Lisa Witter - The More We Humanize Governments, the Better We Will Be at Supporting Them




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Sep 22, 2017
by Oscar Tollast
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Lisa Witter - The More We Humanize Governments, the Better We Will Be at Supporting Them

Co-founder and executive chairman of apolitical discusses role of platform and bringing together different public servants Lisa Witter at the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round Table

At a time when challenges for governments – and the complexities surrounding them – appear to be growing exponentially, one could be forgiven for being wary or overawed when deciding where to begin to solve them. This does not apply to Lisa Witter, co-founder and executive chairman of apolitical. Indeed, it is something she thrives on. Attending the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round Table – In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics? – she told Salzburg Global, “I’m a bit epicurean in that I really try to enjoy everything I do. I think one thing I’m really committed to is enjoying it when it is hard as well, which is something I think I share as a former person working in government. I like the hard stuff.”

At apolitical, Witter and her team look to serve people in government, find ways to solve problems faster and bring people together from all over the world. Apolitical provides an online platform for public servants to find ideas, people, and partners to solve the hardest challenges facing our societies. Witter said, “We are trying to bring a bit of a different sensibility – trying to bring both behavioral science and the best of technology to solving problems. It’s happened in every other sector from TripAdvisor for travel, from Bloomberg terminals for finance, so why shouldn’t that same peer-to-peer beautiful technology platform happen for the public sector?”

Designing apolitical involved asking potential users what they needed and what they thought the platform should look like. Witter said, “Some of the things they asked us [included], ‘Make it beautiful and more delightful.’ ‘Make it simple and really easy to use.’ ‘Make it look and feel like news so that it has a sense of urgency and salience.’ ‘Tell me how long it is going to take to read it.’ ‘Help me connect to the people behind it.’” Witter said apolitical wasn’t in the habit of building silos, and the technology has enabled them to show how policies connect and impact different parts of people’s lives. This, in turn, improves policymaking.

Apolitical first became involved with the Public Sector Strategy Round Table in 2016. It has invited people from around the world to take part in the conversation, all of whom keen to design an agenda to meet the needs of governments. It has used its online platform to share ideas and allow participants to remain connected. Witter said, “We also offer them what we call a concierge service. We support them by answering questions around policy like, ‘I need to find someone who’s an expert in blockchain and government.’ Or one question last year was, ‘What other governments are using cloud computing?’ We were able to connect them to someone else so their governments can consider it.”

In line with this, Witter describes apolitical as “bridge builders with impact” – something which is not just connecting one-to-one, but something which is connecting many to many others. She said, “There are some geopolitical things which I think have made us more prescient between Brexit, Trump, [and] rising populism. People are looking for what’s working – people of all types of political parties. This isn’t just for one party. It’s for everyone.”

Apolitical was recently listed as one of 100 companies considered to have the most potential to influence, change or create new global markets. Witter, however, doesn’t see the platform as disruptive. She said, “We see us as building a platform to help government disrupt itself by being more efficient about finding ideas. You would never in the private sector bring an idea in front of your board or CEO and not have done some due diligence around it. We hope this is both an inspiration platform for people in government but also a due diligence platform that they can find other people and be able to say, ‘Hey, you did that there, we want to do this here. Help me do it.’”

Apolitical has covered more than 800 stories looking at what is happening in different governments. These trends included tech connectivity, intense citizen engagement, big data, policy labs and design thinking, partnership procurement, and behavioral insights. “Partnerships have always been important in government, but we could hear today that as tax dollars go down, and problems get more complex, governments need more and more to partner with the private sector – especially the start-up world,” explained Witter. “Start-ups are often innovating around the edges and that’s where a government is needing partners, which has a whole domino effect on how we do procurement. I definitely brought up this procurement point because I think every country is struggling with procurement.”

Witter said the caliber of people attending the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round Table reflected well on Salzburg Global, but it also reflected well on public service in general. She said, “There’s sort of a feeling that the best and brightest go into business and they don’t go into government but if you were sitting in that room today, you would think the best and brightest went into government, which gives me a sense of relief that we have such smart minds.” Witter said she was hoping to focus much more on the solutions, not just diagnosing the problems.

Every government is at a different place when it comes to innovation. Governments can be better supported, Witter believes, once they are more humanized. She said, “I think the more we humanize government, the better we will be at supporting governments. It’s not the government’s job to solve the problem. We are citizens and we have to be in a collaboration with them to do that.”

Lisa Witter attended the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?”. This meeting was convened by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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