Guest article by Robert Haney, Chief Clerk of the Texas House and President of ASLCS.
Many legislatures operate under parliamentary chamber rules that have changed very little over the last one hundred years or more. As a contradiction to these established practices, citizens are electing younger men and women to serve, and many in the legislative world having never worked in the technology-free zone described in those rules.
Technology: high stakes but worth the investment
Often, many legislative chief clerks and secretaries fall prey to the pressures of embracing antiquity when reviewing procedures and rules. This situation poses a particularly challenging moment in time for those who are charged with recording the legislature’s history and often they are besieged with the “we have always done it this way” culture.
Change is an unsettling prospect for elected officials, especially in an industry where words and actions have very specific meaning and errors carry consequences for their constituents. Technological innovation is a high stakes proposition, but it creates a pathway into a better system for those who fear change because of its unknown consequences.
As President of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries (ASLCS), I have the unique honor of representing some of the best chief administrative officers in the country. Legislative clerks and secretaries are elected, or appointed, non-partisan officers of a legislative body who serve every member of their respective chamber with fairness and honesty.
These officers work to improve the administration, knowledge, and parliamentary procedure of that legislative body. Put simply, ASLCS is an agent of change and they manage various aspects of the legislative machine each day, providing the tools that legislators need to be most effective in representing their constituents.
The modern refresh of the term “evangelist”, coined by the Apple Macintosh development team of the 1980s, lends to “technology evangelism” and “software evangelism”. A technology evangelist is a person who builds a critical mass of support for a given technology, and then establishes it as a technical standard in a market.
This concept is slowly working its way into public institutions, particularly with state legislatures and how they are implementing new technologies and processes for lawmaking and sharing public information.
What have legislatures learned from these modern day private sector pitchmen? Technology evangelism is a powerful agency of growth and public organizations are increasingly embracing these techniques throughout the country to inspire public employees to participate in the creation of exciting new technologies and as a result they will be eager to listen.
Leaders in legislative technology
Established in 1619, the Virginia Legislature has the oldest elected legislative institution in the United States, but they are also known as leaders in legislative technology innovation. The Virginia House of Delegates and Senate have been early adopters of technology and their continued contribution of knowledge to ASLCS has stimulated innovation in state legislatures from coast to coast.
Virginia certainly has embraced a form of evangelism by openly sharing their successes and initiatives and that has redefined parliamentary procedures and legislative process in many states.
The future of innovation in state legislature
Currently, there is no industry-wide technology standard for infrastructure among state legislatures, so the future of innovation is bright and organizations such as ASLCS play an important role in leading the way with defining the requirements for the future of this market. There is space for everyone to become a technology evangelist. But how?
- Approach your project in a way that inspires others in your environment
- Talk with users and listen to their needs, concerns: don’t assume that you know what is best for all users
- Discuss your vision with everyone you encounter in your environment
- Solicit opinions from others during development and offer presentations to various stakeholders in your industry
- Encourage the skeptic’s participation, it neutralizes conflict and creates an investment to improve the product
- Embrace your IT team and understand their processes and constraints
- Make your data dynamic instead of devoting time to just reproducing promulgated forms and documents to create value for your organization
When the same data can shrink and grow while being applied to several applications; users experience consistency, efficiency, and a sense of institutional integrity. An evangelist who simplifies the labors and workload of a community of users will build a network of new technology devotees.
It is also critical that you decide at which point innovation will be restrained. Approaching with restraint will focus the project and will stimulate a cohesive vision. Incrementally targeted, but highly successful innovations will create new followers for your evangelism.
Legislative innovation: a marathon not a sprint
The evangelistic style of project management can be applied to all levels of the public sector, and will inspire those who dream of using their talents for creation. Although governmental bureaucracy is known for safe and consistent rules of development, an evangelistic approach can help reinvigorate and retain those valuable members of your public sector team.
The deliberate process of building successful applications and infrastructure is certainly a marathon, not a race. The legion of believers that are created with your incremental successes will sing your praises, and will support future development with their own inspired form of technology evangelism.
ASLCS and state legislatures around the country are doing their part to lead the charge to define a new way for public institutions to innovate with technology, will you join them?
About Robert Haney
Robert has worked for the Texas legislature since 1992, and currently serves as the Chief Clerk of the Texas House. Robert also currently serves as President of the national organization for clerks and legislative secretaries, known as the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries (ASLCS). ASLCS celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and is the longest existing staff section of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).