Not Meeting New Jersey State Government’s Basic Responsibility to Respond to Constituents’ Suggestions: Frustrating and a Barrier to Innovation

In a democracy supposedly everyone counts. But if you can’t communicate with state government, something fundamental is broken.

For three years, I’ve sent articles/reports/letters I’d written/co-written on climate change, a green economy, sustainability to the New Jersey Governor’s Office and four state agencies—25+ times.

These ideas were developed over four decades, and are rarely offered by others. I’ve now largely phased-out of New Jersey things, but wanted to leave something behind for others, including difficult lessons learned, to help.

But other than three brief acknowledgements of receipt, there was almost no sign of consideration of what I had to say. Promises to get back to me weren’t kept.

If the ideas are rejected, I understand. That’s a common fate for innovation. (The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s climate change policy report report, issued last week, had good ideas but missed nearly all of my suggestions.) But lack of substantive response is disrespectful. If the ideas of an 18-time Award Winner/Resolution Recipient for innovation, with much less time now, have value, even to spur further thinking, it’s a wasted opportunity.

I’m not asking them for money or a job. Just courtesy and some curiosity.

It’s particularly important to do so between emergencies as it’s perfectly understandable when crises like the pandemic dominate their time.

This really isn’t worse than previous Administrations or The Legislature, environmentalists, academics, journalists, or citizens. All need to do better hearing new possibilities to deal with the urgent challenges ahead.

I wish it didn’t come to this as I believe in government and mostly like what these guys are doing policy-wise. I would like to see them succeed.

Ironically, another agency I had not approached recently asked for help, which I gave. They replied: “Let’s talk.” We just did, and they asked: can we do it again?

There are many difficult decisions ahead for New Jersey. But some, like responding and listening, don’t have to be so hard.

For examples of what I sent the Governor’s Office, see here on the green economy, here on climate change, and, based in part on my failures so others can do better, and also bringing some international ideas to New Jersey, here on sustainability.

Been trying to leave “a gift” to New Jersey policy makers and stakeholders. But they don’t seem to want it. Guess they don’t want even more.

2 Replies to “Not Meeting New Jersey State Government’s Basic Responsibility to Respond to Constituents’ Suggestions: Frustrating and a Barrier to Innovation”

  1. Several years ago I proposed a model for an online, statewide 311 service, that would allow constituents to dialog with anyone in government. Not sure this would address the unresponsiveness on policy matters, but it’s clear how frustrating their unresponsiveness is.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Matt. I feel your pain. Indeed notification about your posting arrived just as I was finishing up an email to a student in which I had to break the unfortunate news that universities are not the seedbed of institutional innovation to the degree that conventional wisdom would have it. He had sent me this announcement about a new program at Boston College on “human-centered engineering” and was curious as to whether such a program was likely to become available here in NJ in the near future. I had to acknowledge that eventuality was probably unlikely. This led to a broader discussion about how innovation is cultivated and permeates outward. Obviously, similar observations hold with respect to receptiveness to policy innovation. Sadly, agencies like the NJDEP have been asleep now for nearly twenty years and an entire generation of new ideas has passed it by.

    Should we be surprised? Mainstay institutions, whether public or private, are rarely going to pursue initiatives that destabilize the status quo or undermine their own vested interests. The pressure for change must come from insurgents trialing new ideas from peripheral positions. It is for this reason that we need to have a robust and healthy ecosystem of NGOs, startups, and so forth with the capacity to challenge existing sources of lock-in. Also, there needs to be a population of people/communities that have the wherewithal to break with tradition and experiment with new practices and routines. There is a large academic literature (mostly European) championing these perspectives, under the umbrella of the “multi-level perspective”, theories of socio-technical innovation, and sustainable system innovation. Sadly, the uptake of these frameworks has been sorely lacking in the US.

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