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The siren song of technology & government
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Google will not improve government per se.

That’s because after hearing all the razzle dazzle we forget that technology is simply the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. It doesn’t solve the real problems of government.

Don’t misunderstand the point. Creating and utilizing an app to speed up the filling of a building permit application which in turn reduces the time it takes to process it is a gain in efficiency. But in essence it is just the continuum of going from quill pen and paper to manual typewriter with carbon paper to electric typewriter married with a copy machine to computer networked with a printer and then to app to computer. Technology gives general government more effective ways to move information around and be more efficient. But for solving what ails government it takes political innovation coupled with courage and not a $500,000 check to Larry Page’s account at Fort Knox.

Manteca Police, as an example, have employed data long before the world started tapping apps to determine the best way to deploy resources. They noted the days and times crimes were being committed and assigned staffing accordingly. It is what a lot of departments do.

Google and other tech companies brag about how they can develop programs to more rapidly process data whether it is to provide data that can make police more effective or provide the foster care system with the faster processing of information to provide better outcomes for youth in their care.

More and quicker data turnaround does not make government better. It makes government more efficient. There is a big difference.

Before Manteca hears the dog and pony show about how teaming up with Google can change the world — besides transferring $500,000 from the pockets of Manteca taxpayers to the Alphabet du jour — they need to understand a tool such as a typewriter or a software package is not how you solve a problem.

How Manteca is approaching the homeless problem illustrates that point. Police traditionally are the tools for enforcement while non-profits are the tools of help.  All Google can do  in such a situation is team someone from their marketing department with an engineer to come up with software that streamlines what once was referred to as “paperwork” but now is called “data” as if rewording the collecting of information will magically lead to better outcomes.

Manteca employed not a software program but a policy change to roll out a community resource officer to work at reducing homeless issues while at the same time serving as a daily go between on the streets  to connect those that are willing to change their lot in life with the resources they need to do so. Google does not have app for that.

The big lie about computers was once framed using the promise it would reduce paperwork.

Now that apps, software, and new hardware platforms have managed to finally cut out a chuck out of paperwork per se they have replaced it with digital data that may be more environmentally friendly but at the end of the day will not produce better government on its own.

The best way to illustrate this is with affordable housing.

Manteca could tell a Google representative about the challenges, economic data, and government requirements. Google will more than likely deliver software that could instantly put all of the pertinent data at the fingertips of the appropriate bureaucrat. That in itself may speed things up but it isn’t a solution.

Let’s say elected leaders adopted several polices. One would have the city work with a non-profit by contracting with them to create a one-stop clearing house for people looking to rent homes, apartments, rooms and share houses and connected them with those willing to do provide the housing. The policy would state a system would need to be in place to check the backgrounds on all parties on both sides and even set up electronic payment systems where the rent to automatically moved between accounts.

The other policy would involve creating an interactive program for bureaucrats, policy makers and the general public — including developers — to bring all the variables in the cost of providing a housing unit together with the expressed goal of reducing the cost of 20 percent of the housing built by 20 percent.

The variables could include growth fees, connection fees, land cost per square foot, the cost of a three-car garage versus a two-car garage versus a one-car garage versus a carport, the cost per square foot of building a basic home, adds on costs, and just about every variable imaginable.

That would allow people to tweak the variables: Smaller lots, smaller foot prints, making things more basic, and even how a car is “housed” can change the cost of a home. At the same time municipal codes would have to be ammended to allow carports and other nuances such as smaller lots and such to allowed cost savings to be implemented.

Nothing new and exciting save for the fact by putting a policy in place that is outside the lines that government is now following means the technology a concern like Google can develop will actually allow better results instead of just massaging data and moving it in the bureaucratic equivalent as the deck chairs on the Titanic.

At the end of the day new policy directions instead of the same old same old and not cutting edge ways of processing data will deliver dividends.