Recruiting exceptional technologists into government lacks this kind of glamour. Though the City of Boston contracted Hackathon winners, they did not promote them as leaders. Meanwhile members of the Guardians of Peace* can boast sophisticated soft power, agitprop, and will to power. Outsider activist hackers excite the imagination much more than contracted Hackathon winners.
I can't think of a worthwhile ethical comparison between hacktivists and civic innovators. The member of one group could be the member of the other, at the same time even. They are orthogonal jurisdictions. A government is civil, deliberate and democratic. A group of hacktivists are disruptive, expedient, and restitutionary.
The motivational trump card of an activist hack is urgency: doing something now, against injustice happening now, with people who are capable now. Though a civic hacker is safe from the penalties of breaking the law, a talented, judicious hacktivist is at little risk too. The hacktivist conceit is circumventing, with impunity, indefensible laws that restrict them from thwarting the patently unjust circumstances the law leaves unchecked. The Sony hack, demonstrated this conceit like a dagger piercing the shroud surrounding the status quo.
I remembered this in my anticipation of the second season premiere of Sam Esmail's Mr. Robot on USA Network. The first season pushed the hacktivist conceit like a sword into the body of the status quo and all the way to the hilt. The first season was about the pursuit of a "Complete Reboot" hack that flips fears of a personal financial data hack leaving the victim poorer. The hacktivist protagonists attempt to make all personal financial data disappear, which ironically leaves victims richer since most financial data is debt.
How might governments attract the cohort of talented innovators who could seize the day by just making dysfunctional systems disappear? The fact that by-and-large they have not is a clue. Assuming they are able to capable, either it is just a matter of time or they are choosing not to because of the perceived consequences. Mr. Robot centers on a hacktivist leader's unraveling on account of the question that forebodes his victory, "Did the world get any better, or did it just fall apart?" Iconoclasts and anarchists aside, most people who could pull off a Complete Reboot type hack would do so only if it led to an opportunity to build a less dysfunctional system from ground zero. Governments might siphon most prospective hacktivists simply by offering a bona fide chance to get to work on the replacement system before the status quo's ruin. The motivational trump card of civic innovation can be virtue.
Since replacing the past doesn't happen all at once, plus success and hiding progress go together in the early stages, prospective civic innovators must rely on cues. For instance they might look at a leader's track record for:
• undertaking hyper-relevant digital transformation projects
• rejecting futurism for its own sake
• fighting for the best experience over legacy issues
• refining big ideas on a short timeline during execution
• embracing the leadership of technologists
My operating premise is that embracing the leadership of technologists is a priori of the rest. It’s a signal of things to come. It's the engine for urgency. It's why I could pioneer reform in the music industry. It's why New York blossomed as a destination for civic innovators under Mayor Bloomberg. It's the difference between digitizing government and digital government. Seeing one of their own making the leadership decisions is inspiration for frustrated builders to oppose iconoclasts and start building again.
So for the past five months, I've been working with my civil service partners and digital coalition colleagues to create such a place. We are reimagining a government Office as a place for product innovation. This isn't a cautious innovation sandbox; this is replacing bureaucratic fulfillment of a public service with an incubation of new products that embody the public good. It will be a place technologists can thrive as leaders. Are you curious about Mr. Robot? Are you unsettled by the shortsightedness of a Complete Reboot hack? Do you yearn for products that define a future-ready society? If so, maybe you are a civic innovator at heart.
* The group that took credit for the hack
(originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/do-we-need-more-hacktivists-civic-innovators-patrick-koppula?articleId=6159867067060207616)