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Chapter Summary

Osborne, David, and Ted Gaebler. 1992. Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Chapter 8: Anticipatory Government: Prevention Rather Than Cure

Osborne and Gaebler detail several examples where city, state and federal governments have incorporated mechanisms into their decision-making processes to plan for the future. Many of these cases simply projected out budget considerations into the future. By doing this, governments are better able to integrate costs that will arise in the future with those short-term decisions that politicians make to maintain the approval of their constituencies. The central idea that is driving this trend is the realization that prevention costs less and is much easier than suppression.

Prevention vs. Crisis Management

At the present, public institutions are geared towards crisis management. Fire departments, for example, spend significantly more time putting out fires than they do preventing them. Slowly, these institutions are recognizing the superiority of preventative, rather than reactive, solutions to society's problems. By creating and enforcing building codes, installing sprinkler systems, and working closely with developers on building plans and construction, fire departments are beginning to enjoy tremendous savings. Changing the orientation from suppression to prevention is being accomplished in many ways.

Futures Commissions

Governments have turned to the community for input by creating organizations called "Futures Commissions." A Futures Commission can take on a variety of forms but ideally they are comprised of citizens from within the community who are charged with the task of identifying and developing goals. Once the goals have been established, subcommittees are organized to prod the relevant public and private agencies into achieving them.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is another method being used to incorporate foresight into the decision-making process. A practice used in the private sector for years, strategic planning is a process of "examining an organization's or community's current situation and future trajectory, setting goals, developing a strategy to achieve those goals, and measuring the results."

Long-Term Budgeting

Perhaps the most important realization is the impact of short-term budgets on community and organizational planning. Many governments budget on an annual or bi-annual basis, causing most decisions to be made with little regard for the long-term financial impact. Governments are beginning to recognize the benefits of predicting costs and revenues as many as ten years in the future.

Accrual vs. Cash Accounting

Another way to incorporate a long-term focus into the budget is to include the costs of future obligations as expenses. Most governments rely on the practice of cash accounting, in which expenses are not recorded until they have actually been paid. By incorporating accrual accounting techniques, which counts the future financial commitments of an organization as expenses, governments will be better positioned to assess their abilities to meet those commitments given the projected revenue flows.

Cross-Departmental Budgeting

Governments are also beginning to view the impact of a budget decision in one area on other departmental and institutional funding streams. Cross-departmental budgeting, as this practice is commonly called, is one way to identify when spending cuts in child care, for example, drive up costs in welfare transfers.

Regional Concerns

Long-term planning has been incorporated into the decision-making process in ways beyond budgeting. Recognizing the impact of decisions made in neighboring jurisdictions and anticipating regional problems have proven to be beneficial for some governments. In addition to this orientation toward the intergovernmental system, governments have realized that constituencies can be created to monitor plans and react as any other special interest group might. Organizations such as BUILD Baltimore and the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee have become, in essence, stakeholders of the future in the system of public affairs. They assess government policy for its long-term practicality and lobby decision makers.


These are just some of the many ways governments are building preventative methods into their decision-making processes. Changing the environment in which governments make decisions is difficult but necessary given today's fiscal, economic and political realities. One place to start is by transforming the budget process and projecting costs beyond the standard one or two years. Anticipating upcoming obligations and recognizing the impact of short-term decisions in the future builds yet another mechanism into the governmental decision-making process that will enable public institutions to be successful in pursuing their goals.