Instructor: David Schuff, Section 003

Employing Pre-bureaucratic Structure With A Loose-Tight Governance Model in Local Government to Better Serve Communities

For many, the first word that comes to mind when we think of government is “bureaucracy,” and not just because of its literal place in government. Bureaucracy as we know it has a negative connotation, criticized for its inefficiency and inflexibility to individual situations. Within the context of organizational structure, a bureaucracy clearly defines roles and responsibilities within a hierarchy with respect for merit. In a typical bureaucratic structure, there are many levels of management. We can’t escape the endless hierarchy of government at-large. However, why does local government have to be inherently inefficient as a result of the bureaucratic structure it sits below? Anyone who has tried to work with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office or City Council knows that it is as seemingly impossible to get anything done, as if we were attempting to pass a bill through congress. In society, we fantasize startup culture and its ability to “get stuff done.” Why can’t local government operate like a startup? To best serve its people within the constraints of democracy, local government should employ a pre-bureaucratic structure using loose-tight governance model. A pre-bureaucratic structure is completely centralized, where the leader (in this case the elected official) makes all key decisions through one-on-one conversations. In a loose-tight governance model, there is a balance between control and autonomy where the most importance processes are kept under central control (the elected official), but staff (subordinates, supporting government staff) are given huge amounts of freedom to think outside the box. This approach gives local government officials the freedom and agility to accomplish goals within the context of democracy and the larger structure of government, while empowering government employees to flex their creativity, all working towards serving their communities in a more flexible and efficient way. How else can we use course concepts, such as systems thinking, to improve local government? Can a similar structure and governance model support positive change elsewhere in society?

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