Gov 2.0 stocking stuffer: ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon …’

If We Can Put a Man on The Moon ... Getting Big Things Done in Government

If Gov 2.0 is the public servant Sisyphean task du jour, then If We Can Put a Man on the Moon … Getting Big Things Done in Government is the stocking stuffer of the season.

Authors William D. Eggers and John O’Leary wrote ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon …’ to answer one question:

What happens if you look at large government undertakings from a process perspective?

With ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon …,’ Eggers and O’Leary offer a neatly packaged game plan for confronting big idea execution ‘traps,’ complete with examples of large-scale change successes. Heroes range from Transportation Safety Administration’s Idea Factory blog and ‘Evolution of Security’ Web site to bureaucrats like NASA’s James Webb and the lesser-known Dwight Ink.

Not since Reinventing Government has there been a book (I’ve read) that addresses reform with real-world solutions and inspiration that large-scale government change, local or federal, can actually occur.

If We Can Put a Man on the Moon … restores that hope.

More ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon … ‘

Gov 2.0 Radio interview with authors:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Video interview:

Favorite excerpts


There are too many big challenges out there. Finding and nurturing good policy ideas should no longer be considered the job of the public sector alone.

If our government is to reclaim a reputation for competency … We will need a political culture that values and honors the capable management of public undertakings; a political culture that values the public servants who tell the unpleasant truths to the political masters. We don’t have enough of either today.

Citizen feedback and collaboration:

Through the ‘Evolution of Security’ Web site, airline passengers have an opportunity to dialogue with bloggers from TSA — not PR flacks but real people with full-time jobs on the front lines of airport security; people like TSA blogger Jay, a former high school football coach who is now a federal security directory. “The blog is intended to bridge the gap with people who have legitimate issues with the TSA,” Jay blogged. “There’s no doubt some people have had a bad experience with the TSA. Our job is to fix what’s broken, but hey let’s face it — security is a tough business. There’s an old saying, ‘Security is a great thing … until it applies to me.'” The Evolution of Security site offers TSA employees a chance to educate the public, to explain why taking your shoes off may not be as silly as it seems.

Internal feedback and collaboration:

TSA has forty-three thousand workers on the front line. They have ideas about how both they and TSA headquarters could do their work better. TSA created an internal Web site called “Idea Factory” that uses a wiki platform to allow TSA management to tap into that pool of wisdom. The Idea Factory has become kind of a supersized brainstorming session where TSA’s leadership can put out questions to the organization: “How can we improve morale?” “How can we improve the check-in process?” “What should our new uniforms look like?” The Idea Factory allows leadership to get unfiltered, unsolicited ideas from the front lines. No doubt some of these ideas make TSA management a tad uncomfortable. It’s worth it. Six months after launching the Idea Factory, more than twenty TSA policies had been changed in response to employee suggestions.

Find critics:

Another lesson from California is that lawmakers involved in transformational change need to actively seek out critics. If none can be found, dissenting voices need to be created for the very purpose of exposing possible design flaws.

Understand culture:

A mismatch between culture and mission can undermine transformational efforts. Similar mismatches can occur, for example, when social workers and others in the helping professions are asked to be ‘enforcers,’ in essence turning in their clients. Think twice before asking an organization to work outside its cultural zone.


The journey to success is a single process with a single result. It involves a series of phases, often performed by different people, but it is a single process. Initiatives in the public sector are particularly vulnerable to being undermined by a failure to see the whole process. Great results can be delivered only if the pieces work together: designers and implementers, politicians and bureaucrats, government agencies and private contractors.

On Democracy:

In a democracy, each of us contributes to creating our future. The media’s focus on those at the top of the power pyramid often makes it seem as though leadership is the province of the chosen few. No doubt those in positions of power can make a big impact. But so can you.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. All of the participants in democratic government–elected leaders, those who work in the public sector, and citizens–play a role in creating the future. The goal of this book is to advance the art and practice of public sector management, particularly on large undertakings. Our hope is that no matter who your are, there will be something of benefit to you as together we engage in the democratic process.

Luke Fretwell is the founder of the civic innovation and technology blog GovFresh. He advises civic leaders and businesses on how to best leverage digital strategies to create more effective, collaborative governments. He has written about government IT for Federal Computer Week, NextGov, FedScoop, StateScoop and FierceGovernment, and has been referenced by the Washington Post and Fast Company on civic technology issues. He has worked with a number of government-focused companies and media, including CivicActions, NuCivic and FedScoop and has been involved in broad-focused community efforts, such as GovPress, CityCamp, CivicMeet, Agile Government Leadership and Open Source for America. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Thank you

Every day I get to engage with entrepreneurs, public sector innovators and journalists on re-imagining and re-energizing how government works, what it means to be “civic,” and this year has been an incredible one for many friends and colleagues.

Funding government technology

I’m always inspired talking and working with entrepreneurs trying to solve big civic problems, especially those who realize much of the challenge lies within modernizing and empowering internal government operations, so it was great to finally meet with Govtech Fund Founder and Managing Partner Ron Bouganim this week.

Government and the ’empowered product owner’

The 18F Delivery team released a “Partnership Playbook” that aims to help federal agencies understand what to expect when working with 18F, and the gem within is play number two, “We work with an empowered product owner.”

Benchmarking for better government

Citizens simply glaze over when they are confronted by a sea of large numbers with many zeros. These figures need to be relatable to the person reading the data. Otherwise, open data is just more data that dies on the vine.

Why local government must go digital

The Welsh Government released a report of its findings on how local government in Wales can better leverage digital technologies and realize significant savings while still providing quality, scalable citizen services.

‘No ugly, old IT.’

“No ugly, old IT” jumped out at me when I first reviewed DataSF’s strategic plan, “Data in San Francisco: Meeting supply, spurring demand,” and it still sticks, mostly because someone inside government was so bold as to make this a priority and openly communicate it and also because this should be a mantra for everyone building civic technology.

Why is a big deal

Enabling internal government tech shops to quickly stand up applications in a secure testing environment is fundamental to quick prototyping, and 18F’s new is a major step in realizing ultimate IT flexibility.


Follow GovFresh