This post is part of Citymart's guest blog series. Citymart has invited partners to share perspectives on problem-solving, innovation, and procurement in cities. This post does not represent an endorsement by either party.
This post is written by Henry De Sio, Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka.
Hon. Henry F. De Sio Jr. is the Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka Innovators For The Public and the author of “Campaign Inc.: How Leadership and Organization Propelled Barack Obama to the White House.” He was the 2008 Chief Operating Officer (COO) in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and he served in the White House as deputy assistant, beginning in 2009. De Sio was awarded a 2017 residency at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center on Youth As Agents of Transformative Change, and he was the first visiting scholar at the University of Tasmania’s Underwood Centre for Educational Attainment. Find Henry on Twitter @henrydesio.
The world has experienced a dramatic shift from repetitive and specialized assembly-line production—powered by the hierarchical, one-leader-at-a-time structures that went with it—to a world where capacities for specialized problem solving and mass communication are accessible to anyone with a smartphone. The capabilities once available to a few—printing presses, distribution channels, broadcasting networks—are now at our fingertips and can be immediately applied to any problem or opportunity. We have, in fact, transitioned to an everyone-a-leader world.
Some think that technology is speeding up our modern world. But there is nothing new in the speed of change. King Henry VIII had that complaint in his sixteenth century world. The true paradigm change lies in the new nature of change. Leaders make change, and in our emerging everyone-a-leader world, the resulting “Changemaker Effect” is causing ongoing, omnidirectional change. Change is no longer linearly faster; rather, it explodes in every direction.
The challenge to our structures and institutions built for the world of repetition is that they can’t keep up with the firehose of change in the new changemaker era in which everyone leads. Sixty-five percent of job types that today's kindergarteners will assume don’t yet exist, even as our education system remains geared towards the old, siloed, hierarchical, repetitive system. Nor can rulemaking keep up with the pace of change in this changemaker era, a function that has been the particular domain of government.
With change moving faster than society can manage, there are profound implications for how we live and work together in our communities and as neighbors. Full citizenship in this century demands that everyone must be prepared to shape the forces of change in a way that benefits our communities. Social responsibility takes on a whole new meaning when virtually everyone can access the tools to make and lead scaled change. Since we all have these tools, shouldn’t we all be responsible to apply them to create social change for the good of all?
This heralds a new imperative to cultivate in everyone the capacity for social response ability. We increasingly see that citizens are acting on our agency in new ways to bring change for good to our communities, alongside the rise of social entrepreneurship over the last forty years as the model for new citizen engagement.
As an example, in the mid-90’s, a North Carolina mom took twelve girls on a run because she was worried about the messaging coming at pre-teen women that defined them into what she called “society’s girl box” before they could define themselves. Today, Molly Barker’s Girls on the Run is a global movement that brings adult mentors into a team with young women to engage them on their emotional health while training for a 5k run. It has helped a generation of women live happily outside the “girl box.”
Similarly, Darrell Hammond believed that the park should not be a destination event for a child, and that play should not be missing from any childhood. He formed KaBoom! in 1996, to enable local actors to join in transforming community spaces into active play places. Today, KaBoom! brings play into the daily lives of kids everywhere, often in unexpected places.
This hastens a question that must drive our thinking as we emerge from millennia of the human pursuit of efficiency in repetition, characterized at its zenith by the advent of the assembly line: what is the role of government in a landscape of explosive change, where problems outpace solutions and rules continually lag behind the pace of change?
Our country has long embraced the precious value of Government of the People, By the People, and For the People, but in a world of dynamic change where citizens can bring their capacities to work for our neighbors, we would do well to add this new dimension: Government with the people.
New innovation must be put to work for the good of all. And in the changemaker world, it is important to note that innovation isn’t about the newest, hottest piece of technology. Innovation is about tearing down walls and bringing two sides together that wouldn’t otherwise connect. When walls fall and unlikely actors come together, innovation happens. That makes innovation a very human thing. This points to radical inclusion as the new premium in our communities.
In our new changemaker world, where more and more of us are causing change, we as neighbors must spot and pursue ever-changing opportunities, and the new ecosystem must encourage open fluid teams of teams. In this new game, everyone must be an initiator; no one can be passive. We can’t leave anyone sidelined, left out, or pushed aside.
Here, city governments are uniquely suited to support this complex, interactive system by enabling combinations of changemakers in the community to come together to solve increasingly complex challenges and open new opportunities. City government has a unique democratic mandate, as the custodian of valuable regulatory and spending powers, and a responsibility to deliver the services that shape our quality of life. City government can uniquely bring all actors together as full partners for good, particularly by ensuring the most vulnerable are equipped as full contributors.
And here we see a new breed of government with the people emerging across the country. Fuse Corps recruits experienced leaders from outside government to work closely with government partners to enable public/private/social sector approaches to solve intractable challenges and respond to resident’s needs. Citymart has similarly brought a collaborative approach to the back rooms of city halls throughout the world, bringing innovative problem-solving and procurement methods to more than one hundred cities.
We have entered a new era of changemaking, requiring fresh approaches to engage residents as first responders and co-creative partners in solving the complex problems that accompany today's complex world. All of the changemakers in the community must be mobilized as a force for good. Social entrepreneurs, the fast-emerging citizen sector, and the rise of changemaker citizenship—where we all bring our capacity to create change for good in any moment—offers a unique opportunity for government to take the lead on government with the people in our new everyone-a-changemaker world.