GFOA President Heather Johnston on the Unbeatable Power of Innovation

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On June 2, Heather Johnston, City Manager of the City of Burnsville, Minnesota, took over as GFOA President from Bob Eichem, CFO of the City of Boulder. In her opening speech, she talked about the crucial importance of bringing seasoned and newer government finance officers together to bring about real and useful innovation.

With all of the changes facing local governments, the call for resiliency is more than a suggestion—it’s an imperative. The world has changed a great deal over the past decades, and the public sector is being called on to deliver higher quality services with fewer resources. Readily available information is a way of life today, with access to information—and misinformation—just a few clicks away. Ensuring that the public sees government as transparent and accountable, rather than bureaucratic and redundant, is increasingly difficult, and increasingly important.  

How do we cut through all the noise?  

Innovation.

Innovation goes hand-in-hand with resiliency. A resilient organization is firmly rooted in its principles, and it is flexible and innovative in how it makes those principles a reality. Change is a constant, and the only way the public sector can truly be responsive to those changes is by trying new approaches and learning from each other.

One kind of change that is often discussed is the changing attitudes of different generations. Governments need to find a way to capture the knowledge of experienced professionals while they work to attract recent graduates into public service. New public administrators are not just willing to take on a challenge—they relish the opportunity. If we are able to combine the experience of seasoned public administrators while engaging the creativity younger professionals, there isn’t a problem we can’t solve together.  

So, over the next year, GFOA will work toward developing practical tools and techniques that will help public finance professionals of all generations become more engaged in this work, which is so critically important to the communities we serve.