It isn’t easy to innovate in governance. Bureaucracy can be hidebound. The private sector’s lean startup model, with its “fail forward” ethos, is antithetical to government as we know it. Electorates are not tolerant of failure, and voter confidence in government is at an all time low. In a 2013, more people listed government dysfunction as the problem they believe is the country’s most serious challenge. Given these headwinds, it’s not surprising that many officials resist the experimentation and risk necessary to innovate.
However, partly in response to this same citizen disaffection, a new wave of participatory policy reforms is springing up across the United States. This includes New Urban Mechanics in Boston and Philadelphia piloting experiments to engage citizens with City Hall to Participatory Budgeting, a process to enlist citizens as decision makers on public budgets. While the civic experiments differ in form, they reflect common principles in action that offer lessons for policy makers considering their own civic innovations.