The federal government has long made use of vendors to provide everything from equipment to IT support. Today, it is expanding on that reliance and increasingly moving toward a futuristic business model that emphasizes interagency cooperation, shared services, and even shared workspaces:
- Agencies paying other agencies to do work for them, such as standing up websites or shooting video.
- Agencies pooling resources to stand up programs that touch on multiple missions.
- Departments consolidating support functions such as acquisitions and HR.
- Vendors being tasked with a wide range of not only service assignments — such as IT and communications — but also leadership assignments, such as change management.
- Open-air, modular workspaces that encourage collaboration and discourage territorial “ownership” by any employee of a single office.
Where did all of this change come from? After all most people still think of government as a lumbering, stove-piped bureaucracy, ill-equipped to meet citizens’ demands. With the advent of the Internet, that is rapidly changing:
- The first era of government was offline and decentralized. Let’s call it Government 1.0.
- The second era of government was internet-enabled but uncoordinated. Government 2.0.
- The new era of government is networked, streamlined, nimble and rapidly responsive. Let’s call it Enterprise Government, or Government 3.0.
So What’s The Problem?
While this trend might be a good thing — it certainly sounds like a good thing in some respects — it is clearly also saddled with risk:
- Technically Capable But Substantively Unqualified Staff: Permanent loss of employees who have a deep and nuanced understanding of the agency’s history, mission and goals — leading to employees at all levels who may be technically qualified but lack the ability to make informed decisions.
- A Culture of Expediency: Sacrifice of agency’s long-term goals to quick, convenient decision-making.
- Push-A-Button Management: Rather than build a skilled cadre of team members who are engaged, motivated and able to handle mission needs, we “bring in the robots” who simply do whatever we tell them, without asking why. There is nobody to challenge bad decisions.
- Fiefdoms: Consolidation of services means lack of competition for those services, and accordingly the repression of employees who will lack mobility from place to place. For example, if all human capital functions are consolidated into one service office, and there is an abusive supervisor at large, it will be impossible to move out of that office without leaving the government.
- Overspending: The substitute workforce charges a premium for its work, and the customer agency, preferring expediency and lacking knowledge of how much money a service should cost, accedes readily. The taxpayer is shortchanged.
- Lack of Transparency: Where is the money going? Who was responsible for making that decision? Did so much have to be spent? Who owns the open data? When the answer can be provided by opening up an agency budget, it’s easier to be transparent. But when responsibility for the books starts to be shared, things get more complicated. Not impossibly so — given that nowadays everything is stored somewhere on a computer — but potentially challenging.
- The End Of “Inherently Governmental”: As more and more tasks are taken on by outside parties, and seemingly done capably, there is a tendency to simply increase both the number and kinds of tasks. There is no internal negotiation, no scuffling: the contractor handles it. But the entire purpose of having “inherently governmental” work protected is to ensure that the government serves the interest of the people.
Fueled by the adrenaline rush of technology, it is possible that we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
But We Can’t Stop
Despite all the negatives, Enterprise 3.0 is likely only going to accelerate. For these reasons:
- Optics: People like it when the government seems to be cutting costs. Consolidation and shared services looks good, especially since the government has a reputation for waste.
- Technology: With a “save money” metric in hand, Big Data tells us exactly where funds can be redirected more efficiently to get things done. At an enterprise level, that means funding multi-agency initiatives or shared services desks rather than piecemeal programs.
- Speed: Within a typical agency, the pressure is normally towards inertia, because change is experienced as inherently negative. This is why staff-initiated projects often die on the vine. Outsourcing, shared efforts, and cooperative initiatives move the change factor outside the agency, creating less risk of internal derailment.
Maximizing The Benefit — Mitigating The Risks
There are five things that need to happen in order for Government 3.0 to work:
- Transparency: It has to be very clear where money is being spent, and why. This can be accomplished through public online dashboards.
- Accountability: Establishing clear roles and responsibilities is essential to avoid vague utterances and finger-pointing in case decisions go bad.
- Empowerment: In an environment of rapid and unpredictable change, employee feedback is needed more than ever to keep the ship on a steady course. That means reversing the top-down leadership model and replacing it with small, matrixed organizations where every person has a say.
- Return of the Civil Service: Having a modular government can actually be quite freeing for the employee who may have otherwise been stuck in a certain job for years at a time without moving.
- Leadership: Senior executives draw a big salary, and therefore have a lot to lose. Not only that, but if they are let go, the stigma attached is huge. Money plus potential loss of status are a major deterrent to leaders taking the kind of bold actions necessary to transform the government workplace. A better way to handle leadership would be for all senior executives to occupy such spots for a temporary period, then be reassigned to the ranks. This would also create mobility for professionals who have senior leadership potential — and who, given the proper training and experience, might surprise us with what they can achieve.
All opinions my own. Photo by Daniel Iverson via Flickr (Creative Commons).
1. Name & Positioning
In branding, you use a name and positioning to establish a unique space for the product or service in the customer's mind, and to ensure that your product will be the first thing the customer thinks of when they're ready to act.
"Middle East peace" is obviously a great name because it intuitively appeals to people and is actually a long-held yet frustrated goal.
As we know, it is impossible to generate a solution from within a problem. Using "Middle East peace" as the brand avoids pitting Israel against Palestinians, or Jews against Muslims, East against West, etc. It is only about the choice of creating peace or living in perpetual war.
Everybody can agree on this. How would you describe it? What is it's "position?" Well, "it's like being able to wake up in the morning, except you're not afraid that someone will blow your head off in the street or stab you to death."
In branding, you want to show how your product or service is both important to the customer and better than any other choice the customer already has. This is sort of like positioning, except you are explicitly placing a higher value on your product or service.
If "Middle East peace" is the brand, the competition can obviously be articulated as "Middle East conflict." But that would be too simple. The real "alternatives" are essentially:
- Religion - whether that "holy war" be the property of the Israelis or the Palestinians.
- Ideology - "Zionism" or "Palestinian Liberation" and their spinoffs, e.g. the BDS (Boycott/Divestiture/Sanctions) movement.
- "International Law" - which is used as a sword with which to advance the grievances of both sides.
The most obvious way to do this is to argue that peace is the foundation upon which all other societal structures are built. Humanity cannot exist in an orderly form otherwise.
3. Vision, Mission and Values
Every decent brand has three things: a vision statement, which articulates the abstract goal it strives for; a mission statement, which states how it plans to get there, and values, which provide the infrastructure for behaviors that support the mission.
In the case of branding Middle East peace, the vision can be encapsulated as "optimal living conditions characterized by the absence of armed conflict." With respect to convincing people of this vision, it can be argued that "saving lives" is a value that unites humanity across religions.
The mission in support of this vision is to do things that save lives.
The values associated with peace include: tolerance, sustainability, compassion, and even justice. It is just both to save lives and to increase quality of life across the board.
4. Audience Research & Segmentation
In branding it is important to establish who you're talking to and what motivates them. When it comes to "Middle East peace" as a brand, we are obviously talking to very different kinds of people at the same time.
Here are three major audience segments that need convincing:
- Western-educated, progressive liberals
- Radical Islamic terrorists
- Fundamentalist Jews
One of the mistakes people make when it comes to segmentation is to judge their audience in a positive or negative manner, when the goal is simply to understand the way they think.
Another is to forget to segment the audience, and to talk to one party just the same as you would talk to the other.
Focus on the other party, and you're more likely to succeed at convincing them.
This isn't very complicated: Find out what triggers or motivates the audience and then talk to that. There are several major themes here:
- Access to holy sites
How about fundamentalist Jews? Because the international community won't support any stance that fails to adequately consider the long-term sustainability of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples.
5. Mirroring & Motivation
In communication it is well known that when you want to convince someone of something, you would do well to dress like them and talk like them.
In the context of Middle East peace, it is important not only to tailor one's message and language to the audience, but also to customize the method of delivery appropriately.
If you're talking to religious Jews for example, send someone who knows not only policy but halacha (Jewish law).
If you're talking to a Palestinian in Gaza, send someone in respectful (e.g. covered-up) dress who is familiar with the ways in which Palestinians experience life today, including stark poverty, indoctrination, drastic social presand implicit and explicit threats for any sort of "collaboration" with Israel.
All opinions are the author's own.
An otherwise outstanding movie is marred by the pervasive portrayal of men as complicated, three-dimensional beings versus women who exist mostly to nod their heads and smile.
Matt Damon of course is phenomenal. As NASA Astronaut Mark Watley, stranded on Mars after a mission gone bad, he breathes life into the role of a man whose training, ingenuity and attitude wind up saving his life.
Supported by an exceptional cast of men and women alike, Damon captures the soaring spirit upon which NASA itself was founded. On a broader level we can see the vision of President John F. Kennedy at work, one in which all of humankind work together to solve impossible problems, making life on Earth better for all.
Situated as it is in an environment of growing chaos and terror in the real world, “The Martian” offers a world-uniting way. Rather than competing, we can cooperate to solve the kinds of stubborn and pressing problems that keep all of us from realizing our dreams.
Solve one problem after another, one foot in front of the other, using all the skills at our disposal and all the creativity of the team, and we have a chance of making it.
Or as Watley says: “In the face of overwhelming odds, I'm left with only one option. I'm gonna have to science the s**t out of this.”
Watching Damon’s performance, I couldn’t help but think of Sandra Bullock and her outstanding performance as Ryan Stone in “Gravity.” In both movies, we get to see through a normally impenetrable armor -- the carefully crafted persona of the scientist. We see them human, suffering, crying, racking their brains to survive while also preparing for an imminent death.
Unlike “Gravity,” however, the action in “The Martian” centers as much on the culture of NASA as on the astronaut - or at least that culture as director Ridley Scott imagines it.
And this is where the movie goes off the rails where gender is concerned. For the female characters in this movie, unlike the men, are nothing more than bobble heads, nodding at things the men say while periodically uttering a word or two.
Kristen Wiig as media relations chief Annie Montrose is the most obvious example. Why, oh why would you reduce such a powerful, versatile female character actress to a mannequin? There’s Annie, wearing a black suit without a turtleneck. There she is, with. Now she’s onstage at the press conference. Now she’s saying, “We’re not letting you in front of a microphone ever again.” And in the most degrading sequence, she actually has to stand there as a small object is flicked on her forehead during the course of a meeting with the NASA director.
It is not that the women in the movie occupy traditional female roles, low-level jobs, or are portrayed as crazy or incompetent. Thankfully those old Hollywood stereotypes aren’t here. It is that, unlike the men, the females are not granted the privilege of being human.
The men in this movie are all kinds of interesting. Here’s Jeff Daniels as NASA Director Teddy Sanders, dealing with the President, the media, and the scientists whose creativity make or break the program. He’s got mutiny from the one and genius from the other and has to keep his head on straight throughout.
There’s Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, the head of the crew, who makes good decisions and bad decisions and is tormented by them all.
There’s Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, in charge of Mars Missions, trying desperately to save one man, confounded by the sheer number of variables involved in accomplishing that task while keeping the space program afloat at the same time.
On and on it goes...there’s Benedict Wong as Bruce Ng, head of the Jet Propulsion Lab, operating on a timeline that grows shorter by the day. As a character we are with him as he scratches his head and labors and sweats to do what is asked, trying not to reveal worry rising to the level of panic.
But the women are so simple, and untroubled, and bland. Jessica Chastain plays Melissa Lewis, head of the Mars crew. She is standard-issue “strong yet feminine” all the way, nothing surprising there and not one word comes out of her mouth that would surprise you. Kate Mara plays Beth Johanssen, “the geek” and the most interesting thing about her is a sexuality that seems unorthodox at first, but by the end is rather unsurprising.
On and on the story goes. It’s well-told, it’s exciting, it made me laugh and lifted my heart and more than once I cried.
But I walked out of the movie theater with a bad taste in my mouth, too. It’s the “woman problem,” that big blob of issues that seems to come up over and over again and just as frequently gets shoved aside.
Ridley Scott is a phenomenal director whose most notable characters inspire feminist dreams. Who can forget Demi Moore as the you-will-never-break-me Lieutenant Jordan O'Neil in “G.I. Jane?” Or Sigourney Weaver as the ultimate warrior hero in “Alien,” Warrant Officer/Lieutenant Ellen Ripley?
“The Martian” suffers from its lack of dimensional women. It’s not about affirmative action for the cast. It is about making art that speaks honestly to the viewer.
For me, the lack of human-ness in the representation of female characters in “The Martian” caused the movie to fall a bit flat.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.Federal communicator and co-founder, All Things Brand
Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a visionary thought leader, writer, speaker, social networker, federal communicator and co-founder of the best practices portal All Things Brand. She is the author of several books, including 125 Questions & Answers About Branding and Beyond Brand Transparency, and a regular contributor to such industry journals as BrandChannel and Journal of Brand Management. Blumenthal was formerly an executive at the Institute for Brand Leadership and Young & Rubicam’s The Intelligence Factory/Brand Futures Group. Within the federal government, she has spearheaded outreach campaigns and built brands across several agencies. All opinions are her own and do not reflect those of her agency or the federal government as a whole.
Check out the startling stats here.