Solving Government Innovation Illiteracy

by Patrick Hearn

On June 7th, the Washington Post published an article entitled “Do US lawmakers need tech tutors?”. The article itself focused on recent hearings by the US Congress on Facebook and specifically, the many instances of elected representatives having no real knowledge of the technology world we live in. While it makes interesting journalism, it shows another example where the speed of technology outpaces the ability of most of our “educated people” to keep up. The United States Congress is not alone. One does not have to travel far to meet with lawmakers to realize their ability to keep up is increasingly challenged.

A recent presentation by the Aspen Institute demonstrated that what was considered to be illiteracy in the 20th Century (inability to read and write) is being redefined by the inability to understand and use technology. As an example, if your elected official does not know how to use email or know the very basics of social media, how can we expect them to be effective in dealing with issues such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and so on?

This non-partisan issue runs to the heart of success or failure of our society to meet the public policy challenges that innovation will bring. In some government circles, there is still a belief that policy must come before technology (or acceptance and use of it).

This is a denial of reality. As proof, one only has to go back 5 years to see how many government workers used Smart Phones to transact business while the government was completely tongue tied as to what to do (to which they still have not resolved). Whether policy individuals like it or not, the world goes on without them.

It is often said that Silicon Valley could use more Washington DC and equally Washington DC could use more Silicon Valley. While there are severe divides, the need for forums to create “literacy” is now. From the perspective of innovation strategy, the tip of the spears are squarely in two camps. The Senior Business Leaders of Silicon Valley and the elected officials of Congress. The idea that solving one’s own illiteracy by using staffer’s or educating through product demo’s is simply very 1980’s patriarchal delegation.

CEO’s of the top Technology companies need to step up. Occasional visits to testify simply is not enough. Elected officials need to own up and create a “hard wire” between themselves and these leaders. Our literacy depends on it.

Patrick Hearn