Can Public Entrepreneurship Resolve Authorities’s Advanced Issues?


There was no shortage of complex challenges public sector leaders faced in 2020, from a global pandemic to tax collateral that followed. These problems forced the agencies to react quickly in a new, unfamiliar landscape. After the first wave of the pandemic, it was widely said by government leaders that the years of work and progress had been completed in a matter of months.

Many of us have looked forward to getting to the new normal or the next normal where things would slow down and return at a manageable pace. Our current pace is the new pace of change, and even when this public health crisis is behind us, leaders are expected to act quickly and solve complex problems. This requires a new model of how to get things done and luckily Mitchell Weiss wrote an instruction manual that describes what to do now and what to do next.

Weiss has been a pioneer in government innovation for many years and a co-founder of the city of Boston New Urban Mechanics, a nationwide first research and design team that was launched in 2010 under Mayor Thomas Menino. Since then, Weiss has been researching and teaching public entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School as Professor of Management Practice and Richard L. Menschel Faculty Fellow at Harvard Business School. Weiss’ deep experience in innovation has enabled him to justify this thinking and research in an actionable framework.

Mitch Weiss

The thesis of his book We the Possibility is that in order to solve the most complex public sector challenges we must use an entrepreneurial framework to move the government from safe, probabilistic approaches used to manage change to one that allows us enables one to explore the arts and experiment with what is possible.

With countless examples and stories, Weiss divides the key elements of a “Possibility Government” into three different attributes:

  1. A government that can introduce itself with new ideas. There is no shortage of new ideas in the public sector, and Weiss points out that agencies need a process to generate proposals from multiple sources, not just from above. Good ideas don’t always come from within or from an agency; They can come from outside government who use services daily and see problems firsthand.
  2. A government that can experiment with things by testing ideas. Experimenting and testing ideas may seem like alien functions in a government agency. Nevertheless, Weiss shows that experiments can achieve results by carrying out a defined process with preset expectations and transparent results. This portfolio approach also enables government agencies to further mitigate risk through a portfolio of experiments with various risk and return factors.
  3. A government that can scale by expanding successful ideas. One of the biggest challenges for many agencies is scaling a best practice within their organization and beyond. Weiss suggests that government agencies should adopt a “platform” mentality in order to accelerate the scaling of best practices and capitalize on the network effects seen with most online platforms. The same process and connectivity can also enable government agencies to learn from mistakes together.

As we look ahead to what’s next, state and local administrators need to equip and employ new tactics to quickly navigate and solve complex problems. The impact of COVID-19 has raised public expectations of the role of government in problem solving and innovation, making it more important than ever and providing an opportunity to redefine what is possible. We the Possibility provides an actionable framework to inspire and equip public sector leaders ready to begin this journey.

Hear Dustin Haisler’s interview with Mitchell Weiss here.

Title: We have the option: Use public entrepreneurship to solve our most pressing problems

Author: Mitchell Weiss

Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press. Pages: 288. Price: $ 30.00.

About Governing’s Book Reviews and Excerpts: In addition to the original reporting and analysis, we are committed to curating ideas from leading thinkers to help elected and appointed officials and other public leaders looking for intelligent insights and a forum to act better understand and manage this era of change in state and local government.