Skip to content

A conversation with Joel Carnes: Championing local government's effective approach

While escaping Nazi Germany, management guru Peter Drucker witnessed first-hand what happens when a government becomes too focused on efficiency instead of on doing what is right for its citizens. He therefore dedicated his 60-year teaching career to educating people about the importance of ensuring organizational values are not sacrificed in the pursuit of efficiency.

Drucker’s message strikes home with Joel Carnes, particularly given his role as president and CEO and of the Alliance for Innovation. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, the Alliance is focused on the very ideals Drucker spent his career championing.

Striving for Mindset of Effectiveness Over Efficiency

Carnes discussed the importance of effective local government in a conversation with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner.

“Effectiveness is doing the right things; efficiency is just doing something well. You can be very efficient and still not be doing the right things, “he said. “What he (Drucker) postulated, and I believe is true as well, is that ineffective systems … leads to open spaces that tyranny can then come into. If we are effective in our government, in our systems, then we close the gap and tyranny cannot enter. The effective functioning of local government is a bulwark against tyranny.”

The Alliance, Carnes said, does not simply advocate for effective government as a tool for building thriving communities. It also works toward championing good government as a movement. After all, he said, what constituted good government in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and even five years ago, is not the same as today.

The Alliance is a neutral party that works with non-profits, academics, elected and appointed officials, and the private sector. It is therefore positioned, he added, to help convene conversations so potential partners can connect and build mutual trust.

Building Connected Local Government Conversations

Carnes said there is an opportunity for local government leaders to come together in these conversations – and not just those in the U.S. and Canada.

Instead, he is hoping to build a continent-wide conversation.

“I would love to see us gather more across the breadth of the country and begin a continental conversation. We want to bring in some members from Mexico as well and talk about what does local government in North America look like?” Carnes said. “What are some of the challenges we’re facing as North Americans? We want to continue to work on that, continue to dive into that, but we want to expand the conversation north and south and really try to have a very broad and integrated conversation.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: Servant leadership: “If serving is beneath you …”. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.


Related resource materials: