You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Making Massachusetts More Like Estonia?

Let’s try to be better than Canada with our data…

Given a mandate from the Governor of Massachusetts with a budget of $1 billion, I have a plan to make the state of Massachusetts a platform. At least, I have some general principles and guidelines. Of course, in the real world, giving me, a 22 year old, $1 billion and complete freedom to transform a state’s government may be ill-advised…But let’s dive right in!

What Does a Platform Government Look Like

By definition, the platform for the State of Massachusetts would just create standards for others to build off of. To paraphrase Tim O’Reilly, this approach assumes that people provide value to the government rather than the dogma that people pay taxes and expect services from the government. My platform government would include:

  1. A User-Focused website/experience
    • The entire purpose of making government a platform is to receive input and innovation from people outside of government itself. This requires government to tailor its services to users to maximize their participation. Websites and services should be easy to access, devoid of excessive questions, and empathetic to the user experience. This will allow people to maximize the platform and truly build off of it.
  2. Open Data Available to All
    • This is key for participation from people throughout Massachusetts and beyond. By providing open data, which does not include things like personal data, people can use this resource to improve society. For example, organizations and individuals can build off of government data and produce apps or policy solutions to problems in society. Then government can work with these people to scale solutions based off of these innovations. Open data is key to granting people access to their government and creating an environment where innovation is possible
  3. Simple Standards for Use/Regulation
    • Part of the job of government, even as a platform, is to regulate the use of its services. That being said, these should not be extremely cumbersome. As someone who interned for a Congressman, I learned the application process for services like Medicare and Medicaid stand as large examples of how NOT to do this. For example, just to receive durable medical equipment included in your Medicare, people have to find the correct page under “how to file a claim” on the Medicare website, print and fill out a four page document, then mail it to differing locations based on their state of residence. After that, waits can vary for this extremely important equipment. Check out this cumbersome process here.
    • The standards and regulations governments put on their services should be transparent, and easy to use and understand.
  4.  Government as Iterative and Flexible
    • With government as a platform, Massachusetts will not be able to predict what is built off of their services. Without an understanding of what the future will hold, government needs to adapt quickly. Whatever people demand, use frequently, and innovate should dictate how government needs to change to address those demands. Government needs to frame itself as a facilitator.


Let’s Get Specific: Which Services Do I Address?

Making the Massachusetts state government into a platform can’t happen immediately, so I need specific criteria that will help me create an order of operations. Below are questions/criteria I will consider in choosing my first areas of concern:

  1. Which government services are used the most by citizens
  2. What government services are most criticized
    • Both of these address a common thread: “as a user, what services do I care about the most and think improvement is most necessary”
  3. Which government problems burden people the most?
    • Which ones burden government officials the most?
  4. What government service’s data is most useful to people/businesses?
  5. What are the largest issues people have with their government?
    • Does anything relating to ease of access or user experience underly these issues?
  6. What do I have the capacity to initially change?
  7. What is a good service/problem to address to gain support for my grand plan, thus, allowing me more money, creative license, and room to fail

The point of this list of criteria is to determine individual/government interests, priorities, and a gauge of the government’s ability to make a change. My starting point will need to be targeted to make the largest possible impact in people’s lives with my current capacity so my platform concept gains popularity. This should help slow-moving government more quickly adopt my approach, and give me latitude to work with other issue areas in the future. My first step, more than anything, needs to make a noticeable difference in our user’s lives.

My Governance Model

Decision Structure

Borrowing the approach of a place like Estonia, I would try to create a system of shared data among each of the departments in the Massachusetts state government. As pictured, each department should have access to a common “internet” source of data once passing through certain security. This would remove repetition in the data each branch of government stores while allowing each department to benefit from the information of others.

Operating Procedure

Through establishing set standards for information, different cities in Boston could contribute data in one format on their residents that would then be available to all of the state departments on the network. This network could then have open data, with certain regulation on sensitive material, that cities, citizens and the state could access through the network. Additionally, this would connect people to State services.

People in the state of Massachusetts could access their profile of information by logging into a portal where they will have access to their data and open data of the government. This portal will grant citizens access to the services they need from the state government.

Encouraging Collaboration

People, through their profile, should be able to upload data, submit recommendations, and communicate with their local governments about concerns or ideas of service. After city review, these can be released in the common internet space for relevant state departments to review and address these concerns. This will allow citizens and cities to better communicate with state government, allowing it to be adaptive to real-time citizen concerns

This sort of plan could be feasible in the state of Massachusetts because it only has 6.8 million people. Estonia, for example, only contains about one million people, making this sort of project attainable. Massachusetts is in a similar position to make this work. This sort of coordination among cities and the state government would me much more difficult in one of the more populous states, like Texas or California. But, Massachusetts should not be too large to handle this kind of system.


My plan for the state of Massachusetts to move to a platform is aspirational, but there are key ideas than can help any government improve its services. Anything to move beyond sticky notes in government…

Leave a Comment

Log in