Opening Government: Overcoming the barriers to knowing what we know

(originally published at


“If HP only knew what HP knows, we could be 3 times as profitable.”

Lew Platt, former CEO of Hewlett Packard
on the challenge of capturing and using all the useful knowledge
dispersed in the minds of many individuals in an organization (ref).

Public policy is complex; this observation has become a throw-away truism, almost to the point of parody, of the modern governance era. Part defensive posture (“we can’t solve that: it’s too complex”), part analytical framing, complex public policy challenges are more than just “really complicated” problems though. They exhibit conditions such as partial order, profound uncertainty, often rapid emergence that challenges our mental models and predictive capacity, are open and non-linear, have whole-system implications and have probabilistic rather than deterministic outcomes that are subject to interpretation.

But if knowing the nature of the problem is half the battle, what can we do about it? Continue reading