are ready to do the right thing. How do we create that tipping point?
(17:21) And then maybe this sort of build on what Craig was saying, so at the FCC we were in need of updating a very old consumer complaint system, and so one of the members of our team by the name of Dusty Lou, came here actually from Silicon Valley. Initially he was working two to three days a week here at the FCC and then flying back as he actually had a start up on the West Coast as well.
(17:43) And fortunately for us he got so interested at the FCC is that he actually relocated to BC from Silicon Valley, although I’m sure he may go back in a later date. And within six months basically demonstrated a new model of launching a consumer compliant system using a software to service cloud platform that was only $75,000 to get the cloud service, and then his consulting time to help the bureau change their model to that new cloud service.
(18:10) So compared to other government agenciesthat spent about $3 million we probably spent about one ninth of that, so 85% less and he got it done in six month, a new consumer complaint system was actually online for the FCC live. And what I saw my job was is that there was friction along the way as he had his new proposals as he said, cloud computing, that made procurement a little bit uneasy, and they talked about changing their processes that made the existing bureau a little bit uneasy.
(18:36) So I acted as that sort of human flak jacket, that as friction was incurred his role as a positive agent was protected, so you could actually see the result of his labor coming to fruition, but I think we need to have more human flak jackets for more people across the public space, and that’s where maybe social media can actually provide that flak jacket.
(18:58) I think a couple of points that Craig brought up if we can go back to that because I’m actually going to try and solve your problem right now going through this. But there is a couple of specific things, so were talking that David’s example is perfect for this because he had a specific outcome, which was the consumer compliant system. There was a specific outcome that you were trying to achieve and you used social media as a means to help flag or to deal with some of the issues associated with that.
(19:26) If you go to that mid-level management across government as a whole and say, you know, we want to use social media to get good news stories out about federal workers. Everybody will go that sounds really great, but what does that actually mean?
(19:42) So if it were broken down into smaller pieces, like we want to highlight a specific program and we want the people or the program manager and his team to be able to use social media to talk about that particular program and maybe become a concept of operations – I’m giving you all of these government terms here.
(20:06) How to use the social media to highlight that program and what you do is you then can point to the other agencies. So specifically like with Veterans affairs, Veterans of that department in BA, there are specific programs that are working really really well. that’s a culture which Craig I’m sure you’re very much aware of that is probably now even more risk adverse that it was before, dealing with the media and using a bunch of things.
(20:37) But there’s a couple of programs that if you went and said, this is how we want to do it, that’s what the government really likes to see. They like to see these small success’s, so when you highlight like David, other CIO’s are trying to figure out , okay, David is using social media and he’s accomplishing a lot of things. Now how do I translate that back within my own department and agencies?
(20:58) Speaking of social media, I want to say thank you to Zachary Genes, who as we’re talking is taking screen captures with quotes and assembling them and posting them on Twitter. So Zachery Genes, I really want to call you out and thank you. Thank you for that.
(21:19) But let me go back to a point earlier. Craig, when you were talking about social media, you were talking about it as not a driver necessarily of transparency, even although of course it is that. but as I understood it, you were describing social media as an amplifier for the person, the folks working in the government to help empower their own work, rather than just bringing transparency to it, but will amplification and empowerment.
(21:59) I do a fair amount of transparency work and my disclaimer is I’m on the board of Semite foundation. Putting that aside, I just see a lot of people in federal agencies, particularly veterans of affairs, getting a lot of the crap that they don’t deserve and my only suggestion to reverse that is for people in agencies to point out what being done well, but the to post that on their own personal social networks. Then again demand the respect that they’ve already earned over a period of of many years.
(22:36) This is a message that I’ve been repeating. I don’t know how to articulate it well. I don’t know how to articulate it compellingly. I try but I really need the help.
(22:49) David, how do we help this guy?
(22:52) Well I think Craig is being way to humble. He’s actually been very successful at motivating a huge amount of agents. To Craig’s credit and actually they both were actually the next generation public service award and Michael you actually did a video announcement for that as well back in August.
(23:13) It’s almost you are each serving as human flak jackets to give people permission to go forth and do this. You definitely see it in a ground swell as a positive of agents. I think the other thing I would add to the narrative and in addition to highlight in what’s working well. I think it’s worth having a conversation with the public about some of these things are intentional by design. You know, we want it to have some checks and balances within the system and why it’s kind of slow and why it’s like a start-up. The last thing you want is the department of defense to say look, we tried something. It didn’t work out and we knew vitric Apple funding otherwise were going to go bankrupt. That’s not how you want your military to work.
(23:50) So some of this is intentional by design. With that said, there’s this massive exponential change in technology what’s going on. And so we need to have a conversation with the public, with political leaders across the nation in some respects – that’s at State local level and federal level. But how do we adapt to our changing time, how can we better use technology and what does that mean to represent democracy?
(24:15) So I think the first step about what Craig said about that he is providing a flak jacket, you are Michael and Karen is as well. from that once we can at least have a conversation that there are some things going well, and there’s some things that need to be adapted to be improved. How then the conversation with the public is about how do we improve them together?
(24:33) The pockets of innovation that you hear about like what Craig is doing with the VA. Like the digital service like 18F, it seems that these are really the exceptions or is that just like an incorrect bias outsider’s ignorant view from me?
(25:01) Well I think it’s probably the case and initially for when they looked at 20% of the people do 80% of the interesting work. And so I think that probably be the same case here, is that if everyone was doing innovation, it wouldn’t be labelled innovation anymore. So maybe it is the Velcro of here are the early adopters that recognise, how we do public service needs to change and that’s being carried out.
(25:26) I do think we need more change agents, and so what can we do to try and encourage that and recognise that. Definitely open to ideas.
(25: 34) So let me jump in here a little bit, especially when we are talking about 18F and the digital services and the innovators.
(25:40) And David is right we need more innovation, but the other part of that and the other challenge where David talked about some of this is done by design, is the handoff that goes back into making the process work in the back end.
(25:57) So, there is the part where the citizen actually sees it and you know, that can get fixed fairly quickly. But what ends up happening – and I’m going to come back again to policy and regulations that Craig mentioned is that there is a handoff that has to happen and sometimes the process that is not necessarily as transparent as it needs to be, and is designed a certain way in order to really expedite something. But it doesn’t seem like that to the end user, so I’ll give you a great example.
(26:34) When we were first putting out all of these different data and Google came and talked to me at the White House and said, all this information should be available, it should all be intact and everything should be out there. And we actually had an initiative that was streamlining these queries, so that it would get the person to the program as fast as it could, based on how they were cancelling certain questions.
(26:58) And when you look at it from an outsider’s perspective you’re saying all they should know about all the programs, but the challenge becomes if they applied for all the programs, it actually ends up giving bogged down in the bureaucracy because there’s the field processes and there is all kinds of other things. So if the government is trying to streamline something on the backend and really reduce the cost. But it doesn’t seem like it to and end user when they are searching for programs.
(27:26) So some of that point that David is making by design, actually seems cumbersome, but it’s actually trying to expedite regulations and statutes that are put on the executive (to bring it? 27:39)
(27:42) David, any thoughts on that one?
(27:44) Yes, so I think what Karen is talking about which is actually a great point is there’s digital code, what we do with IT and then there’s legal code. Legal code of course we inherit it from either what Congress passes and approves, or what gets sent down from the executive office of the President.
(28:02) Legal code will always be behind what the technology can do, but again I think sort of going to what Craig said about if we can make it more visible to the public in what we are trying to do now, and what we are trying to do in the future and sort of sharing that and how we are trying to adapt. At least maybe there can be a better understanding that it’s not the case of what we don’t know what is going on. It’s just often at times we can either train by resources, we can train by budget on certainty.
(28:26) In fact we are moving forward with the transformation of FCC IT, and our budget is simply the same budget that we’ve always had. And so we are just basically going to figure out how do we either cut back on existing systems, or turn some systems off while we are trying to change the plane in flight.
(28:40) But there is that intersection of policy and legal code and how that impacts what you actually do in the bureau and offices. The only last thing I would also say is, sometimes there are pockets of innovation that are brought back to departments and agencies, and the work of the federal government for the most part – and I think this is the truth for the state of local to, actually happens in the Department’s main agencies.
(29:01) So one of the things we are trying to do here at the FCC and I tried to do it when I was at the CDC too and it was successful is embed the IT people in the view rules and offices. Particularly with what we are calling entrepreneur, and that’s entrepreneurs on the inside.
(29:16) If they are actually in the content of the bureau or office, or Department of agency that they are trying to do the work, they are going to understand the mission better. And in that process of understanding the mission better they are going to think they are going to pop up and say, wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the following and that’s where having that IT person on site with them will help with the benefits mutually and the person reinforcing the system of both.
(29:37) So that would be the one recommendation I would say that there is may be some innovation and efforts that are happening at a higher level, but as much as possible we need to make sure they are crossed pollinating that and actually embedded where the mission is actually occurring.
(29:48) So Craig, you are really a very strong advocate for the people who are working in the agencies. And how can these agencies create an atmosphere that supports innovation and supports these change agents that David was referring to earlier.
(30:16) This is with limited knowledge and observation. What I’ve seen mostly at VA is that they need to be run continuous, and employ innovation and that they need to be continuingly examined and approved or whatever, probably by someone who reports directly to the secretary. The people who have come up with the ideas need to be publicly respected and honored, and those programs need to be implemented.
(30:50) If there is a reason why a program can’t be implemented, but sometimes it’s low or regulations, then a fully and (unclear 31:00) needs to be the response, but the ideas to make innovation a daily part of everything that goes on, and getting full support of the boss. And then have people at agencies who make a big deal of it through social media, to create a social norm that employs innovation is just something that you do every day. It’s not the exception.
(31:28) That’s my guesswork and I do think it needs to be everywhere in Washington, and that includes Capitol Hill because among federal workers in Capitol Hill our staffers, who do a bit of innovative work that no one recognizes and tangential just mentioned Hill staffers are so underpaid that they have to become Hunter – gatherers only able to survive by grazing at fundraisers to supplement their poor income.
(32:01) So, carrying just continuing with that, how can the agencies create this environment of trust where you can have creativity and by definition, if you are innovating and if you are creative then some of the things you do are not going to work, right, that’s the nature of it.
(32:25) Absolutely. And what I would say that what Craig just described is the job description of a chief information officer at every department and agency. And that’s really what they are supposed to do, that’s not what you see them currently doing, so I can be controversial here over this.
(32:44) But that was always what Craig has to describe, was all the vision of what the CIO was supposed to do at every department and agency, and that they were supposed to do that with outreach, and they are supposed to go down into the bureau and agencies like David is talking about. Bring that innovation and the innovative needs for technology forward to the secretary. And run that and then be able to expand it out department wide, and they are supposed to do a constant review.
(33:15) But the challenge and what happens in departments and agencies is we do process for process sake, and not necessarily for the result and the outcome that Craig is describing.
(33:24) And so that becomes a challenge, and if you went and described what Craig was talking about, several departments and agencies will come back and talk about the capital, planning, and investment control process.
(33:36) And they don’t do it as quickly as they should be doing it, and Craig is probably talking about a really short cycle of how this is supposed to happen, and departments and agency will implement on the long cycle – and actually David is smiling and he knows what I’m talking about.
(33:51) yes. Karen said a great thing and this is what CIOs should be doing, and I think it’s also about providing three things to everyone that’s part of the team. And the team can be bigger than just the people that report to you, but can you provide them autonomy so they can actually see their ideas through to fruition?
(34:14) Can you provide them measurable progress. There is a wonderful example that actually says that if we can see measurable progress, we are more inclined to actually see an effort through fruition and actually become institutionalized. It’s actually apparently why we like playing video games because we get that immediate feedback of how many points have we earned. And then finally give them a worthy cause. Make sure whatever you are tackling has some meaning to the public. And the good news is we have that in space within public service, but then if actually is if something is important that mission would have probably have been impacted
(34:42) David you’re a CIO and you’ve based these challenges on a daily basis, in terms of creating the right type of atmosphere for your folks to innovate. What are some of the things you do on a daily basis to make this happen?
(35:06) So first and foremost is when I first meet with any team I tried to (1) say there is a difference in leadership and management. Leadership is when we step outside of that expectations and that there is going to be friction. Management is where we do it and it’s what’s expected of us. It’s not a binary value, we’re going to have times where we need to do both.
(35:28) It is that I expect each one of them sometimes to step outside the expectations and be leaders, just like I hope that they want and there will be times where they step outside of their expectations and be a leader.
(35:37) That’s first giving them permission to actually step outside of their expectations and be a leader.
(35:40) Secondly, is actually there is a Harvard business review article that says they are in praise of great leaders, which actually says the best leaders that recognise they have blind spots. And so I’d tell them, I probably have some blind spots and probably some things I missing. With that said, I’m counting on each of them and the diversity of views to let me know if I’m missing something and to make recommendations.
(35:58) So I do have an open office policy. I often share road yard Kipling’s poem If, probably because that was something my father gave to me when I was 20, but also partly because I think it has a lot of good lines for someone who is trying to be a change agent and may be hitting their head against the wall.
(36:12) The opening lines are, if you can keep your head about you when all others are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself and all men doubt you that make allowance for they are doubting to.
(36:22) I mean I think that’s part of being a risk taker and actually taking some risks and recognizing not all of this will play out. I do trust people and I will be of their flak jacket, so in the event that something doesn’t play out, we’ll talk through it and look at the data we made at risk and took it. Then we will work out and I’ll take the fall, let’s just pick ourselves up and try again and learn from that.
(36:38) And then finally, I think the other thing I tried to do is connected people both within the team here at FCC, but also outside the FCC is a sort of network of public change agents at state level and local level and other federal agencies.
(36:52) I actually host every two weeks of what I call a creative brainstorm, because when you are trying to be a change agent and trying to make change and hitting your head against the wall, it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one trying to do it. So in some respects it is almost like a support group for change agents.
(37:06) And then lastly the one thing I would end with is my role, I should be a non-anxious presence, is that there is a lot of pressures and we are getting a lot of pressures to do with legacy systems. They are obviously getting some media attention in terms of the age of our systems and things like that. But if I can be a calming non-anxious presence, that says we will figure out how to do this, I welcome innovative ideas. That can help the team move forward in positive directions.
(37:31) I love that because non-anxious presence. Craig I know you’ve given thought to the notion of change management and how you drive change and all of this. What are your thoughts based on your observations – both inside governments, outside governments because let’s face it, human nature doesn’t change. If you work in the government or work out in any large organisation requires change management. So what are your observations or advice based on what you’ve seen?
(38:06) I’m not articulate or charismatic that kind of go for big scale change in any kind of dramatic way, and for that matter I don’t have the hair for it. The only thing that works for me is relentless every day nudging in a good direction. I have a feeling that David has already seen a fair amount of this.
(38:31) The idea is that on a very frequent basis I just keep pushing a little bit, hopefully not too hard, trying to create social norms and expectations that kind of work. This may have been successful after six years at VA, although I’m sure I’m not the only person pushing for cultural transformation and customer centricity. So that’s the only kind of stuff I know is just keep pushing, and sure have been really as I have although I don’t know where that line is, and just to commit to it as I have – not only commit to it for a 20 year period so far, then I’ll just keep doing it and see what happens.
(39:18) That’s the only thing that ever works for me. It’s enhanced – I only recently found out I will practice in what you preach, and the way I’m preaching is apparently I’ve handed out hundreds of my business card at VA and elsewhere, my title is customer service rep and founder, and that symbolic act may have been the successful part of the nudging I’m doing.
(39:48) My business card really does say customer service rep and founder. I actually do customer service, although these days it’s the lightweight stuff since customer service is really corrosive and you can only handle craziness for in my case for only 15 years.
(40:11) So I guess the summary to take away there is have a clear direction or at least a sense of direction and what’s the positive trajectory and the relentless pushing at it, and not pushing so hard so that you alienate people.
(40:33) That’s a positive spin on it again, it’s a trade-off. As an outsider there is probably less tolerance from me and a pain in the butt. On the other hand, as far as I could tell all staffers in Washington have been helped by my company work, but I don’t know. Since I’m a nerd I don’t know how to read you.
(40:59) It seems to be working pretty well so far. So Karen what are your thoughts, you were the administrator, essentially CIO although or not for six years. That’s a long time for a CIO to have that job in government or out of government, then in the government that’s a really long time.
(41:24) It is a long time. It doesn’t seem like it when you are there though, I mean because there is so much that needs to be done. And to Craig’s point it’s doing it nudging people over and over again. But having a shared vision of what that outcome is that you are pushing everybody to. There is a couple of pieces that were brought up through some of the discussion, and one of the things was that there’s going to be failure along the way. I don’t know if I necessarily call them failures, so this might be my rationalization.
(42:00) I always called them learning experiences going forward, because we learned what didn’t work, and you have to learn that before the due date. So if you’re going to ‘fail’, then you’ve got to fail fast so that it can inform the project quickly.
(42:17) Now, that’s been resurrected into Agile development, but what that always was is what we have is a short time period and trying to deliver something in a long time period like 3 to 5 years nobody knows what you are doing. And so you have to break it down into small pieces. So we pushed and pushed and pushed every day.
(42:37) Every day we were giving a briefing on some of the projects. We were running 25 projects government wise, and trying to get all the departments and agencies to play together with one project plan to implement one common project. So it’s a lot of nudging and Craig, even although you are on the inside is a lot of nudging and it could be obnoxiously I think at times, to the point where people are like, oh my gosh, she’s calling me again. They would do the work, so that I would quit calling them. And they would get it done and hit the milestones so I would quit calling them.
(43:16) So you know we’re almost out of time, but David do you want to finish us off with it seems like your compatriots on this panel, Karen and Craig, both were talking about this notion of just relentlessly moving towards a goal and I suspect – so I was going to make a comment, but why don’t you share your view on that and the relevance of that comment to see your work. And maybe that will chew up the rest of our time.
(43:51) I love the nudging and sometimes I feel my job is human cattle prod. It’s the art of being politely persistent and knowing the balance of how much is persistence and being polite at the same time and not ideally in caring friction and find out.
(44:08) I think the other thing is is that Karen said about finding that shared vision. So if you parachute in from the outside or from the inside, with only your vision and you don’t take the time to actually work to incorporate other people’s ideas to make it a shared vision it’s probably not going to make a lot of traction. Again, this is a model in which if you have a fish and you are being politely persistent and they are not bought into it, they will just make you out.
(44:33) And I think any recommendation for a CIO in the public or the private sector is, listen to the people on the edge. Listen to the people across the organisation. Incorporate that into your shared vision, then serve as a human cattle prod to politely push it along. And along the way give people opportunities for positive impact.
(44:50) On that, one one of the things I try to say is never will there be an ITO in public service. We can give you an idea which is essentially an opportunity to provide positive impact.
(44:57) So basically listen, push, give opportunities for feedback and continue doing the same thing.
(45:09) And repeat.
(45:13) And I guess unfortunately on that note we’ve run out of time. So it’s been an interesting discussion and I would like to thanks so much Craig Newmark, David Bray, and Karen S Evans for joining this special edition of CXOTalk, where we have been discussing innovation in the government. And I would really like to say thank you to all of you three and to the folks that have been watching as well, so thank you very much and I hope you will all come back and lets to this again another time.
Thank you Michael
Thank you Michael
(45:54) So that’s it for today and I hope everybody comes back on Friday for our regularly scheduled CXOTalk. This Friday we are going to be speaking with the CIO of Adobe Systems. Have a great day everybody, bye bye.
Companies mention in the show
Department of Energy: www.energy.gov
US cyber challenge: www.uscyberchallenge.org