About the Author

Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He currently directs Data-Smart City Solutions, a project to highlight local government efforts to use new technologies that connect breakthroughs in the use of big data analytics with community input to reshape the relationship between government and citizen. He previously served as Deputy Mayor of New York and Mayor of Indianapolis, where he earned a reputation as one of the country's leaders in public-private partnerships, competition, and privatization. Stephen was also the chief domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, the Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the district attorney for Marion County, Indiana from 1979 to 1990. He has written The Power of Social Innovation; Governing by Network: the New Shape of the Public Sector; Putting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work through Grassroots Citizenship; The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban AmericaThe Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance; and, most recently, A New City O/S: The Power of Open, Collaborative, and Distributed Governance.

Book Description

In this important book, former mayor and Harvard professor Stephen Goldsmith and NYU professor Neil Kleiman propose a way to dramatically increase the quality of public services. Their new distributed governance model puts citizens front and center, powered by an operating system (O/S) made possible by today’s giant leaps in analytics, social engagement, and big data. Weaving together lessons from dozens of case studies, A New City O/S is more than a book, it is a call to action, a framework for practitioners, and a guide for all who would put citizens front and center.

At the very time when it is easy to lament the state of government and democracy in America, public sector leaders have within their reach a greater opportunity to improve services than at any time in the last 100 years. An unbridgeable gap? Not really.

Based on decades of direct experience and years studying successful models around the world, Goldsmith and Kleiman propose a new operating system (O/S) for cities: one that builds upon the giant leaps that have been made in analytics, social engagement, and big data. This new O/S will power a distributed model of governance that allows public officials to mobilize new resources, surface ideas from unconventional sources, and arm employees with the information they need to become pre-emptive problem solvers. This book combines the lessons from the many innovations taking place in today’s cities to show how a new O/S can create systemic transformation.

For students of government, this book presents a groundbreaking strategy for rethinking the governance of cities, a critical evolution of the bureaucratic authority-based model that was ushered in during the 1920s. And yet, first and foremost, A New City O/S is designed for practitioners. By weaving real-life examples into a coherent model, the authors have created a step-by-step guide for all those who would put the needs of citizens front and center.  Nothing will do more to restore trust in government than solutions that work, and A New City O/S puts those solutions within reach of those public officials charged with their delivery.

At the very time when trust in government continues to drop, public sector leaders have within their reach a greater opportunity to improve services than at any time in the last 100 years. Breathtaking developments in analytics, social engagement, and open data offer significant potential for addressing these challenges. However, few cities have been able to capitalize on these breakthroughs because their current governance model/operating system limits collaboration and stifles innovation. This book proposes a distributed governance approach, powered by a new operating system (O/S) that will allow cities to harness today’s technology for transformative operational reforms. The goal: to radically improve the quality of services provided, more effectively engage citizens in civic life, and mobilize additional resources.


"Few can make a better case for how data and transparency can make government work better for the people who need it most. The authors present a bold rethinking of how government should and can work in the digital era to promote more equitable, vibrant, and resilient communities. Drawing from lessons of America’s most innovative cities—including New Orleans—they offer invaluable advice and case studies for anyone interested in addressing our most vexing urban challenges."—Mitch Landrieu, Mayor, New Orleans

"This great new book isn’t just a plan for a new nuts-and-bolts operating system for cities—it’s a genuinely fresh and innovative way of thinking about governance. Goldsmith and Kleiman develop a theory of “distributed governance” to map how power can be shared—and a strategy for making it work. Anyone interested in making cities work better—and that includes all of us—needs to wrestle with the meaty and lively story they tell."—Donald F. Kettl, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

"Our democracy is only as strong as the trust we place in the institutions that work for us—and technology offers a digital path to new levels of transparency and accountability in government. A New City O/S is a blueprint for helping cities take advantage of innovative tools that can improve service delivery, bring new people into the conversation, and engage everyday residents in the work of building stronger and more inclusive communities."—Eric Garcetti, Mayor, Los Angeles

"Goldsmith and Kleiman illuminate an effort critical to the future of our country: a major reframing of public sector operations to make them work for, and with, the American public. The case studies they chronicle here, the lessons they derive, and their guidance for the future will help any change agent get us to the new operating system our local governments so desperately need."—Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director, Code for America

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Steven Goldsmith: 

Hello, I'm Steve Goldsmith, professor of Government and Director of the Innovations in American Government program at Harvard's Kennedy School and with Neil Kleiman, a professor at NYU, we've written a book, A New City O/S, published by Brookings.

So having worked at the Harvard Kennedy School with mayors and chiefs of staff and chief data officers, we see really committed public servants who want to dramatically improve the quality of life in their communities. We also see technological tools that can allow them to do that, but in the middle are these restrictions, old operating systems, which resist new modern deployments. And what we're hoping is that mayors and their public employees and civic groups and state legislators and civic hackers will look at this book and see, look, here's a different way that we can produce public services.

Well, the definition of professionalism in most places across the U.S., in really highly developed civil service systems, is very well-developed professional skills. Somebody rides up in a narrow vertical and learns professionally how to produce services. But that's not the way people live. They don't live in vertical silos. They live in a neighborhood, right? They live horizontally. And so in our distributed world, think Facebook, think any one of the platforms we use, knowledge now is socially put together, right? Systems are distributed and they're not hierarchal. Data is not controlled in one place, and the definition of professionalism is how you listen and how you learn and how you collaborate, not how you order.

So what we're thinking about in terms of this distributed form of government is how does government take advantage of distributed learning? How does it put it together for more effective solutions? How does it listen to citizens who speak with each other and with government in new ways?

Well, so public sector management is top-down. You know, the old progressive form of government that has been celebrated for so long is based on a tight set of rules that tells public employees how to follow definite set of activities, right? It's very command and control, very hierarchal. But there's so much knowledge available today that's distributed. What turns it on its head by saying, look, what we need to do is take our professional skills, listen to communities better, collaborate in different ways, use digital systems and produce a higher level of quality of services. We need to identify outliers. We need to predict problems. There's all sorts of ways that we can redesign government around the user rather than around the professional agency.

Let's imagine this is my iPhone and this is an app in my iPhone. If I don't like the app in my iPhone, I don't use that app, right? I'll get some other app or I won't use it at all, right?

So now let's think about government. If government says, if I want to communicate with my citizens, how should I communicate with them? Well, we're suggesting that the user experience of the citizen ought to be the orientation of the government regardless of whether I'm using my Android or iPhone, regardless whether I'm walking in City Hall or calling in City Hall, regardless whether I'm using an SMS to text in my experiences. All of that should be designed around the user.

Today, the way government operates, it's designed around the agency, and the definition of effectiveness is effectiveness of that agency. It's not effectiveness in terms of how we reduce the time and the transaction cost, and the difficulty of communicating and participating with governments. So the new UX says, let's put the citizen at the center and design around him or her.

In the new O/S for cities, in essence we're saying, look, organize government around the user, point one. Point two, make your public employees smarter. Send them decision support information in the field in real time that they can move from producing activities to solving problems. Measure how long it takes you actually to produce a solution. Why should we make folks who want to open a restaurant or a small business, spend half a year going from silo to silo in City Hall?

A digital distributed form of government arranged around the user with a consideration of that user's time can increase the responsiveness of government, in turn increase the trust in government, allowing your local and state governments to produce even more aspirational attainment for their communities.