Governor Martin O’Malley is regarded as one of the most successful managers in US political history. As former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland, O'Malley quickly became known for his 'entrepreneurial' style of leadership, leveraging smart mapping technology to build a transparent and accountable government.

Following his keynote presentations at the Asia Pacific Cities Summit and Infrastructure Association of Queensland’s Assembly, O’Malley shares further insight into how a tech-driven approach to leadership can drive higher engagement and more cohesive government planning. 

Effective leadership in the age of information, by Martin O'Malley

The old ways of governing with ideology, bureaucracy and hierarchy are fading. The new way of governing is not about excuses – it’s about results.  

It's not about moving left or right – it's about moving forward. It's about open-data, and just as importantly, it is about open minds. It's about getting things done. 

This new way of governing has some basic characteristics that distinguish it from our very recent past. 

It is fundamentally entrepreneurial. It is collaborative. It is relentlessly performance measured. This new and more effective way of governing operates by way of common platforms – essentially, the internet and Geographic Information Systems. For the first time, these systems make work open and visible for all to see, measure, track and, increasingly, to affect. 

Just ten-to-15 years ago, the best place for a connected and effective leader was to sit high atop a pyramid of command and control. Things got done yesterday under the authority of, 'because I said so'.  

Today, in the age of information, the most important place for an effective leader to be is in the collaborative center of the latest emerging truth.  

In this age, where information can be mapped and shared by all in an instant, things get done under the new authority of, 'because I can show you it works'. 

This movement takes hoarded information and distributes it. Authority turns into democracy, awareness becomes inclusive and not exclusive. Command and control is transformed into empowered collaborations for progress. 

This new way of governing has quietly taken root in cities and towns all across the United States. It is steadily radiating out and up from cities, to our states, and hopefully to our national government. 

The great variable in the pace of its progress is leadership. 

And ultimately, the great hope for democracy is the emergence of a better connected and better informed citizenry, including individual citizens who can drive the work of progress with a dynamic crowdsourced conversation with their neighbors, with their leaders, and with their governments. 

I learned about this new and more effective way of governing in the information age as a former big city mayor and a former governor. 

Twenty years ago in New York City, Comstat was born. Comstat combined existing 911 call center capabilities with modern Geographic Information Systems, sound management principles, and a commitment to open data. 

This innovation, born of necessity, was the brainchild of a New York City Transit Authority Lieutenant named Jack Maple. His 20-step promotion by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to the rank of Deputy Commissioner for Tactics and Strategies, saved more American lives than any police promotion in the history if the United States. 

On a rotating basis every two weeks – in a large room with big projectors screens and microphones all around – district commanders of the NYPD and their command staffs were brought together with the Police Commissioner and his city-wide command staff. In a collaborative and accountable circle the questions were asked: 'What's happening?' 'Where is it happening?' 'What are we doing about it?' 'And is it working?' 

The tenets of Comstat are: 

  1. Timely, accurate information shared by all 

  2. Rapid deployment of resources 

  3. Effective tactics and strategies 

  4. Relentless follow-up 

Comstat was, and is, data-driven decision-making, with a collaborative method of questions and answers, played out and measured on a common visible platform – the GIS map of the city. 

When I was elected Mayor of Baltimore in 1999, we implemented Comstat and put our violent city on a path to achieve the biggest crime reduction of any major city in America over the next ten years. We also became the first city in America to take Comstat enterprise-wide. By implementing a 311 call center for all city services and combing it with a common platform of GIS, Citistat was born. The improved performance across the various departments of city government – Fire, Health, Solid Waste, Transportation, and so on – was dramatic and over time became visible to all. 

I was re-elected with 88 per cent of the vote. 

In 2006, after being elected Governor with overwhelming margins of support from my city neighbors, we became the first state in the nation to take Citistat statewide. Statestat was born. We reduced violent crime to 35-year lows and our incarceration rate to 20-year lows. We cut infant mortality to 20-year lows, foster care placements in half by healing families first and juvenile homicides in half. 

Governor Martin O'Malley

For the first time, we made our public schools the best in America for five years in a row. We started measuring, mapping, and driving the human actions on land that led to the greatest reductions in nitrogen, phosphorous and sedimentary pollution of the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Our BayStat program was adopted by the other five states of the Chesapeake Watershed. The EPA now measures, monitors and assures state accountability through its own federal version – ChesapeakeStat. 

It is all very intentional. The tools and technology we used – for Comstat, for Citistat, for Statestat – are readily available to every government. They are not expensive. They are becoming more commonplace throughout government.  

Leadership matters

What makes the big difference is leadership. Leaders need to embrace openness and transparency. They must not fear setting measurable, meaningful goals with short-term deadlines, and they must be prepared to do so in public. Leaders who create a compelling scoreboard for all to see will find that individual stories of leadership, achievement, and accomplishment can be recognized by the whole organization. 

This style of leadership creates an ecosystem of accountability. Individuals take responsibility for leading actions in short, regularly held meetings, where the right questions can be asked and answered, where deeper understanding leads to greater actions for greater progress. 

Aided by new information and communication technologies, we are reaching a kind of hyper consciousness, where the entire planet harnesses its potential to make the promise of sustainable development a reality. This shared consciousness can help providing jobs, opportunity, food and water for a growing population, confront health and security threats and stop climate change. 

It is only with more effective self-governance that progress toward any of these goals can be achieved. The good news is that this change is now taking place and a new way of governing is emerging. Leaders at every level of government who understand and embrace this change will succeed. Leaders who do not, will fail. 

For as the great Shimon Peres of Israel once said to me, "In today's information age, the people now know more than their leaders..." 

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Hear more from Governor Martin O'Malley on the breakout Australian leadership podcast Directions with Stan Grant.

Download a free chapter of Smarter Government

Governor O'Malley outlines how to tackle crises with data-driven decisions, real-time information and transparency.

About the Author

Martin O'Malley
Martin O'Malley
61st Governor of Maryland, former Mayor of Baltimore and 2016 US Democratic Presidential Candidate
A global authority on the use of technology and location-based analytics in government.

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