2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight: It's Not About Tech – Hack The Bureaucracy

Written by Megan Simpson | February 7, 2014

At SXSW 2014, Richard Boly encourages geeks to hack the government

Do you wonder why the healthcare.gov website was such a hairball? Do you fear that your insight into the workings of the federal government tend to lean toward a caricature of 6th grade civics or Ayn Rand? Do you wonder what motivates government employees, government appointees and elected officials? If you’ve asked yourself one or more of these questions, be sure to attend “It's Not About Tech: Hack The Bureaucracy” at SXSW Interactive this March. Washington D.C. native, Richard Boly will speak about navigating government bureaucracy in order to innovate. Connect with him on Twitter @beaurichly.

SXSW: Can you tell us more about getting the government to adopt new technologies?
Boly: Bringing geeks into government won’t make a difference if they can’t crack the code on bureaucracies (and the politicos and government workers who run them). A hyper focus on technical problem solving by newcomers to the government space will have limited success and may actually do harm, if not matched with empathetic skills and an understanding of the sometimes perverse incentives facing the millions of U.S. career government employees. Don’t lose heart! True innovators embrace constraints - technical, temporal, resource, etc. Working with and within governments brings its own set of constraints. Once you understand them, innovation and technological change becomes easier, if not easy. Identifying and engaging early with the keepers of the status quo works much better than a stealth approach. Bringing your tech ninja skills to government can be great, if you come with eyes wide open. This session will open your eyes.

SXSW: Have you spoken about this before?
Boly: Yes, I have spoken at several Washington DC conference on this subject. The response was favorable, but I believe a discussion format at SXSW will be even more fruitful.

SXSW: Can you share a little bit about Jed Sundwall, who is scheduled to join you for this session?
Boly: Jed has worked for and with city and federal agencies and runs a successful venture, Measured Voice, which was incubated at the Code for America bootcamp.

SXSW: What are the best books or articles you’ve read in relation to your SXSW topic?
Boly: The books which have most influenced my thinking on incentives in government is The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America by Philip K. Howard and Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are by Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner.

SXSW: What is your favorite aspect of SXSW? What have your past experiences at the festival been like?
Boly: Being surprised by the unexpected. This will be my third SXSW Interactive in the last four years. The trick is to squeeze the most out of the big sessions, while meeting as many new people by creating intimate spaces among the hoard. Easier said than done, but worth the effort.

SXSW: Who or what inspires your creativity?
Boly: George Stack. He died years ago, but as a disaffected youth, he was the neighborhood handyman/inventor. Today he would be a maker ninja. There was nothing he couldn't make or fix. As a teen during WWII in the shipyards, he redesigned the wiring of battleships, finding ways to save tons of copper wiring.

Watch this website for more installments of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight. Click here for the complete list of programming for March in Austin. For tips on interesting sessions to attend, visit the new Recommendation page. Register now to attend “It's Not About Tech – Hack The Bureaucracy” and other incredible programming at SXSW Interactive 2014.

Photo or Richard Boly courtesy of personaldemocracy.