A few ways to fix a government

Charity Wayua
Photo: IBM Research

IBM Research Manager Charity Wayua’s “A few ways to fix a government” talk is an inspirational example of how government (and its partners) can — when tasked with goals and measurable results — leverage user and data analytics research to successfully create better results for those it serves.

It also accentuates the importance of empathy during the government transformation process.

In 2014, Kenya’s president tasked Wayua’s team with helping the country achieve a top 50 ranking in the the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. At that time, it was 136 out of 189, however, three years later, Kenya nows ranks 92. For two years in a row, the country has ranked as one of the top three global reformers in the world.

Wayua, who leads IBM’s public sector research team in Kenya, shares insights into their process with an empathic and aspirational tone towards changing the way government works.


“But when we dug deeper, we didn’t find corruption in the classic sense: slimy gangsters lurking in the darkness, waiting to grease the palms of their friends. What we found was an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Our government was sick, because government employees felt helpless. They felt that they were not empowered to drive change. And when people feel stuck and helpless, they stop seeing their role in a bigger system. They start to think the work they do doesn’t matter in driving change. And when that happens, things slow down, fall through the cracks and inefficiencies flourish.”

“Now, guess what we started to see? A coalition of government employees who are excited and ready to drive change, began to grow and form. And together we started to implement changes that impacted the service delivery of our country.”

“It’s easy in this political and global economy to want to give up when we think about transforming government. We can easily resign to the fact or to the thinking that government is too inefficient, too corrupt, unfixable. We might even rarely get some key government responsibilities to other sectors, to Band-Aid solutions, or to just give up and feel helpless. But just because a system is sick doesn’t mean it’s dying. We cannot afford to give up when it comes to the challenges of fixing our governments. In the end, what really makes a government healthy is when healthy cells — that’s you and I — get to the ground, roll up our sleeves, refuse to be helpless and believe that sometimes, all it takes is for us to create some space for healthy cells to grow and thrive.”

The talk was given during TED@IBM, held November 2016, in San Francisco. More background on the project at the IBM Research blog.


About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.


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