More ELC observations from Steve Kelman

Steve Kelman offers thoughts from Williamsburg as ELC 2011 draws to a close.

These are sort of random, as my kids would say, but here goes -- what they do have in common is that these are things I'm hearing from more than one person, things that seem to be on people's minds:

1) The biggest change going on right now in terms of what people expect from technology is social media. By this, people don't just mean Social Media with capital letters (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), but the idea that communication using technology should not be just one way, from sender to recipient -- from an agency to the public, in government's case. The social media idea with lower-case letters is that recipients should be given a chance to react to messages, and in many cases to help adapt or shape the messages.

2) Government needs to get much better at "fast failure." This is the good middle ground between the exaggerated risk aversion that comes from never being willing to fail and a "who cares if we fail" attitude that can bleed to quickly into indifference about results and success. In the IT arena, fast failure fits in to the idea of modular or agile development, getting increments out quickly so one can find out whether they are working, and make quicker go/no-go decisions.

(There is one caveat here, though. The organizational scholar James March has noted that organizational changes typically produce productivity declines early on, because people are trying new things and there hasn't been a chance to go down the learning curve. "Fast failure" needs to give some time for people to adapt before leading to that decision.)

3) A number of people noted the relative absence this year of senior contracting people at the conference. This may be a budgetary issue, or just a coincidence. The worry, though, is that this is a sign of declining interest of contracting people in working together closely with IT and program customers. One of the best changes coming out of the 1990's was a "customer service" orientation in contracting that encouraged ties between contracting and the people on whose behalf contracting folks are buying. Reversing that historic development would be a disaster.

NEXT STORY: Luigart takes top ELC honors

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