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Thursday, June 10, 2021

Solving public problems

An interesting find (props to Science Magazine). Digitech, focused analytics, collaborative methodology, all in the synergistic service of empathic, effective problem mitigation? What's not to love? to wit,
She had me at Paragraph One.
On January 6, 2021, a systematic, relentless campaign of grievance and falsehood, led by former President Donald Trump and stoked by members of the Republican Party in Congress and right-wing media, culminated in a violent attack on the Capitol. The incompetently planned but nonetheless deadly coup attempt counted among its leaders White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and devotees of the paranoid conspiracy theory QAnon. Yet support among Americans for the insurrection went way beyond the far-right fringe. According to YouGov about 45 percent of Republicans said they backed the attack on the Capitol, while 74 million Americans voted for Trump in 2020, despite his undisguised contempt for democratic institutions and decision-making both during the campaign and over the four years of his presidency. Watching these events, one could be forgiven for thinking that American democracy was reaching its final hours. I have written this book in the firm belief that this is not so…

Noveck, Beth Simone. Solving Public Problems. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition (location 35).
Yeah. Recall my January post "A Republic, if you can keep it."
One thing led to another, and I found myself forthwith at her NYU site TheGovLab.

Our goal is to strengthen the ability of institutions – including but not limited to governments – and people to work more openly, collaboratively, effectively and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems.

We believe that increased availability and use of data, new ways to leverage the capacity, intelligence, and expertise of people in the problem-solving process, combined with new advances in technology and science can transform governance.

We approach each challenge and opportunity in an interdisciplinary, collaborative way, irrespective of the problem, sector, geography and level of government.

We embrace failure: failing fast and often, learning from our mistakes and sharing experiences.

We collaborate with and connect experts and practitioners, across sectors and disciplines, levels of governance and geographies.

We rely on reproducible experiments and metrics to better understand what works (and what doesn’t) and to translate theory and hypotheses into actionable insights.

We put users at the center, to ensure we stay focused on improving people’s lives.
'eh? Pretty cool. 

The other day I logged in to my Science Magazine account to surf the current issue. I'm increasingly frustrated with the random, protracted Bill DeJoy USPS hardcopy delivery delays (which now extends to my Parkinson's Rx refills, grrrr...). I get a lot of my books from Science book reviews (I typically read 2-3 books a week, along with my numerous periodicals and broader daily web reading).
I came upon this:
Solving Public Problems
Reviewed by Ming Ivory

Governance professor Beth Simone Noveck, who formerly served as the first White House deputy chief technology officer, believes that “public entrepreneurship” can counter the failures that have dominated public policy design in the United States since the 1960s. Her new book, Solving Public Problems, revisits the four stages of policy design—identifying problems, identifying solutions, designing for implementation, and evaluation and evolution—while identifying 20 crucial decisions that prioritize “human-centered public policies.”

Experts often expend much effort on program design, but once these programs are created, there is usually little fine-tuning of the implementation and hardly any emphasis on measuring whether the desired outcomes are achieved. The US federal civil service, for example, first celebrated as a defense of the “public interest” for its structural insulation from shortsighted patronage and political corruption, has recently come to be viewed by some as a nonelected “deep state” that frustrates legitimate partisan power and private-sector freedom. Noveck fearlessly defends the existence of “public interests,” arguing that their complexity and ethical significance are distinct from academic theory, electoral politics, and private-sector capitalism…
So far, so good. Stay tuned. Coheres with a lot of my recent reads.


Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.

Tracing the evolution of these narratives can tell you something about a nation’s possibilities for change. Through much of the 20th century, the two political parties had clear identities and told distinct stories. The Republicans spoke for those who wanted to get ahead, and the Democrats spoke for those who wanted a fair shake. Republicans emphasized individual enterprise, and Democrats emphasized social solidarity, eventually including Black people and abandoning the party’s commitment to Jim Crow. But, unlike today, the two parties were arguing over the same recognizable country. This arrangement held until the late ’60s—still within living memory.

The two parties reflected a society that was less free than today, less tolerant, and far less diverse, with fewer choices, but with more economic equality, more shared prosperity, and more political cooperation. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats played important roles in their respective parties. Americans then were more uniform than we are in what they ate (tuna noodle casserole) and what they watched (Bullitt). Even their bodies looked more alike. They were more restrained than we are, more repressed—though restraint and repression were coming undone by 1968.

Since then, the two parties have just about traded places. By the turn of the millennium, the Democrats were becoming the home of affluent professionals, while the Republicans were starting to sound like populist insurgents. We have to understand this exchange in order to grasp how we got to where we are.

The 1970s ended postwar, bipartisan, middle-class America, and with it the two relatively stable narratives of getting ahead and the fair shake. In their place, four rival narratives have emerged, four accounts of America’s moral identity. They have roots in history, but they are shaped by new ways of thinking and living. They reflect schisms on both sides of the divide that has made us two countries, extending and deepening the lines of fracture. Over the past four decades, the four narratives have taken turns exercising influence. They overlap, morph into one another, attract and repel one another. None can be understood apart from the others, because all four emerge from the same whole…
"Free America (romantic Libertarianism)," "Smart America (technocratic, increasingly neoliberal elites)," "Real America (Sarah Palin demographic)," "Just America (activist long-marginalized minorities)." 
A long-read. See what you think.
Also, what of public"deliberation?"
(I will eventually have to quibble just a tad with Beth's drive-by characterization of the term.)

Recall discussing "High Conflict?" Dealing with our growing overpopulation of "conflict entrepreneurs?"

Three days a week we run the Paddington Road Graycare Center for our fabulous grandson Calvin. He goes to commercial daycare two days a week for the peer socialization. The other day he was mowin' some Cheerios for snacks when I shot this.

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