better, faster, cheaper
by Jayson White
Grim doesn’t even begin to describe the fiscal nightmare at all levels of government. The silver lining? The daunting fiscal reality is forcing a reexamination of every aspect of public sector operations.
Governor Mitch Daniels’ and Mayor Stephen Goldsmith’s long-standing conviction that government can achieve better results for less is gaining momentum, fueled in part by a partnership between Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center and Governingmagazine through the “Better Faster Cheaper” blog on Governing.com.
Founded by Goldsmith as an outgrowth of the Center’s “Innovations in American Government Awards” program, “Better, Faster Cheaper” (BFC) highlights cost-saving, quality-boosting initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels. The website captures innovative best practices at a time when demand for public services already exceeds the capacity of taxpayers to pay.
Goldsmith, on leave as a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and now serving as deputy mayor of New York City, says,
There is a hunger out there for ideas on how to create public value and reduce costs. Good government advocates have been urging reform for a long time. But things are different now. Governments are facing the unavoidable fiscal reality that incremental improvements aren’t sufficient. Public officials of each party are looking at transforming operations. Where in the past with more robust growth officials could tolerate inefficient government operations , today any inefficient activity brings with it a target of opportunity.
BFC is led by Executive Editor John O’Leary, former chief human resources officer for Massachusetts and the coauthor of the Washington Post bestseller If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government.O’Leary’s recent research and writing has focused on breakthrough innovations that have proven effective in radically reducing costs, including the use of social media tools and process reengineering.
The BFC website is dedicated to aiding such a transformation by sharing ideas and working to create an expectation of innovation among leaders and citizens alike. Contributors include John Kamensky and Jonathan Breul of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and William D. Eggers of Deloitte. “Without question, this is an exciting time for government innovation,” says O’Leary. “At Harvard Kennedy School, we are in the middle of a movement that is sweeping the country. It can be challenging for governments, but those who thrive are those who accept the challenge head on.”
The BFC approach isn’t just about exploiting technology to make governments better or faster at doing the same things government has always done; it is as much—or more—an attempt to rethink the fundamental goods that public leaders are seeking to deliver. BFC government isn’t merely about efficiency—it’s about effectiveness, which means asking the fundamental questions about the public purpose being served by every government activity.
For example, when grappling with the problem of homelessness, for some time New York City saw itself in the business of operating homeless shelters. This meant their goal was to create more shelters, which needed more money and also had the perverse result of doing little to reduce homelessness. Once they reset their mission to reducing homelessness, the city shifted their focus to earlier intervention and supportive housing, thus reducing the problem and helping more people less expensively.
“Understanding what public value you are trying to deliver should always be the first step,” says Goldsmith. “Once that ‘Why?’ question is answered, a variety of BFC tools can help innovative public leaders rethink the ‘how’ of service delivery.” The following BFC tools break down the silos within government and the artificial boundaries among government, nonprofit, and private providers:
Mitch Daniels and Steve Goldsmith have long demonstrated a passionate commitment for government that delivers great service at an affordable price. As the BFC blog on Governing.com documents, governments across the country are just now embracing these innovative tools for delivering great service for less.
Jayson White works at the Ash Center for Democratice Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School managing the Urban Policy Advisory Group.
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