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Solving problems of today with powers of tomorrow: one city manager speaks his mind on cities and technology.

Scottsdale city manager Richard A. Bowers has always liked this bit of wisdom from the great physicist Albert Einstein: "We won't solve the problems of today with the consciousness that condescends to them."

No words capture so pointedly the essence of Bower's personal and professional philosophies. "A sense that things need to be different, a general dissatisfaction with a rigid structure in a fluid world," says Bowers, "is probably the thing that gnaws at me constantly."

Indeed, Bowers, the recipient of a 1994 Technology Leadership Award from Public Technology, Inc. (PTI), is a man impatient with hierarchies that suffocate creativity and with parochial mindsets that sabotage collective solutions.

In November 1993, Bowers decided to unseat the status quo in Scottsdale city government. He asked three top managers to spend six months - free of their usual responsibilities - exploring alternative organizational structures, service delivery systems, and infrastructure - building strategies for their city. Last June, the city's first Venture Team issued Blueprint for Change, a prescription for government that acts in anticipation of - not in reaction to - the social, economic, and technological landscape of the twenty-first century. That done, team members did not return to their former positions, but formed a new group with a cross-departmental focus on strategic planning, business process reengineering, and performance measurement.

Bowers' bold move redirected executive talents to catalyze a new organizational dynamic in Scottsdale: a flat, team-oriented government weaving fluid networks of communication and cooperation across personal and departmental fines and empowering employees to plan flexibility for the city's future.

It's a structure, says Bowers, in which technology can prosper. "Technology has been, for our community as for others, both a master and a servant," he notes. "It has been a terrible master, but I'd like to think it can also be a wonderful servant. We have moved, through the Venture Team, to free ourselves up in many areas structurally so that we can apply technology where it adds value." Bowers insists that technology's value to local government must override its cachet. "Technology can enlarge our capacity to think and imagine," he says, "as long as we keep it a servant"

And technology serves a city best, Bowers believes, when it fosters informed. dialogue and open communication - as three Scottsdale initiatives do.

According to Bowers, his is "the only city in the nation ... employing the technology of NASA [the National Aeronautics and Space Administration! to do land-use planning. We expect, over time, with satellite capabilities, to have day-to-day information on elevations and computer topography." Such detailed data on the local terrain, Bowers says, will arm both government and grassroots decision-makers with powerful intelligence and elevate "the quality of public dialogue" on land-use issues. And "better dialogue," says Bowers, "invariably leads to better decisions and better government."

Technology in Scottsdale is also breaking "down the artificial social barriers between government and the public," Bowers says. Through an electronic City Hall on the Mall, citizens "can do everything from pay a water bill to, complain to the city manager." No longer must citizens go to government; through technology, government can come to them.

Finally, advanced communications bringing the city in touch with people across the country and around the world. "We are on the Internetnow, and we want to use it more aggressively to share the capital of ideas," Bowers says. "I think technology is the key for Scottsdale, as it grows to a city of 350,000 plus, to have a better quality of life than it has today."

Thanks to Bowers' daring structural revolution, Scottsdale's city government is Prepared to realize that potential. City Hall is now an "adhocracy as opposed to a bureaucracy," an organic web of teams that form and dissolve as needs emerge and fade. "You can look at it one way," Bowers says, "and see the traditional hierarchical stovepipes, but you can look across it and see the lateral connections. Then you look at it another way and you see 150 teams or so."

Says the nationally recognized city manager. "We have open, honest dialogue. We discuss the undiscussables. We spend a lot of time challenging ourselves, and holding up a mirror with a bright light to ask ourselves what we are doing, and whether we should change."

Richard Bowers, appointed city manager of Scottsdale, Ariz., in July 1991, has risen steadily through the ranks of Scottsdale government, joining the city in 1978 as human resources manager and becoming director of field services in 1979, deputy city manager in 1982, and assistant city manager in 1988.

PTI's annual Technology Leadership Award honors one city or county manager or chief administrative officer who has, challenged the status quo with resourcefulness, vision, and risk-taking and encouraged aged creative use of technology to address community or organizational need.
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Title Annotation:Enterprise Outlook by PTI; Scottsdale, Arizona, City Manager Richard A. Bowers
Author:Tageldin, Shaden
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 30, 1995
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