Quote of the week
“When you add up enough kludges, you get a very complicated program…”
— Stephen M. Teles
Stephen Teles from Johns Hopkins University has coined the term “kludgeocracy” to describe the policy (and resulting program) complexity that plagues the American public service.
The term, he explains, comes from computer programming. A kludge is a patch that makes a program compatible with the rest of the system. When you get a lot of kludges, you get a program that “is hard to understand and subject to crashes.”
He argues that we should not worry so much about the size of government, but rather its complexity as programs and policies have grown up topsy-turvy over the years. Think of a “new” policy or program that gets created or set up, often mirroring or adding onto another that rarely gets sunsetted.
Of interest to us all should be the impact of what he calls the “rickety, complicated and self-defeating complexity of public policy across multiple, seemingly unrelated areas of government activities.”
For one thing, it increases the costs of government to citizens. Think of overlapping programs that cut across different departments and require multiple and repetitive forms for citizens to fill out.
It also has an impact on the quality of democracy. For one thing, we know that the quality of service is a factor in citizen trust in government. For another, Teves notes that complexity makes it easier for interests with deep pockets to take advantage of policy or program “opaqueness.”
Technology might provide a tool for integrating existing programs to make them simpler: BizPal is an example. Further to that, if we could move beyond a siloed approach to service and start building approaches based on an individual citizen’s needs and preferences, that could also be a step in the right direction.