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Book Review: The secret to smart governance

When we talk about a smart city or smart governance, the word ‘smart’ has connotations of the use of the latest technology and innovation. While technology is at the center of all such initiatives, it is the right blend of human focus, public participation and able governance that gives direction to welfare projects.

In Smarter Government: How to govern for results in the age of information, Martin O’ Malley, former Mayor of Baltimore and the 61st Governor of Maryland, points out that the abundance of freely available information has led to seismic changes in methods of modern governance, with accountability, transparency, inclusion and enduring trust as its hallmarks.

O’Malley highlights the need for a collaborative, consultative approach to decision-making as opposed to a stratified top-down approach that tends to become impersonal and gradually insular.

The book turns the conventional ‘leaders are born not made’ approach on its head. Taking away charisma from the edifice of leadership, it focuses on tried-and-tested management wisdom and a performance-based approach to administration.

Listing respect, recognition, inclusion, collaboration and sparking intellectual curiosity in others as key leadership values, O’Malley recalls his experience as a Mayor and later as a Governor. He describes how by incorporating geospatial/ GIS into workflows and making the right strategies, some of the core concerns were tackled.

As the Mayor of Baltimore, he was the driving force behind the adoption of CompStat in the city’s police system. CompStat, which is a GIS platform that provides real-time insights, helped overhaul the policing in Baltimore and reduce crimes in the most violent and drug-infested cities of America.

O’Malley ensured that crime is tracked in real-time, mapped and the information is made publicly available. Weekly meetings were also held so as to take note of the progress made. It is not only in policing reform and crime reduction that combining GIS with effective management and implementation did wonders but also in community healthcare, education, detection of lead, tracking drug overdose and environmental concerns like air and water pollution.

During his mayoral tenure, O’Malley extended CompStat to all aspects of city governance by a new CitiStat approach, which was an ingenious innovation in 1999. Baltimore became the first city in the USA to follow this approach and the second after Chicago to have ‘number 311’ for all city services. For the realization of the 17 SDGs there is a Federated Information System based on GIS that O’Malley terms ‘CitiStat for the world’.

The book suggests that by replacing patronage with collaborative meritocracy, zealously adopting technology, shunning inertia to change and reinventing work processes, a lot can be achieved.

George Washington, the first President of the United States, was also a cartographer. He called public administration as the ‘Science of Governance’. Interestingly, Esri calls GIS the ‘Science of Where’. O’Malley has shown in the book that a seamless convergence of the two is the way forward for efficient governance.