Weigh in on: Shaping the Government Technology Vendor Ecosystem

The Code for America Summit is coming up fast (May 30 — June 1! you should come!) and all of us involved in the planning are thinking about how to reflect on the last year and half since the last Summit. We’re also thinking about how we ask the right questions to provoke the community and spur the next year of progress and change. But we know we can’t do this alone. We’d love a little help from all those who care about government that works better for all Americans (and others like them around the world.)

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to ask a few open-ended questions about the big themes at the Summit and ask you to weigh in. You can do that by writing a response here on Medium or tagging your response #weighinonCfASummit on Twitter or wherever else you hang out. Dan Hon and I, who serve as co-chairs for the program, as well as some of our advisory committee and CfA staff, will be looking at these responses and pulling some of the ideas into the program, so please make sure we can contact you. So, let’s get started with the first of these questions.

How do we shape the vendor ecosystem to better serve the needs of government and the public?

Government needs vendors, especially in technology. Vested interests, resisting the movement for better digital government, have tried to claim that groups like 18F represent an attempt to insource all technology development, but this is blatantly false and impractical. The drive to bring tech savvy into government and to build the tech savvy of those already serving is clearly having great benefit, but the vast majority of the technology and design work will still be done by vendors.

Many vendors are leaning into the new landscape. But despite notable positive change over the last five years, some are fighting to protect the status quo, and the landscape is still dominated by expensive projects with high failure rates, despite evidence that more modular, iterative, user-centered approaches reduce risk and improve outcomes. Often vendors exhibit both behaviors — one part leaning in, and another resisting change. What are the best ways to change the rules of the procurement game to consistently get better outcomes for taxpayers and users? We don’t believe that any single stakeholder or stakeholder group can change things alone, so we’re looking for your best thoughts across the board:

What can/should procurement officers, program staff and leadership in government do? What’s worked so far that others in government should be borrowing? What bold ideas need championing and pioneering?
What can/should government contractors do (both leadership and employees)? Given that they don’t tend to set the rules, what responsibility do they have to be part of changing them? Who’s been showing leadership here and how might others?
What can/should the general public do? Across the United States and around the world, Code for America Brigades have been successfully advocating in their communities for changing procurement practices at the local level, so we know the public must play a role. What does this look like and how do concerned citizens make a difference?

We’ll be having this conversation online in the weeks leading up to the Summit, but we also want you there in person to continue the discussion, so use the discount code WEIGHINON for 10% off your ticket and be “in the room where it happens” in Oakland at the end of May!