Category Archives: Scenario Planning

Gov Trek

Excerpted from Four Scenarios for the Future of the Federal Government: Collected Essays on Transforming Government (2019)

In my online University of Louisville class on communication technology, we discuss the history of communication technology from the days of cave paintings to the latest in virtual and augmented reality. As the coda to the course, we examine four possible future worlds created by the new digital technologies.

The first two worlds come classic dystopian literature. Either the new digital technologies create a 1984-style future of constant surveillance in an authoritarian state, or we amuse ourselves to death in a Brave New World future. Some students remarked that we have seemed to have achieved a Brave New 1984 world where our constant surveillance technologies can also amuse us as the AIs observe us (“Alexa, can cats eat pancakes?”).

The third world is influenced by my first viewing of Terminator. As our digital technologies become smarter, will there be a time when the machines replace us? Maybe not to the extent that the AI superintelligences will attempt to exterminate humanity. However, there are real concerns in the public and private sectors of how many people will lose jobs to the increasing automation of work. The students have a great time discussing a post-work world but, I can sense the underlying fear they have in wondering if their college education will be worth anything in the post-work world.

The fourth world is the optimistic future created by Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Star Trek has been a significant influence on my life having grown up in the 70s with constant reruns of the original series. In the Star Trek world, humanity has adapted to a post-scarcity world abundant with amazing technologies such as antigravity, transporters, replicators, and warp drive. Public administration, in the form of the Federation, is an honored and valuable part of life as the Federation’s citizens face numerous threats from the Borg to Romulans to the occasional renegade Starfleet officer.

I think you can see hints of the four worlds in my essays. Whether it is the concern around social technologies and how social technologies have seemed to create the Brave New 1984. Or how federal government workers can thrive in the new workplace automation world. I also see how the federal government along with the state and local governments seem to move toward the GovTrek world.

Woman looking at a glass sphere

So, where do I see the federal, state, and local governments in terms of the original four scenarios? Again, there is a mix but, I feel optimistic in that all governments seem to be moving toward InnoGov in terms of Philip K. Dick’s observation that the future has arrived. It’s just that InnoGov is not equally distributed – yet.

Still there are parts of government stuck in SteamGov such as the short time I worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As the manager of the Human Resources Information Management Branch, I struggled weekly to pull HR reports from a Cobol mainframe that contained the payroll and personnel information for a quarter of the federal civilian workforce.

Then, there is GoogleGov which should be renamed “PublicPrivateGov” as public-private partnership proliferated in the last decade. As more public agencies move to the cloud, companies like Google and Amazon have benefited from hosting the agency functions of federal, state, and local governments. In the state and local government sector, numerous govtech companies have sprung up while the open source revolution has become an essential part of the federal government.

LabGov is alive and well in the state and local governments. Each issue of Governing, Government Technology and related magazines on state and local government showcases the latest state and local technology and policy innovations. There are many lessons that state and local governments can teach the federal government on how to best use digital technologies.

Finally, there are pockets of InnoGov in the federal government. For several years, I chronicled the latest innovations in my DigitalGov Data Briefing column. As I have expressed in the essays, it is more a cultural barrier than a technology barrier holding InnoGov back.

I think that the federal, state, and local governments are on the path to Gov Trek. As any Star Trek fan will tell you, the road to the Federation was difficult. There were many stops and starts, detours and dead ends, and opposition both internal and external to realizing the vision and ideals of the Federation. I hope that my essays chronical some part of the journey for the federal, state, and local governments in this new century.

Scenario Planning – An Essential Career Planning Skill

I am continuing to work on the career book which will be released on December 1st. Along with the book, I will be releasing an online course that teaches the job-seeking skills for the new job seeker.

A vital skill for future job seekers will include scenario planning. Scenario planning was developed by the Shell Corporation in the 1970s to help deal with economic uncertainties. One scenario, oil embargo by the OPEC nations, was considered too fanciful – until it happened. Thanks to scenario planning, Shell weathered the oil embargo successfully.

The job hunter will use scenario planning to help them plot the future of their career path. To create the scenarios, follow these steps:

Identify the driving forces – what are the significant shifts in technology, society, the customer base, and other factors in the industry.

Identify two of the most critical uncertainties – From the list of the driving forces, pick two that are most critical to your future career.

Create four scenarios – Using the two critical uncertainties as axis, develop four plausible scenarios. The best way to present the scenarios is as stories.

Person wearing VR goggles

For example, I created these scenarios when I first entered the federal government in 2009. This was when newly elected President Obama wanted to reinvent government technology. The critical factors were the new digital technologies and how effective the federal government would be in implementing the latest digital technologies.

First Scenario – SteamGov

This scenario borrows from the steampunk genre[iv] in describing a future where the government attempts to implement Gov 2.0, but the rest of the world has moved on to Web 3.0 or even Web 4.0.

Government IT is still a generation behind the current technology available to citizens, thus limiting the engagement offered by the agencies. Large, centralized IT architectures dominate the agencies and employees are continually frustrated by the underpowered workstations they have to deal with, especially when their own personal technology is much more powerful. There are small pockets of innovation and pilot projects, but organizational cultures prevent scaling up these innovations to the agency.

Second Scenario – Google.Gov

Following a Supreme Court ruling that narrows the definition of inherently governmental, most government functions are outsourced to the private and nonprofit sectors. A Google-like company consolidates most of the outsourcing contractors into one contracting firm that applies the latest technology and business practices to deliver a diverse range of government services. The Executive Branch now consists of the White House staff and a larger GAO. The new GAO administers the mega-contract that governs the quality and accountability of government services provided by the huge contracting firm.

Third Scenario – LabGov

Still suffering under crushing budget constraints and frustrated by the continuing number of programs forced onto the states by the Federal government, state governments see Gov 2.0 as the way out of their fiscal mess. Living up to Justice Brandeis’ metaphor as “laboratories of democracy,” the state governments experiment with the latest open-source technologies, agile project management, and any other IT or management innovations that promise greater efficiency at lower costs and higher citizen satisfaction.

Citizens respond with enthusiasm and petition to have more federal programs (and funds) transferred to the states because they can manage services better, faster, and cheaper than the federal government. States form into regional and programmatic associations that shift the federal-state balance-of-power from the national government to regional governmental organizations.

Fourth Scenario – InnoGov

In 2011 the civilian equivalent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration was established. Its mandate is to be the project management office for Gov 2.0, and the office seeks innovative Gov 2.0 projects, funds the development of these projects, and helps other agencies to copy the innovations. New radical management techniques are introduced, and organizational cultures become more collaborative and innovative.

By 2014 the federal government is the leading innovator in IT and management practices and helps to revitalize the private and non-profit sectors with its technology/best practices transfer programs. Citizen engagement and trust in government rises while the cost-savings and greater efficiencies bring about an era of budget surpluses.

In the past ten years, I have used the scenarios to help me plan my federal career. In fact, the LabGov scenario drives my long-term plans to be a consultant to state and local governments.

My career book will help job seekers create guiding scenarios to map out their career futures.