This article was originally posted here and has been adapted and reformatted for readability.

This is the third in a series expanding on the four ideas central to government experience design: transparency, listening, adaptability, and open source. This site aims to provide concrete ideas for how governments can "design" the experiences that their constituents have when interacting with them.

When one thinks about adaptability, there are actually several possible definitions, whether from life sciences, engineering, or common English. There are a few good definitions:

Adaptation, in biological usage, is the process whereby an organism fits itself to its environment. Roughly, experience guides changes in the organism's structure so that as time passes the organism makes better use of its environment for its own ends.
-- Hidden Order, pg. 91

Many of the works of Paul Hawken - particularly The Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism - handle the idea of adaptation at a higher level within the sphere of business. Hawken is not really providing so much an adaptability definition as he is providing the definition and the blueprint for the evolution of business. His contention, briefly, is that business systems ignore the natural environment and fail to incorporate the practices of nature into its lifecycle such that the net effect of business operations actually improves the physical environment rather than detracting from it (this is an oversimplification here for our purposes).

What does that have to do with government? Government should evolve along with the needs of its constituents; to use Hidden Order's wording, government should make better use of its ability to interact with its environment - its constituents which it represents. Unfortunately, government is slow to do so, and often when doing so, shrouds processes in a sufficient amount of complexity as to make interaction with government painful.

Thus, government must:

All this is not sufficient if government refuses to adapt. Government must adapt - like all business entities and all individuals in today's wired world, it has absolutely no choice in the matter. But it cannot turn a blind eye to the environmental patterns around it. It must, on some level, adapt; the question here is not whether it has a choice to do so, but whether it utilizes the correct methodologies in adapting.

[1] Holland, John H. 1995. Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity. Perseus Books: Cambridge. ISBN 0-201-44230-2. Return to Article