Megan Smith: Scout for solutions to America’s biggest problems

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The key to solving America’s biggest problems may not be so different from angel investing in a new idea or technology, according to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith.

“Instead of getting together and working on a problem and trying to conjure the ideas and solutions … scout for somebody who has a solution already and act — more like an angel investor or venture capitalist,” Smith said Thursday during her opening keynote at the General Services Administration’s DigitalGov Citizen Services Summit.

Most of Smith’s talk addressed the federal government’s struggle to find talented workers who could tackle the colossal challenges it faces. Her solution, she told the audience, was “taking the best of you guys and merging it with the best programmatic things that other people are already doing.”

“How do we think about moving ourselves to be a platform on which the American people and other people build instead of parenting the country?” she asked. She said the government could take a cue from Wikipedia and act as an open platform where the public can grow ideas.

During her talk, Smith referenced the recent deadly interactions between armed police and the public. She said President Barack Obama’s Police Data Initiative, announced earlier this week, shows how the federal government can reach out to smaller communities, like local and county governments, to address national issues.

“We noticed there were several police chiefs who were already moving ahead or had either pilots or scaled solutions,” Smith said. “We brought those chiefs … together with a cross-collaborative community of” technologists.

She added, “It makes it easier to solve the problem if you already have somebody with some proven solutions that you scouted.”

She also emphasized reaching out to disenfranchised groups. For instance, 15 to 20 percent of American don’t have Internet access, she said. Connecting with them could illuminate ideas the federal government may have otherwise missed.

“Thinking in this way of who’s missing from the conversation, who can bring extraordinarily heroic teamwork to solving the problem so that we can basically unlock talent,” Smith said.

She closed her talk with a message of urgency.

“We always do that in war — we get it done,” Smith said. “We always go cross-functional to get everyone in a room when we’re in a war. Don’t feel like you’re at war, but think that way. Think cross-functional: ‘We need to get this done now.'”

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Government IT News, Megan Smith, open government, White House, workforce
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