Addressing these trends demands megacommunity engagement on a regional scale. In any region, some counties and cities are more affluent and developed than others. Moral suasion alone will not convince jurisdictions that have been bypassed in earlier waves of development (but whose open land has become a rarer commodity) from swearing off future development. Without a megacommunity approach, regional optimization will give way to local self-interest.
The public sector is well positioned to initiate and maintain megacommunity-style solutions. It is easy to envision a regional chamber of commerce, board of trade, or nongovernmental organization sponsoring a conference or a study addressing one or more aspects of a region’s future. Far more difficult to see is an organization other than government putting in place a sustaining engagement model in which businesses, government, and civil society come together regularly to work on both the strategy and tactics central to a region’s future. Government alone has the broadest reach across society, and only government can provide both the information necessary and the ability to align incentives that will make the ensuing dialogue meaningful and actionable.
The Future of Creative Government
The three strategies for public-sector innovation — incentives, information, and engagement — have potential applicability well beyond the approaches described here. For example, a desperate need exists for resolving the effects of traffic congestion on the environment and quality of life in major metropolitan areas. With government incentives and support, such innovations as local “satellite” business offices (which cut commuting times by allowing people to work closer to their homes) are more viable; without government leadership, some of the most significant endeavors, such as improving urban public education (which would draw more families back into cities), are impossible.
Governments would also do well to review the criteria and selection processes they use to fund capital improvements at public and military facilities; in many cases, such processes work at cross-purposes with other efforts within the same government agencies to limit environmental harm.
For their part, business leaders can start to recognize and encourage the potential role of governments as creative partners. Businesses can help governments understand not only what outcomes companies desire, but how current government actions affect their business models. Leading companies have embraced sustainability and are now developing insights that may be helpful to government decision making. And when the three strategies for public-sector innovation described here are pursued, government initiatives, combined with efforts from the private sector and civil society, can catalyze the kind of sea change in public consciousness that is needed to find, and implement, sustainable solutions.
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Gary M. Rahl is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton based in McLean, Va. He leads sustainability initiatives in the public and private sectors.
Also contributing to this article were Booz Allen Hamilton Senior Associate Scott Thigpen and Consulting Editor Paula Margulies.