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Redesigning Government for a Faster Future


Jennifer Pahlka

This week The Futurists speak with Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America. Jennifer served in Barack Obama's White House as the US Deputy Chief Technology Officer where she launched the US Digital Service. In this episode, Jennifer reveals the tactics to surmount the myriad obstacles that thwart government agencies when they seek to deploy digital technology to improve the delivery of services to citizens.

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[Music] this week on the futurists Jenniferpaa we are so eager to put in people who can dream up big ideas and so reluctantto actually value the skills of making those ideas[Music] real well welcome back to the futurists I'm Rob Turk your host and this weekI'll be flying solo uh the we are taking another look at the trends that shapethe future and the people who are driving those Trends and this week we've got a different perspective for youoften on this show we're trying to reach the people who are doing things with their careers and with their lives thatare going to deeply impact the future often we've interviewed people who are in the technology field and sometimeswe've interviewed people who are writing and thinking about the future um but yet we haven't had an opportunity to talk tosomeone who's influenced government policy and when it it comes to the allocation of resources that shape theway the tech industry unfolds really there are two great forces not just a private markets but also publicgovernance this week we got an expert on that topic joining us someone I've known for a very long time and in recent yearshave come to greatly respect because of her accomplishments she is someone who hasstarted businesses who's also worked in the government she started nonprofit organizations she has been the deputychief technology officer of the uned United States in the Obama White House she's the founder of code for America anonprofit organization that's been compared to the Peace Corp or Teach for America in the technology technologysector she was selected by Wired Magazine as one of the most influential people in Tech and by Forbes is one ofthe top 50 women in the technology field she's the winner of the skull award for socialentrepreneurship and she's the author of a new book that we're about to talk about I'd like to welcome on to thefuturists my friend Jennifer paa Jennifer welcome to the show thanks for having me it'sreally great to reconnect and to uh to be here with you thanks it's great to see you again uh it's been a while wemet a long time ago yeah man I don't even want to think about that in the 90sso much has changed uh but along the way I've kept track of your progress and I've been very impressed to see howyou've taken what you've learned in one organization and applied it to the next and to the next and to the next and sowhy don't we start with that tell us a little bit about your journey from code for America uh to what you're doing nowyeah I mean I I got interested in government um sort of you know as BarackObama was about to be elected president and everyone said great you know the internet the participatory internet thethis new Web 2.0 kind of world got this guy elected and a lot of us were goinggreat uh can it help him govern right it's it's a is a sort of a different question um so I started thisorganization uh in 2010 to try to get Tech talent to kind of help come inunderstand the problems of of really of Service delivery in government how does government interact with the public umwhy are people so frustrated with their interactions with government when it'seasy now to make you know interactions through apps and websites that are youknow incredibly convenient and sort of delightful to use and why aren't we doing that in government so code fromAmerica was my first attempt at that um and you know it's it's it's an amazingorganization that's still doing a lot and has changed a lot because we learned a lot along the way um from there it issort of part of my arc has been bouncing between being on the inside and being on the outside when I'm on the outside ofgovernment I'm still working very closely with government but that that started this this this whole Arc for mewhere you know only two years into code for America Todd Park who was the chief technology officer officer of the USsaid you know can you come in and help us uh help us build something similarinside government um and so that was really about institution building umthere was enormous resistance to having Tech talent in the White House the WhiteHouse has some significant views about what's important uh they love policy andimplementation is not as important to them and so getting them to say weactually need people who know how to make the interfaces make the technology make the infrastructure that um that helpsgovernment interact in in positive ways with the public was a real uphill battleum but got that done handed it off to some wonderful people who ran it andum uh went back to code for America um which you know where I stayed um foruntil just before the pandemic um I really think that the arc for me has been fromhow do you create how do you get the talent there and get them empowered to do the right things which is stillongoing to how do you go upstream and create the conditions under which thesepeople can have greater impact you have an enormous culture clash betweengovernment and the tech world and when the tech World brings these practices into government you know they're workingin an environment that's really really hostile so uh working on the defense Innovation board the new organizationusdr um but and but particularly the book for me are now about how do I goupstream and really create the conditions that will allow this field to to flourish and and and really have theimpact that it needs to have one of the criticisms of the US government in particular is that it's dominated byattorneys most of our elected representatives are attorneys and attorneys are very focused on processyes um and I I I use that as like contrast to other nations for instance China where they have a lot ofscientists and engineers in government um who might not be as obsessed with process and so when you bring in uh thetechnology uh expertise that you talked about quite often technology aboutimproving process and sometimes bypassing process or blowing the process up and Reinventing it so I can imaginethat that culture Clash that you just referred to stems from that uh you know technology folks are always looking fora way to optimize process and sometimes in government well there's probably plenty of forces that are like we'revery content with the old-fashioned process that we've got which is why we still need fax machines you know to talkto doctors and to send messages to a judge in a court case and so forth uh can you tell me a little bit about yourexperience of confronting government process and trying to change that yeahone of my uh one article I would Point people at is something called the procedure fetish by a um law professorin uh Michigan named Nick baggley um he really Nails it um there we wehave this Obsession in government with um when we are challenged in any way uhthe the solution is to create more procedures um and then we have procedureupon procedure that don't allow us to actually get the outcome that we intended and he has a great analysis ofthat which is that fundamentally people in bureaucracies and sort of the thinking in government is concerned withlegitimacy we think that we will have legitimacy by having procedures that we can fall back on whereas I think youknow a different way of thinking is legitimacy comes from serving the public getting the outcomes that we expectthat's right and that's an really fundamental shift that I think needs to happen um he certainly as you just didpoints to the Primacy of of of lawyers in government that uh uh I think everyDemocratic president and vice president since Clinton have had law degrees uhactually strangely not as much on the Republican side and and the the Democrats get a little bit of a knockhere for being more procedure fetishist than the Republicans at times um when you think about the way wecriticize politicians very often what we zoom in on is their Failure to observe the nities the protocols and theprocedures right so it's not so much that they're not getting the outcome that they were elected to get it's that they didn't go about it in the in theprescribed way um and I think for regular folks you know civilians if you will we this we're kind of puzzledbecause it's like the business world doesn't operate that way you know in business who cares how you get the jobdone if you get the job done um and a lot will be forgiven uh if you get the results but in politics you can you canget the result and then be um you can get hung up on the procedure or violating the procedure this seems to most people tobe a paradox it's almost incomprehensible to the to the regular person uh do you think that's just a bureaucratic mindset and as you said sayuh I guess as as Nick Bagley says uh it's the obsession with trying toestablish legitimacy um what what to what did you ascribe that to I mean I think that umit's really easy to criticize um our public servants particularly you knowwhat I I will use the term bureaucrat with love it's often thought of as a derogatory term but um I do think weneed to look in the mirror a little and I think politicians need to look in the mirror those procedures very oftenthrown at the bureaucracy by politicians who are upset about something okay andso and I you know I talk in the book about sort of the layers of policy that acre um in programs that make them socomplex that it takes 25 years to learn you know the the policies and procedures that govern them you know when when wehave um when we have policy complexity of that order it's just very very veryhard to scale um but you know ultimately we hold and our and our politicians holdour public servants accountable to two totally distinct systems of accountability right there's did youfollow the process or did you get the outcomes and they are trapped because uhpublic servants careers depend on being able to show that they followed theproper processes they get dinged for doing anything out of bounds and I've seen hundreds of public servants try todo the right thing the thing that's actually going to help the person who is intended to be helped by a policy or program and get in trouble for itwhereas the person who did the safe thing even though it meant that someone you know wasn't going to get theirunemployment insurance check or their veterans benefits those people get promoted and so if the system is brokenwhose responsibility is it to change the system the bureaucrats can't change it we have to change it we have to hold ourelected officials accountable to changing that instead of vilifying the public servants who make risk oferschoices well right now you see a lot of this in Congress so um you know the legislators uh will grandstand uhagainst the bureaucracy and and very often vilify what they call the Deep state right a lot of this is overblownin my opinion in my own experience with public servants is that they're well- intended you know they're people who are actually foregoing maybe a moreprofitable career in the private sector in order to serve the public and they take that pretty seriously um but it'spretty easy they're pretty easy target for politicians uh to against so you know every few years we see this a newpolitician comes in from the outside and he's going to drain the swamp or whatever they say uh and then runs intothis bu morass of bureaucracy and then that becomes the villain and we just saw that all play out with the with the rasorry with the Trump Administration yes you know in a very dramatic way you knowwhere I think it's really damaged uh the perception of some of the institutions or the you know the people's convictionsand faith in the government yeah so that that sort of populist riling isn't very effective ultimately because it's notreally attending to the issue the issue is uh Congress Saddles the bureaucracywith a set of obligations without giving them the resources to get the job done necessarily and without giving them veryclear guidelines yeah I would agree they they don't give them the resources but I want to be clear that I think there's alot of money going into government um what they don't give them is the freedom to use their discretion to get the jobdone um you know just spent uh some some time with an economist um who keptsaying you know we starve government by Design there's some truth to that and there's truth to it in certain areas butI think it's also true that we starve government of design we don't let themdesign uh programs uh technology services that work we tell them here'sthe law just translate it directly into you know a service that those things don't really work for people and so I II want to shift the conversation around what resources government needs we can get much much better outcomes with thefunding that we currently have if we and think of design and I mean design insort of the technology sense design of services design of of programs design of of ofRegulation um as a core competency of government we just don't think that waywe think design Talent belongs in Tech in Tech designing you know the latest thing that we're all going to love workyou know using um the best highest use of design is ingovernment yeah it's a really good point I mean this is this is a principal claim that you make in your book uh recodingAmerica tell us a little bit about what you're trying to accomplish in that book yeah I mean I'm trying to shift howpeople think um about their relationship to government their responsibility to making a governmentthat works um and ultimately to haveeverybody whether it's just anybody who cares about democracy or public electedpublic officials or leaders in administrative agencies see the opportunity that we have to um adoptthese different ways of thinking so that we can let all the tech talent thatwants to come into government and make a difference actually make that difference um I I do think while there are a numberof very specific tactics and iies that I propose in the book targeted atlawmakers or the general public or government leaders ultimately it doescome down to that what are the capacities and competencies that we haveyou know that we need government to have today not the ones that they had in 1970 what are the capacities andcompetencies they we the government needs to succeed today and how do we build them um those are understandingwhat has changed and how we need to catch up is the is the foundation for any of those changes so I think it getsback to what I said earlier there are people willing both inside the bureaucracies and outside in the techindustry and in the leadership how do we create the conditions which I think are really about how people think about thisproblem for all that talent and good intentions to come together and actually make a difference how are we going toallow people in government to create uh technology and services that people loveusing so that they stop feeling frustrated I mean rob you mentioned umyou know the Trump years and uh that sort of disregard for the Deep State thedisregard for the um the bureaucracy and the wanting to blow it all up Icompletely agree but I also want to recognize that when people have very frustratingexperiences with government they do want to blow it up that's part of why we havethis desire for a strong man to come in and just take over and and not have youknow a thousand stakeholders and you know uh interfaces to government that are 212 questions and don't work onmobile phones they're overburdened they want something simple and clear and they think that an autocrat can give us thatum that's the wrong answer but it's coming from a place of real frustration we have to address add thatfrustration um or we're going to get more of this um this populist andautocratic tendencies in uh in the public and we're going to have that in our government which branch of thefederal government has the power to address that uh is that the legislature is that the executive does the SupremeCourt play a role in this tell me a little bit how you envision this change getting implemented unfortunately orfortunately the answer to that is all of them and uh and also that it's not justgovernment again it's how we the people hold our elected officials accountableum what we ask them to actually spend their time on and look at how like you mentioned Grand standing how we expectthem to behave are they supporting the creation of these competencies and capacities that we need or are they justyelling at the Deep State um but yes thelegislators have to look in the mirror and see how they're contributing to the problem the executive Branch especiallythe administrative agencies have to change their ways they need support from both the legislative and the judicialbranches to do that talk a lot in the book about the ways in which the Jud the Judiciary has sort of bled into theadministrative agencies and made everything like incredibly hard to do taking 10 years of jurisdiction uh andadjudication um to do it so change needs to happen everywhere and we've got a change to support all this I mean evennow with the Supreme Court uh you know leaning right they're starting to challenge the the administration'sability to regulate right they're starting to undo sometimes 70 years worth of regulatory apparatus orneutralize it I guess and I mean that just sends the problem back to the legislature and candidly Congress isbroken right now Congress can't get anything done so asking them to solve a complex problem like regulatoryapparatus is I think a pretty tall order but that looks like uh that looks like the direction the Supreme Court isleaning right now it's terrifying actually because I think the thing we needmore desperately is the ability of the administrative agencies to do the jobthe American public expects them to do yeah and when the Supreme Court says actually let's cut them off at the kneesone more time them from being able to do anything um uh we we arereally really in a d we're in really dangerous territory here because the American public expects those things to happen for sure they're paying for itand we pay a lot for government you know so so we expect we have we have high expectations uh one of the problems isis that there's a certain level of expertise required if you think about you know um environmental regulationbanking regulation Transportation regulation you need people who have the technical Acumen to make IntelligentDecisions but by definition that's not a politician that's been elected to congress they have a different skill set I'm not saying they don't have expertisebut they don't have expertise in that domain um and so you know we've seen this in other fields people who are goodat one thing tend to you know Place High emphasis on what they well and they Place less emphasis or less value on thestuff that they don't know that well I think we have a really great uh illustration of that it's really easy to bash Regulators it's really easy to bashthe uh let's say the bureaucrats the people who are there to administer these rules and regulations uh without reallyhaving de deep understanding of the complex challenges that they face and in every one of those areas the complexchallenges we Face are in large part technological and that area isincreasing in complex lexity uh so in other words a need for a need for experience and expertise seems to begoing up not down um but this drive for populism and this drive for Simple Solutions is going in the exact oppositedirection it can't possibly get us there why don't you respond to that a little bit we'll need to go to a break in a moment um Ithink I think again the culture of government is just going to have to change to understand what kinds ofskills and approaches we need and and Val I I talk in the book about um myexperience in the White House and the resistance that I met and compare it back to um the 90s when uh two membersof Congress wanted to put you know responsibility for Tech strategy in theWhite House back then and the resistance that they got um the line from uh thedeputy director for management in OMB the Office of Management and budget at the time wasum that's not uh having Tech expertise in the White House is inconsistent withthe policy nature of this institution it's it's operational in nature and therefore doesn't belong here and that'sbeen there all along and it's still there uh but yet the president is insome respects the Pres whoever is elected president from whatever party that person is suddenly put in charge oflike 260 organizations it's like being the CEO of 20 60 different companiesEach of which has deep expertise deep operational expertise so I'm having a hard time understanding how that skillof managing complex operations isn't the primary criteria for president I wouldagree I think the criteria that we hold for both elected officials and say thepresident's cabinet for instance is um needs some rethinking we we are so eagerto put in people who can dream up big ideas and so reluctant to uh to actuallyvalue the skills of making those ideas real it's interesting like when youthink about how a CEO is recruited for a big Corporation literally none of thecriteria that we use to an elect a president are used to hire a CEO for a private organization it's a completelydifferent set of criteria okay on that note listen we were going to go to a break but before we do we have this custom that we like to do in the showwhere we ask you a series of short questions just to get more familiar with you where you're coming from um and souh what we tend to do is ask people what inspires them about thefuture so the first quick question these are short answers tell me what's the first science fiction story thatinspired you it could be a movie or a book or a comic book I think science fiction wise thisis um you know I guess if you're going first you have to go mine longle and uhuh wrinkle in time um just uh all those books um I mean I guess they're sort ofborderline science fiction but they a sort of a middle schooler yeah the things that get you thinking aboutthis and then in your career where's the when's the first time you noticed that technology can actually make a positivechange in society well I would say working in the games industry um where you and I know each other from umhonestly started doing that didn't really you know wasn't a big gamer but I think that that you know on some somelevel I think what I got out of that was sort of this ambition andum willingness to sort of create new worlds that um it's it'sa it's a power I think that when I went into government I wanted to bring that sort of umambition to the folks there and say no it's possible to not only change thingsbut to really reinvent the world around us after the break we'll talk a little bit more about your experience uh in thegames field because I think it's relevant too um tell me about a forecast orprediction that impressed you like if you can think of any forecast or or prediction that inspired yourcareer um you want a positive one either way no whatever either way somethingthat made a big impression you I think the um the forecast that is most frontof mine for me right now is um how well we will be prepared for thenext pandemic oh okay you know it's interesting coid 19 has to be one of themost forecasted things the idea of a global pandemic you know for years people have been talking about it youknow there there uh there there was a book called the next plague written 20 years before the pandemic it's not likewe didn't have a fair warning so there's this sort of Cassandra syndrome where you can forecast something with greataccuracy and yet the people in charge don't pay attention to it okay well on that dim note let's take alittle break we'll come back in a few minutes you're listening to the futurists I'm Rob Turk and our guest this week is Jennifer paa hang in theretight we'll be back in just a minute after this provoked media is proud to sponsorproduce and support the futurist podcast provoke FM is a global podcast Networkand content creation company with the world's leading fintech podcast and radio show Breaking Banks and of courseit's spin-off podcast breaking Banks Europe breaking Banks Asia Pacific and the fintech 5 but we also produce theofficial finovate podcast Tech on regg emerge everywhere the podcast of theFinancial Health Network and NextGen Banker for information about all our podcasts go to provoke FM or check outbreaking Banks the world's number one fintech podcast and radioshow hey welcome back to the futurists I'm Rob Turk and this week we're interviewing Jennifer paa who has justcompleted and is about to publish a new book from McMillan called recodingAmerica hey Jen before the break we were talking about the game developer conference and this is probably going tocome as a curveball to the people who are listening to the show because so far the conversation has been about government and bureaucracy and electedofficials and the criteria for the president and so forth and I think people listening to this now may besaying the game developer conference what the heck so where Jennifer and I met was in the late 1990s when she wasleading uh CMP group's game developer conference which is the oldest and most prestigious game Gathering of gamedevelopers in the world um originally it started in Chris Crawford's kitchen whenthe game industry very fledgling game industry uh everyone knew each other in that field they would get together totalk about what the best practices were um over the years it evolved a little bit more into almost like an academicconference where different game developers would sketch out uh their ideas in the form of white papers thatthey would share and then the conference was a place to share those ideas and um I had been following it for years andthen finally uh attended and spoke and joined the board uh when Jennifer was in charge and I found it to be a remarkablea remarkable meeting place because you could have companies that were direct competitors gathering together to shareideas uh and I remember really clearly at one point because I was working for Sony at the time and when I joined theboard the request was hey can we get Sony more involved in this and I remember very clearly the Japanese gamecompanies said you Americans we don't understand how you do this the information you're sharing is what weconsider to be proprietary information we're not in the habit of sharing that with our competitors and our response Iremember very clearly you and L and you were like look the reason the game industry grows and grows and doubles anddoubles and doubles in size is precisely because we share the information openly with our competitors our vision is let'smake better games and it's okay if our competitors make better games too that was a powerful idea well you know thatwas 25 years ago yikes here we are today and games is this dominant Colossus it'sby far the most vital and most uh fast growing game entertainment or mediabusiness in the world and it is really quite extraordinary because today three and a half billion people play videogames uh either on a console or PC mainly on a mobile phone so that's an extraordinary growth uh and largelycomes from the open sharing of information and the willingness of direct competitors to sit down in a neutral environment and share ideasexchange ideas with each other and Hammer through the standardization topics you know where do we need thingsto be standardized and aligned so that we can compete better on top of thatJennifer tell me a little bit about your experience managing that because you weren't necessarily a gamer when you joined that group but you did lead it tosome great growth and you learned a lot along the way tell me a little bit about CMP and the game developer conferenceyeah I think it changed my life and it changed my perspective um uh about how people use creativityand technology so um to see the way thatum particularly back in I guess it was 95 that we started um there were hugeconstraints in the technology then uh you could not do most of the things that you can do today and yet the developersreally felt that creativity is driven by those constraints and I think they really showed that but they weren'tlimited by them they used them as a jumping off point to do something cooler and cooler and cooler and then of courseyou had the technology moving along and every time there you know was a constraint removed by greater processingpower better tools they they they jumped on those too and made something amazing out of them but I think it's a way ofthinking that that feeds into what I said earlier I mean they really believed because they they could and they didevery day that they could create worlds that people could step into and they could create a world they wanted theycould create a world that reflected the society we live in they could create a world that questioned the society welive in and they played with those and they use those to change our culture um not just the culture of games but youknow our culture and they use that to say this is not just an entertainmentmedium this is a meaningful form of art that's that's going to have a big impact and um I just as somebody who had notbeen into Tech until then got so much out of that way of thinking um and uhI'd love I love to see that ethos uh applied anywhere technology canbe put to use especially in government um and I think the other thing that yousaid about the collaboration you would think in government that uh there wouldbe more collaboration it's supposed to it's supposed to be the opposite of proprietary but because you do actuallyget um some of that sort of Japanese um response in government because peopleget siloed and they're not talking across boundaries I mean the key thingthat is beautiful in the games industry in terms of the way that teams work isthat they're cross functional like I thought programmers as being like they sit there and write in code and then youhave but now they're artists too and they're working side by side with artists and sound designers and storydevelopers and they they can't be in silos or they can't make a good game cross functional teams in some waysare like the solution at least the Tactical solution to getting great government services and I just so manyof the pieces of the game industry I think really have stuck with me and and um informed my thinking through the restof my career it's interesting because the game industry is sort of the opposite of bureaucracy in the sense that Gamersgame developers just cut through you know for the folks who are listening it may not have occurred tosome of the folks listening to the show that you know every time you buy a new computer or a new phone or a newPlayStation magically there's a lot of new games that are available for it the day you buy it if you think about that you go wait this phone just came outlike yesterday how are there so many games available for it well that's because game developers often will bepart of a develop program that gives them early access to those devices when there isn't full documentation in otherwords there is no like recipe book on how to build an app for that particular device game developers don't care theyfigure it out they just go for it they're like fine tell me what this thing can do okay let me try it out and I'll figure it out and then they developa game around that it's incredibly creative use of Technology but they're working in a completely unsupported uhenvironment where they're on their own and that's okay with them so in in terms of Technology my view is game developersare by far the most creative technologists that are out there and they're also kind of fearless you know they're willing to take on uh anunprecedented challenge there's plenty of other aspects of Technology where they're fearless and willing to take onproblems of big scale and so forth but the requirements here are uh that it has to be understandable the product has tobe understandable by the average person and this is another place where government can learn uh what game developers are extraordinarily good atis developing an interface that doesn't require you to read a manual you don't have to go through a tutorial you justpick up the phone and or you know console or whatever it is uh and you start and you figure it out as you goand this is AB absolutely brilliant psychology like user psychology I don't think any game developer would describethemselves as a psychologists but that's clearly what they're doing they're thinking through carefully like how can we have software that teaches people howto use it without forcing them to go through some long-winded narrative or read a manual or go through a tutorialor some sort of training process you just pick it up and you start playing and the game kind of teaches you how to go this is a very elegant approach to toteaching people and I would say that mobile games in particular since they now reach billions of people have reallyconditioned or trained a huge number of people like something like one-third of humanity now uh has been conditioned tothese interfaces without having to go through any kind of training or any kind of instruction manual there's a lessonthere for government I would imagine yeah um look think at any government form let's start with taxes you're G tofile or even just I just print pleas let's not start with tax okay let'sstart smaller than that um I just happened to print like my w like the request for W9 or something it's on myprinter right before I came over here it's a form that's got like what 25boxes on it it comes with five pages of instructions yeah why do we need fivepages of instructions to put to answer those many questions because thequestions aren't intuitive yeah so I tell a story in the book this is you know umthere's certainly a lesson there just about the um administrative burden that we put on people um it's I have a statin the book and I'm sorry I don't remember it now but it's the you know millions or billions of hours a yearthat we make people fill out government forms from the federal and local leveluh which increases our um frustration with and erods our support of governmentum but the stakes are really higher than just that administrative burden um I tell story in the book recoding Americaout June 13th um about a really fantastic team at the centers forMedicare and Medicaid services um that really are designing um you know interfaces this isin this case for doctors right doctors have to submit for reimbursement inMedicare and um there's a moment after the ACA after healthcare.gov when uh CMSgets its next big policy that it needs to Implement of course they're going to implement it through technology througha website that people used need to use and it's very clear at that moment thatdoctors already hate the way that they're supposed to fill out these forms they're online forms um they feel likethey don't understand what's being asked of them they don't know when they're asked for a piece of data if it's youknow if what they're giving them is actually what's asked for and if they get it wrong they will not bereimbursed um and then when we do uh value based care it's even worse than that because if they get it wrong theylike their multiplier goes down and um it's it's a terrible experience for themyeah terrible terrible immigration is another example if you've ever helped someone go through the process of immigrating to the US three differentfederal agencies they don't agree different forms and if you get one little thing wrong uh your applicationjust gets stopped and you don't even know which agency stopped it so it can be quite complex to navigate and let'salso add to the mix most of the people who are doing this don't speak English as their first language so there's there's also thelanguage barrier they have to overcome and you things up front like tell me every single time you've been out of thecountry for more than 24 hours in the past five years yeah which they could ask you later when you're further downthe the process but you're you're asked for it in a 20page form to begin the naturalization process that's notdesigned that's just throwing all the requirements in a form yeah they're all hurdles to completion and if you get onepiece wrong uh you get you get dinged for it um okay now people listening to this I know some people listening tothis are going to be saying hang on a second are you guys saying that we should have game developers design theinterface for the government that's a Preposterous idea but but are there lessons that you learned in the gamedevelopment world that you think might apply well I think this team that I was describing that faced um implementingthis this new policy after the ACA um were as creative and bold as gamedevelopers so you know they were looking at these these doctors saying um I hatethe interface we have now but this new policy is going to make you recreate it we're going to have something just as bad but I have to relearn it and theimpact of that was going to be that doctors were going to leave Medicare uh talk about a a PR prediction theprediction was a mass Exodus of doctors from taking Medicare as a you knowthey're just going to say never mind we're not going to take Medicare patients well that's going to deg the quality of care when the intention ofthe law was to improve the quality of care and what this team did is they sort of took charge and they said we're goingto fight to make all of the regulations actually work so for example you knowone of the first things um they they found was that you have to as a doctorsay whether you're part of a group or an individual uh in you know in private practice and there were nine differentdefinitions of what a group was well that is not going to as they saidit doesn't make sense to a person you're you're not it's it's it's that incredibly legalistic overburdened kindof um way of of interfacing and they didn't just say okay well there's nine definitions we design around it theysaid we have to reduce it they didn't get to one they got to two but choiceslike that where they pushed back gave them the ability to design somethingthat did make sense to a person but they really had to sort of take the Reignsand say we're not going to just do what we're told here in the end when they shipped that new uh website that doctorshad to use for this new policy they were so surprised doctorswere so surprised that they called the call center to say something must be wrong this is tooeasy this actually makes sense to me what happened to the medic you know the centers for Medicare Medicaid servicesthat I knew and hate right like it is AB absolutely possible um and I do thinkthat those uh I don't think that that team would think of themselves as having channeled game developers but theydefinitely said it is our job to design something that makes sense to a personand people doctors didn't leave Medicare oh that's great that's super how longdid that take how many months did that take um I think they had basically a two-year window from the passage of thelaw to the roll out of the of the new website but like it's very complicatedbecause in that two-year window you have the the um agency actually doing the regulation that they have to implementoh so they're writing they're actually writing the well okay but but that's actually pretty fast right like you have to have the the those those designersthose technologists those implementers helping write the regulation it can't be this waterfall you have to you have tomix it up and have it be more of a circular collaborative process how amendable are they to that kind of feedback from the designers is that anuphill battle it's an uphill battle but it's GNA change the more we highlight and celebrate people like that team atCMS who did it smart okay that's great now right now we're experiencing this uhI guess I would call it an arms race in the tech world to launch the next new platform which is probably going toinvolve artificial intelligence it seems like that's the big game they're all going to involve artificial intelligenceyeah and Microsoft is leading the fry by partnership with open AI uh they're rolling out a version of gp4 and alltheir products and what's interesting to me about that is that they launched umyou know the Bing version the the that's the search engine that you can talk to basically being with Chad GPT theylaunched that when they knew perfectly well it wasn't ready for prime time it was filled with floss um and you knowsome journalists like Kevin Roose at the New York Times were able to very easily kind of provoke the thing the AI intosome very aberant Behavior including you know like uh personality changes and weird threatening comments and and youknow stuff that frankly entertaining wasn't it it was it was brilliantly fun to read about and and experience but uhif the government were to do that there'd be tremendous amounts of backlash you can just imagine the political nightmare that that wouldcreate it was bad enough when when healthcare.gov flopped uh you know and that was just a tech fail here we havesomething that's like openly hostile and weird what's interesting to me is that Microsoft didn't back down like they didwith Tay just a few years ago in 2018 they pulled that first chatbot because it it went out of control this time theystuck to their guns and they said look we're training an AI it's going to take some time it might not give you accurate answers um but roll with it becauseit'll get better over time and interesting thing first of all users didn't seem to mind they actually kindof like the fact that there's a corep personality at least some do and WallStreet didn't mind Microsoft stock is trading at at 52e highs right now inspite of the fact that this is a clearly a product that isn't really ready for prime time can the government ever closeto that can the government ever take a risk like that and launch software that is like a trial mode and even if theyput guardrails around it and say like here's an experimental interface but we just want to see how people use it is that a possibility or is that am I is itis it just uh is it just a too far a bridge too far for the government I think the answer is yes and increasinglythey are um uh the our friends at the government digital service in the UKpioneered the idea of just you know you throw out a website early and you label an alpha or a beta they callbecause they're British um and say this this is for usto for you to play with and give us feedback on it is not a final product um we have not done that as much in the USbut I I would point for instance to coid test. goov um which is a great way ofwrapping up a bunch of the lessons that I think government's learned over the past 10 years um one of which is umsimply they made choices right and healthcare.gov was incredibly over scoped it was trying to do everyimaginable thing serve every single edge case from day one I haven't seen a technology that does that well ever umyou you have to start small and roll out the way that or at least start I guess with the case of um chat GPT it's morestart flawed and and and increase it um but they they made the choices to notcollect a bunch of information to not try to do anything fancy but to have a very simple Forum online that wouldallow people to request coid tests um but one thing that they did was they youknow they yeah they got did they get something wrong yeah they not necessarily something that they couldhave fixed um there were complaints about the fact that if you lived in a multi-unit building some of those peoplewould type in their address and it would say I'm sorry uh Co tests have already been requested for your building well itturned out that it's simply the the you know the address database that the USPSuses has not been kept up if you had a a a a big house that's been split up intosix units no one's ever told the post office so that still shows as a single unit um our wonderful uh postal deliverypeople just saw that there were now you know different apartment numbers and putthe mail in the right places because they're doing the right thing but the address never the address database nevergot fixed and instead of obsessing on this as a huge failure they said great this is a way to fix our database andthey asked anybody who was having that problem to contact them they verified itand they and actually I think they got something like 70% of their data cleaned in three weeks wow so you turn this youturn this example of like oh a problem into a solution um by uh by taking advantage ofof of errors and taking advantage of the fact that you're actually interacting with people which is what Microsoft's doing like we're not going to be able totest it without actual people like you run out of like testers inside the building in you know in Redmond um Ithink that's true of government too I would say I think government is trying more and more to do this and the waythat we can support them is that when something like coid t.gov Has a Glitchlike that is to report on it and see it as a positive and yell at them all thetime it was fine those people did get their tests and it's unfortunate of course in that particular case and as isoften the case that the people who have the harder time are the ones with least resources we do need to acknowledge thatbut we also need to say government needs to be able to try things and learnthrough actual working with people instead of trying to get it perfect before it's ever launched okay in nowremaining time we like to focus on big big picture future thinking and so I want you to put on your futurist halfand think about government in the in the future I'm G to set this up by saying we faced some formidable challenges uh youknow climate change being one of them that seems to confront us across every aspect of the economy and society asmuch as there's still a group that denies that it's even a factor I think most industry is starting to come aroundto the fact that climate change is a big issue um but in addition to that we've got a a you know a populace that's Rivenby politics we have deep political Rifts uh we have uh increasing technological change including artificial intelligencethat may displace a lot of workers that's a real strong possibility we don't have great social social safety net uh crazy problems unique to theUnited States like the proliferation of guns um and this rash of violence gun violence that are facing us so given allthose kind of major challenges uh and the fact that the US government is dealing with software thatin some cases is 50 years old you know this kind of it's like a system oh my gosh I mean that's really training ifyou think about it uh you know it's like they're dragging these systems from the past into the 21st century and trying toretrofit them to rapidly changing circumstances given all that how optimistic are you that thefederal government is going to be able to rise to the occasion and meet the demands of the 21st century using thetechnology resources that it has I'm optimistic but my caveat is it'sgoing to depend on whether we support them in that or not I mean it as much as everyone wants to say that thegovernment is no longer responsive to our needs and that there has been a sort of disjuncture between what we want outof government and what we get money in politics is a big problem in that it is still essentially accountable to us umso we will need to change how we hold government accountable in order to make that happen um but I do think thatthere's so much will both inside and outside government there's so much talent that wants to go there andthere's so much frustration with the status quo um that we're at a breaking point I I hope that the book umchallenges people um to think about this and I and I mean a lot of different kinds of people there are people in allsorts of roles um whose thinking needs to change and his behavior needs to change for us to get there but we areripe for that moment we're ripe for that change B well Jennifer Pala the authorof recoding America and the founder of code for America America the former deputy chief technology officer of theUnited States of America thank you very much for joining us where can people find you on the web and where can theyfind your book recoding America uh the book you can you can go to recoding amer. us um you can go tojennifer.com uh and the book will be in bookstores and anywhere you find bookson June 13 great it's been a real pleasure having you on the show thank you for coming on the futurists and of courseit's great to reconnect with you after such a long time congrats on all your success thank you for joining us this week this was so fun Robert thank youI'm happy to hear that that's great feedback I want to give a big shout out of thanks to Kevin hson our engineer andto our producer Elizabeth and to the whole crew at provoke media that make the show possible and my co-host BrettKing who unfortunately couldn't join us today I know he was looking forward to it folks if you like the show uh pleaselet other let other people know about it we're very happy with the progress we're making the futurist I'm is now thenumber one future podcast on all platforms which is ex extremely exciting for us let's keep it growing uh helpother people find it by giving us a five star review if you like the show and share it with your friends thankseveryone and uh we'll see you in the future well that's it for the futuriststhis week if you like the show we sure hope you did please subscribe and share it with the people in your community anddon't forget to leave us a five-star review that really helps other people find the show and you can ping usanytime on Instagram and Twitter at futurist podcast for the folks thatyou'd like to see on the show or the questions that you'd like us to ask thanks for joining and as always we'llsee you in the [Music]future

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