Note — Sep 27, 2020

Scream If You Want to Go Faster! Why Government Technology Needs (Much) Better Governance

Seen in → No.143

Source →

Though focused on the UK, the article is valuable for many other countries, cities, and large companies. Rachel Coldicutt explains this new technocracy brought on by Cummings and Johnson, where processes, speed, pseudo-agility, disregard for bureaucracy and laws, and lofty yet very vague goals become the “strategy” and the plan. For all intents and purposes, it’s cargo culting early-stage Silly-con Valley startups, and applying the “move fast and break things” ethos to slower-moving, vital, and structured government programs. It’s the useless internal innovation lab infecting and “leading” the whole company, but for life and death situations at country scale.

To paraphrase the startup meme:
1) MOAR data and faster processes.
2) …
3) Profit! (For our friends, framed as “world leading” to citizens.)

This is a dream of a low-friction, innovation paradise in which numbers tell the truth while bureaucrats (and ethicists) get out of the way. It is less a vision for society, more an obsession with process and power. […]

This is a technocractic revolution, not a political one, driven by a desire to obliterate bureaucracy, centralise power, and increase improvisation. […]

Cummings’ (surprisingly recent) paper on ARPA and PARC sets out a commitment to save the world with “dramatic breakthroughs that advance knowledge and civilisation” — but there is no detail on what these breakthroughs might be, or what they will achieve. Instead, there is a focus on process, and on the right kind of genius, who is — luckily — able to conjure the right kind of number. […]

There is little political regard for either complexity or specificity; goals are there to be measured against, but who sets them and the impact of achieving them is not considered — and the most common criteria for success appears to be “world-leading”, “innovative”, “novel” — or simply “fast”.