Hack and Tell for Public Administrators

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@matis presenting her Borges twitter bot at DC Hack and Tell (credit: @zugaldia)

Civic hackers are changing government, applying do-it-yourself, do-it-together and open source to create what government hierarchies won’t. Some civic hackers are public administrators; many are software developers, journalists, community organizers, lawyers, etc. This column will report on civic hacking in the national capital area, to show how we can each be more than our place in an organization chart.

This edition looks at DC Hack and Tell, a monthly “show and tell for hackers”. At each meeting, seven to ten people present their projects. The rules are “no startup pitches, no dull work projects, no deckware”. The “no deckware” part is key. It means don’t present a deck of slides that just proposes doing something; present something you have created, even if it is incomplete or semi-functional. Many of the projects are software or digital hardware, others are unrelated to computers. There’s a lot to interest a public administrator, even if your technical skills are minimal or way out of date (like mine).

Some of the hacks are innovative ways to deliver a public service. For example, Steve Trickey’s presentation on Hacking Kids’ Brains showed an approach used by a nonprofit he works with; teaching a programming language designed for children’s characteristics (poor typing, attraction to games and stories, etc.). They encourage the students to remix existing code rather than starting from scratch, which is in line with modern software development practices. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Ca0TZji4Z7m-FioD-T-bNPYUMfCpHte2GCEVPp5T17Q/edit#slide=id.geda2b2d86_0_11

Other hacks show analytic techniques most of us aren’t familiar with. For example, Ben Klemens presented his income tax preparation program. https://github.com/b-k/py1040  At first glance it’s just a free, less comprehensive substitute for TurboTax. But what is fascinating for a public administrator is how Klemens created it; translating the complex set of administrative and legal requirements represented in IRS forms into a dependency tree and a “directed acyclic graph”. Translating the requirements to this form not only enables computing the tax amount for an individual, but also facilitates more complex analyses such as how a particular change in requirements would affect the aggregate tax on a diverse group of taxpayers. This is a potentially powerful approach to analyzing administrative systems that most public administrators have never thought about.

Public administrators should consider not only attending Hack and Tell, but also presenting. I found a welcoming audience and useful feedback there for my totally non-technical presentation on guerrilla government strategies. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0fUKRnu1oAhRERxNmIyWkVHZnM/view

DC Hack and Tell meets one evening a month, usually at the WeWork co-working space in Chinatown. It’s free and there are sometimes refreshments. Information and sign-up are at http://www.meetup.com/DC-Hack-and-Tell/

Medical Case Reports as a Model for Public Administrators

Medical journals traditionally include case reports–a short article describing the circumstances, treatment and results of one patient’s case, reported by the doctor who treated the case. This is a model for how public administration practitioners could share experiences for peer-to-peer learning. Here on my slides for a lightning talk on case reports at NECoPA on Friday, November 6:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0fUKRnu1oAhQ1NpSlhsQmk0dG8/view?usp=sharing 

You can get more information about NECoPA at http://psc.gmu.edu/necopa/ and you can register for the conference at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/necopa-15-tickets-16515410036 

Annotated Work Instructions: When Official Procedures are Unusable

Here are my slides on Annotated Work Instructions for the NECoPA conference at George Mason University on Nov 6
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0fUKRnu1oAhMlE3Qmc5dVhfOTA/view?usp=sharing

You can get more information about NECoPA at http://psc.gmu.edu/necopa/ and you can register for the conference at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/necopa-15-tickets-16515410036 

10x Public Administrators

In the tech industry, people speak of “10x” programmers, those who are ten times as productive as average. Who are the 10x public administrators?

The 10 is figurative, since there is no agreed-upon quantification of productivity in programming or public administration. And in both fields productivity includes creativity, rather than grinding through a set process. 10x is meaningful because it puts the focus on what a person can produce in practicing her craft, rather than the schools one graduated from, position in an organization’s hierarchy, years of experience, loyalty to a patron, etc.

One lesson from tech is that to see if someone is 10x, you have to Continue reading “10x Public Administrators”

Beyond Guerrilla Government: Intrapreneurs, Cuff Systems, Side Projects and Hacks

Click for PDF, doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.1067.2803

Public administrators often pursue their public interest aspirations and personal aspirations by taking initiative independent of their supervisors. Rosemary O’Leary (2006) called this “guerrilla government”, and provided real-life examples ranging from whistleblowers to “a state department of transportation employee who repaired a train gate where children were playing against the wishes of his superior.” (O’Leary 2010, 12)

O’Leary examined such behavior as a predicament for supervisors—should they “nurture, tolerate, or terminate” their guerrilla employees? (2010, 8) But independent initiative is not only a predicament for supervisors, it is a vital part of the public administrator’s toolkit. Whistleblowing is one form of independent initiative, but Continue reading “Beyond Guerrilla Government: Intrapreneurs, Cuff Systems, Side Projects and Hacks”