California has embodied the new frontier since the Gold Rush. Stag Hunt’s inaugural magazine gets in that pioneering spirit by exploring how we might build a government in California that reflects the globalized and technologically connected world we live in.  Below co-founder Patrick Atwater outlines the challenges Stag Hunt aspires to tackle.

For the first time in about a decade, our state budget is largely balanced.  Governor Brown has made real progress in simplifying school finance, ending redeveloping and realigning prisons.

Still work needs to be done.  Pensions, healthcare obligations, and the rest of the wall of debt loom large.  California’s underemployment is still near 20%.[1]  Our schools still have a long way to go in preparing students for the changing world we live in and graduate far too few students of color.

The problem has never been California’s budget so much as the creeping opportunity deficit that threatens the life we leave for the next generation.  And the sad fact is too much of California’s government falls short of the excellence needed to tackle that deficit.

According to the nonprofit Tax Foundation, California has 11th highest tax burden in the nation.[2]  Are our schools the 11th best?  Our roads?  Our government in general?   There’s a reason California’s credit rating, albeit slightly improved, is still second worst in the nation.  And there’s a reason why when Pew graded all the states according to good governance metrics California came out at the bottom.

Much of this suboptimal management is driven by the sheer complexity of California’s government. Our state has roughly 7000 local jurisdictions, many of which only exist through inertia.  Agency boundaries are frequently unrelated to one another and sometimes overlap at random, often leading to higher service costs to the taxpayer and general confusion regarding service area boundaries.

This jurisdictional jungle creates a feeding ground for municipal tribalism.  People begin to see organizations as their turf, and the pressing question moves from what’s in the public interest to what’s in the interest of the particular agency.  The situation makes it incredibly difficult to make the thoughtful tradeoffs and prioritization critical to good government.

In addition, this complexity raises barriers to entry, many of which ordinary citizens cannot surmount.  Moneyed interests have the wherewithal to hire consultants to analyze the intricacies of debt mechanics across multiple jurisdictions.  Groups of ordinary citizens do not.

Worst of all, such complexity frustrates the pioneering spirit our public sector desperately needs.  California’s government broadly is based on an obsolete 19th century factory-like bureaucracy.  Public schools in particular remain trapped in outdated structures that would be just as recognizable to a citizen from a century ago.

The tragic part is that this simply doesn’t have to be the case.  The internet revolution has transformed how we connect to each other, offering new pathways to creatively link communities to schools.

The popularity of meetups and skillshares suggests a hunger for local knowledge and desire for lifelong learning across diverse groups.  The nascent collaborative consumptive economy hints at the increased ease in which community might be activated.  Platforms such as Quora offer a virtual glimpse into how community might transform education towards a more inquiry based model.

Such tools have opened up a frontier of possibility for what might constitute a school.  Learning never ended with the final bell of a school day.  Local communities today can and need to be radically more connected to schools so that that organic knowledge sharing can be nurtured.

Schools for too long have largely followed the same rigid structures regardless of the needs of the student community.  Class schedules, class locations, class sizes, and other basic structures should be dictated by the strengths and needs of the school community.

Many skills that cannot be taught in formal classroom environments are critical for an education.  Think of what a doctor learns in residency, a carpenter learns in an apprenticeship, or other knowledge that can only be acquired through practice.  We need to stop rigidly segregating academic from practical knowledge.

Such pragmatic reimagining of basic government institutions is urgently needed.  Why in the most advanced society in human history should a child’s opportunity in life be a function of the zip code they’re born into?

Tackling that opportunity deficit will require more from all of us as Californians but nothing that we aren’t eminently qualified to do.  Witness, as the Governor says, “the innovations of Silicon Valley, the original thinking coming out of our colleges and universities, the skill of our farmers, the creative imagination of Hollywood, the Internet and the grit and determination of small businesses everywhere—all give hope for an even more abundant future.”

Why can’t those of us in public service live up to that pioneering spirit?