Preparing Governors for the Next Tech Disruption

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaks with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead during the National Governor Association winter meeting on Feb. 24 in Washington, D.C.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaks with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead during the National Governor Association winter meeting on Feb. 24 in Washington, D.C. Jose Luis Magana / AP Photo


Connecting state and local government leaders

The National Governors Association seizes an opportunity to prepare its members to for crucial technology policy decisions.

Tim Blute, director of the National Governors Association’s new “NGA Future” initiative, has a difficult mission ahead of him: preparing governors and their staff for the next wave of technological innovation—and the policy and economic implications that come with it.

There are real-world impacts if elected leadership fails to grasp the implications of new technologies. U.S. senators are pummeled in the press regularly for a perceived lack of practical understanding of technology issues.

Former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, calling the internet a “series of tubes” is still a punchline more than a decade later, with its own Wikipedia page. Last month’s Senate hearing with Facebook CIO Mark Zuckerberg over foreign election interference led to headlines ranging from “Senate fails its Zuckerberg test” to “'Mr. Zuckerberg' explains the internet to elderly senators” and, of course, countless memes.

This is not necessarily an age issue—though it is worth noting that governors have the same average age as U.S. senators—but an issue of unfamiliarity with complex technology systems. Governors are likely to deal with the impact on citizens and services of disruptive technologies well before Congress as with, for instance, Uber and other car sharing services.

For that reason, NGA Future hopes to equip its members with the knowledge necessary to craft policies around the technologies most likely to create disruption in the next three to five years.

The project began with a roundtable at the association’s winter meeting in February. After feedback from governors—as well as leaders in the public and private sector, academia, and philanthropy—a series of workshops was scheduled.

NGA Future will explore four key technology areas: financial technology, including blockchain; additive manufacturing, which includes the 3D printing of everything from plastic toys to buildings and cell tissue; the internet of things; and the impact of artificial intelligence and automation.

For more about NGA Future and the issues it plans to explore, check out Route Fifty’s full video interview with Blute at last month’s National Association of State Chief Information Officers midyear meeting. Below the video are key takeaways from our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

On the Origin of NGA Future

“I think over the last couple years, you've seen an increasing attention by governors on innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology as a driver for their economies.

[NGA Future] is really an effort to meet the governors where, increasingly, a lot of them are.

Technologies are changing how their economy grows, it is changing how they do business, and it is really a recognition they need to be on top of these new trends because they're changing and we hear it all the time, right? This exponential disruption.

This is a way to governors a little insight into that so they can better prepare.”

On Recognizing Technology Has Positive and Negative Effects

“[NGA Future] is also a recognition that technology, and technological innovation—these changes are going to leave some people behind.

So it's helping governors understand how can they grow their economy but also how can they prepare their citizens, who may need new jobs or new training or need to talk to their children about what are the jobs of the future.

It is recognizing both sides to that coin. But I think that you are spot on, that innovation is sort of everybody's positive word. It is something everybody can sort of rally around.”

On Where They Are Beginning The Conversation

“One, define what these technological trends are. I think too often the conversation just begins with an assumption that everybody knows what bitcoin is, or everybody knows what automation actually means. So let's actually define it, get everybody on the same page and figure out concrete ways it’s going to change their state.

Then identify the policy levers that are available to them, as state officials, to prepare their state and to begin to get ready for these changes.”

On One Area That Particularly Interests Blute

“I am most interested in how automation, how robotics are going to change work.

I really came at this with a fundamental belief that the way in which we go to work every day is changing. It is changing very quickly, and that's going to mean a lot of widespread disruption.

You think about the impact that your job has on you every day. As that changes, it impacts how you live your life, how you earn your money, where you go every day, and those have a lot of downstream and second-order effects. So that's the one that I'm really, really motivated by.”

Mitch Herckis is Senior Director of Programs at Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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