Michigan’s Good Government Initiative – You Get What You Measure

Thanks to Katrina Brundage for the motivation to scratch one of my most persistent itches. She pointed out that the State of Michigan has had a Good Government Initiative (complete with email address: goodgovernment@michigan.gov). I love to be intrigued and this was right up my alley.

I shouldn’t have been disappointed to learn that the idea of what makes government “good” has nothing to do with what they accomplish. Instead, “good government” is all about how you work, but makes no mention of what you produce. There is no mention of who you provide service to, no measure of who benefits or what problems are solved.

And there is no measure of how effective the government — or the governors — are in reaching Michigan’s stated purpose. “Government is instituted for their [the people’s] equal benefit, security and protection” says the first section of the first Article of Michigan’s Constitution.

In Michigan’s version of “good”, the focus is on how you perform — and the focus is on the line employees of the various government agencies, but not on the leadership team (the governor, the legislators) who give those agencies their focus, their direction, their purpose — or their funding. “Good government” in Michigan is measured by how these line employees perform, on their efficiency, their effectiveness, and — yes, really — their attitude toward the leadership team. In her blog, Ms. Brundage writes this telling piece:

“Rather than focusing on trying to engage these disengaged employees that are actively critical of government, the Lt. Governor has worked to lead culture change by engaging, equipping, and empowering loyal and willing individuals within state government.”

The words that jump out here are “actively critical of government” and “loyal and willing individuals”. If the goal of the program is continuous improvement, then disengaging (read “ignoring”) those who are critical of what you are doing and empowering (read “rewarding”) those who are loyal is the wrong way to get to your goal. It suggests that the leadership only wants to improve some things, but not every thing — and certainly not the leadership.

In the end, it’s apparent that Michigan’s “good government initiative” has little to do with making government good. It has to do with being efficient, saving money, cutting time — all of the things that any business would do to improve their profit picture. But it has nothing to do with increasing the number of people who are helped, or making that help more available or more accessible. It has nothing to do with providing better government — good public schools with quality teachers and well-equipped classrooms, reliable and affordable and available public transportation, smooth and clear roads, open and free elections, equal representation regardless of how much money you contribute, well-trained public safety officers and emergency service professionals, well-crafted legislation drawn up in the open with public input.

Michigan’s “good government initiative” — it isn’t about government at all.

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