What Governments Can Learn From Startups

  • 11 June 2016
  • Disruptor Daily

It’s no secret that government agencies are riddled with red tape protecting their antiquated business practices. They move at a snail’s pace, at best, regarding daily operational activities so when trying to implement what could be described as innovative, they come to a screeching halt.

What if our government is to learn from startups and operated like them? We would most likely see meaningful change more often, maybe a few setback, but overall, would we be in a better place as a nation? Most likely, yes.

Starting from the trenches

Government employees often times get a bad rap from the general public. We often imagine the disgruntled DMV worker smacking their bubblegum and chatting to their cubemate while ignoring the line of people overflowing into the parking lot. While we see this side of the government worker’s story, we don’t consider what may have gotten them to this point.

Public sector leadership has been trained to think inside the box they were given on day one. Follow the rules, don’t deviate. This is a far cry from startup culture where employees are welcome and encouraged to share ideas they believe would make a difference. It isn’t unheard of for government employees to receive negative feedback and perhaps a formal reprimanding for trying to incite change within their departments.

Because the government typically will not listen to their innovative thinkers, they continue on with business, as usual, leaving themselves behind the curve in comparison to private sector companies.


When private sector organizations look to do business with the government, they need to be prepared for an inordinately prolonged sales cycles. This holds particularly true for the technology purchases. Public sector IT shops regularly find themselves at the mercy of not only their IT budgets but also the cycle in which they’re able to make a purchase. Simply implementing new servers or storage, we’re not even talking an infrastructure re-architecture here, can take upwards of a year. To work with this timeline, a company but be willing and able to work for free for that entire time and many do not have the resources to do so.

What makes the situation even less attractive to outside companies is the RFP process (request for proposal). The government does not simply choose a vendor and begin their project. They must release an RFP to the public and receive bids on the work. They make their decisions based on cost but also the proposed solution. The worst part is that a small company may come in with the best plan and lowest price point but if the government decides they’re not ‘stable’ enough (which translates to big enough), they can take their idea and just ask a bigger company to do the implementation according to the smaller companies blueprint. Horrible! Because of this, the government is limiting themselves as to who they’re able to partner with on projects across the board.

Connecting to constituents

Startups harness the power of social media. Connecting with their target markets and engaging them to participate and provide valuable information transforms entrepreneurial companies into something that feels more organic that the public can connect with.

The public sector has a lot of catching up to do in this regard. One primary focus of the government is to create a unified community and to benefit the populations of which they represent. Social media is a stocked fish pond of local constituents. Utilizing platforms such as Twitter or Facebook to educate the community during times of crisis or even just to notify people that there’s a major construction job underway downtown so they’d better find a different route to work would modernize the services they already offer.

With many key institutions, such as social security and education, in need of major revamping, it’s time for the government to strike while the iron is hot and the public is primed for change.

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