Imagining an On-Demand Government in an Uber World


The public sector changes slowly. We all know this. But the glacial pace of government is even more evident in its inability to adapt to the new on-demand world. Need a ride? Connect to Uber. Need a poem converted to a song but you have no musical ability? Book it through Fiverr. Need someone to proofread your latest essay? Access a world of editors immediately through Freelancer.

But need a government contract? Wait in line several months for a flawed proposal process to unfold.

The avalanche of change in the private sector has led to the rise of what some refer to as the “gig economy.” This new era is characterized by an individual’s ability to become her own CEO by putting on an independent contractor hat at any time, even if only for a few hours. With the market forces adapting to the immediacy of the “new normal,” it is not too far-fetched to imagine a public sector workforce that’s organized to capitalize on people’s gig orientation.

Think of the recent catastrophe on the Animas River in Colorado. Millions of gallons of contaminated material leaks from a mine. What if an EPA worker, at the push of a button on her smartphone, could indicate a need for immediate environmental support? Within minutes, nearby contractors, who are vetted and rated, respond to the call and arrive to assist with impact assessment and cleanup efforts.

Imagine a city with a major demonstration leading to civil unrest and outbreaks of violence. A police chief with a limited full-time force digitally transmits a need for additional support. A pre-vetted and licensed police force of independent contractors springs into action to join the patrol for a few hours.

In a nearby office, several division directors in a federal department are squabbling over the details of a strategic plan. Within minutes, the COO has acquired the services of a skilled and vetted facilitator to help bring order to the strategic planning effort.

These examples are illustrative but in no way exhaustive. The on-demand model is one that can fulfill any number of business needs, and this fulfillment aligns with the objectives of both private and public sector workforces. The keys are forward planning and intergovernmental collaboration. By defining key areas of need ahead of time and sharing the burden of infrastructure and vetting across government entities, public sector organizations can reap the benefits of the emerging, agile era of on-demand resourcing.

Below are five principles that public sector organizations can employ when planning for and integrating an on-demand contracting capability into their tool belt.

1. Define temporary needs. Identify the universe of potential skill sets and knowledge that the organization may benefit from tapping. Collaborate with peer organizations to establish a universe of needs. Focus on needs that are temporary, such as surge support, rather than permanent positions (i.e, human resources director).

2. Determine evaluation, credentialing, and vetting criteria. Develop a list of “must haves” that, once proven by the contractor, allow a person to qualify to provide support in a given area (i.e., an online Excel mastery exam). An individual could qualify in multiple areas.

3. Design a 360-degree feedback system. A multidirectional rating system allows both contractors and government purveyors to identify the best potential partners.

4. Establish rules and systems to prevent favoritism and cronyism. Establish specific channels through which all communication regarding micro-contracts must occur. Violation of the rules would lead to inability to participate in the program.

5. Be innovative. On-demand contracting opens up new doors to how business is accomplished. Tapping outside-the-box solutions also provides an avenue for discovering new outside-the-box problems that need to be solved.

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Paul Eder is a Lead Consultant at The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. (COE) with over 13 years’ experience designing and implementing organizational development and strategic human capital solutions for a variety of government and private sector clients. Dr. Eder provides thought leadership to organizations at the innovative forefront of the organizational effectiveness field. He has presented at top tier conferences and published peer-reviewed articles and papers on strategic planning, employee performance and creativity. He promotes this thought leadership by writing articles for and other online publications. Paul holds a Ph.D in Social Psychology from the University of Delaware and a Bachelor's in Psychology from Loyola College in Maryland. He is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP).