This story is part of a series of design fiction that explores what a new era of public service could look like in 2025, five years after COVID-19. Learn more here.
Alberto lives to give back. In elementary school, his favorite activity was show and tell: Alberto loved sharing what he’d learned with his classmates. At the end of fifth grade, his teacher Mr. Wilcox had said, “When you grow up, you should be the teacher.” And for many years, that was his dream. But in college, Alberto discovered a profession that would let him help even more people and on a grander scale: public service.
His college friends had gone into the corporate world, and they cautioned him about the public sector. “Don’t do it,” they said. “It’s a dead-end job.” But Alberto was stubborn, and he pushed ahead, taking a community development position in his hometown of Austin, Texas. Four years into his career, he understood why his friends had been concerned. There was little movement within the department, and little advancement. And while the obstacles were many, the opportunities to learn were few.
Then COVID-19 struck. The days became so challenging; Alberto could barely get through them, but he knew in his heart he had to keep trying. Then something interesting started to happen. Alberto noticed that the problems he was trying to solve for the communities he served were multi-faceted and involved many systems working in concert. He couldn’t do his job without talking to his colleagues at the public health and transportation agencies, sharing data and best practices. Soon he was having these conversations on a daily basis, and together with his colleagues across agencies, he was evolving new approaches. Alberto learned more in six months than he had in four years.
Once the virus was contained, the state of Texas recognized that the challenges of its residents were too complex for business as usual. Seeking to cultivate an ecosystem of interdisciplinary approaches and constant learning, Texas passed The Change Act. It’s a set of policies that incentivizes public servants to change careers every five years. Now, it’s not only possible to jump across agencies to learn more, it’s expected. It’s part of the education of a public servant. There are, of course, still some roles that require professional degrees, but staying in those roles has become the exception, not the rule.
Soon after The Change Act was passed, Alberto saw mobility, dynamism, and energy. At any given time, his peers were hitting their five-year milestone, either shifting into or out of the department. This was always a moment of knowledge transfer and upskilling. Alberto also noticed new kinds of people coming into public service: engineers, educators, healthcare workers. Institutional memory was high, but so was institutional innovation. That’s why in Texas, college graduates prefer working in the public sector over the corporate world by a factor of three to one.
This month, Alberto hits his milestone. He’s moving on to the Department of Human Possibility — and he’ll be bringing along his professional network and a hunger for collaboration. He’ll be the department’s newest change agent.
How might we incentivize mobility and upskilling within government?
Where to go from here
There are numerous ways to take this profoundly unusual year as a chance to permanently transform. Governments at national and local levels that embrace this “reset opportunity” will emerge stronger. It’s time to listen to people, learn what has changed in their lives, and find new ways to address their needs.
These six provocations are more than hunches; we believe they will be critical territories in the new landscape of leadership. Read more about the visions behind these questions:
2. How might we incentivize mobility and upskilling within government?