What if Google did local Government?

An increasing number of local government Chief Executives, it seems, want their organisations to become innovative. But that’s hard to do when you and your people have spent decades working in a way which is not conducive to innovation.

People are creatures of habit. We get used to our particular way of thinking and acting. So it’s hard to become innovative unless you have a sense of what it’s like to be part of an innovative organisation on a day-to-day basis. Google logoGoogle is widely recognized as the world’s most innovative company. So what if it volunteered one of its of senior executives to run a local authority for a year? That would give managers and staff a real sense of what it’s like to be part of a pioneering environment. Google understands the modern world we live in. After all, it brought us a good deal of it. It also has a very clear philosophy and culture. Here are seven ways that the Google executive would perhaps transfer what works for Google to the world of local government.

1. Google would bring clarity

Google is clear about the business it is in. First and foremost it does search. It then applies what it knows about search to creating other products. Those other products solve problems it knows its users are experiencing. But it is also open to other innovative companies bringing out new products that build on what it does.

It’s a good bet that Google would begin its transformation with a thorough review. Old assumptions about the purpose and the roles of the local authority would be questioned. A clear identity would be established and it would stop doing what didn’t fit. Innovative new ideas from outsiders that add to the mix would be welcomed.

2. Services would be designed around citizens

Putting users first is a core part of the Google philosophy. Google takes account of user opinion, which is why its search engine results are, in part, based on links between websites. It believes that if you focus on the user, everything else will follow. Google is always trying to simplify and provide the best possible user experience for its products and services. It doesn’t think it knows best either. It does A/B split testing so that the users ultimately decide.

Google would look at every council service through the eyes of the citizens who use them. Processes and systems would be redesigned so that they were useful, fast, simple, engaging, innovative, universal, beautiful, trustworthy and personable.

3. Services would be taken to the users

Google thinks in a distributed way. It doesn’t demand that users come to it. Instead, it is present all over the web. For example, you’ll find its search box on other websites and its AdWords advertisements are on relevant pages across millions of websites.

Using technology and other innovations, it’s likely that Google would decentralize council services. It would want to take services out to users in whatever way was possible.

4. Google would provide people with the local information they need when the need it

Google has been successful because its search engine is better and faster at finding the right answer. As a company it knows that, these days, people are very demanding when it comes to information. That’s why the Google search engine is built for relevancy and speed plus is simple and easy to use.

Google would build a very different council website. The design would be minimalist. Every page would load fast and would contain essential information and no more.

5. Citizens would be given more power

Google gets the fact that big institutions don’t have the power they used to have thanks to the Internet. Citizens now have a voice and the organisations that serve them are needing to be more honest, open and accountable.

As a company Google trusts, listens to and believes in the wisdom of its users. So it is likely that it would provide local citizens with a variety of social media tools on the council website so that people could have their say and share information.

Companies such as Face book and Google know that you can’t engineer communities or a sense of belonging. Communities already exist based around interests and culture. They are already doing what they do. Recognizing this, Google would probably provide technology tools to help local communities to operate in a more organised and effective way.

6. Google would create a great place to work

Google believes that work should be challenging and that meeting challenges should be fun. They contend that creative and useful ideas are more likely to originate within the right company culture.

Google would want council staff to wear more than one hat, to be both analytical and creative, to be willing to experiment, to be team players and to be enthusiastic.

7. Google would not be afraid to try new things

Google would rather be a company that moves quickly and tries a lot of things rather than one that is very cautious and doesn’t do very much. It also has a history of not being afraid to own up when something goes wrong. It has scrapped services in the past. Google believes that admitting to mistakes enhances rather than weakens credibility. Almost everything it releases is in beta and gets improved along the way. Iteration is the key.

Some staff would be given dedicated time each week to work on ideas. This approach works. Over half of Google’s new product ideas have come from the ‘20% time’ it gives to its technical staff.  There are, of course, differences between Google and the world of local government. Also Google is, as we know, not perfect in all that it does. But there is much of the Google philosophy that would transfer well. It is geared up for innovation and it thinks in a way which suits the  modern world. Above all Google is courageous, which is the must-have attribute for all innovators.

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