Motivations of the Public: Will the same old incentives still work?

Much has been written about how we can incentivize our public service workers.  What has motivated or encouraged a Baby Boomer will not be the same tactic that will work with a Generation Xer or a Millennial.  While we ponder the impact on our workforce, we would do well to think about the same kinds of issues as applied to the public we serve.

Implementing public policy is about bringing about some kind of change in behavior or actions in the public.  In the past, we have used taxes, penalties and other consequences that create a negative environment.  If you do wrong and engage in the unwanted behaviors, you pay in some way.  There is a cost to continuing that action.  But will this same negative system of disincentives work for coming generations of the public?  How can we best motivate the public to change in coming years?

There are a number of ways we need to consider our encouragement of positive changes in future generations.  First and perhaps foremost, we need to consider the communications styles that appeal to generations coming of age in a time when technology has always been a part of their lives.  For Millennials, a more casual communications approach must still embrace a direct style.  Implication and nuance may not be as effective as straightforward messages.  Social networking as a means to both spread the desired message and track performance may be a very appropriate means of change in society.

Homelanders, the generation still in development today, will likely be use to being tracked carefully by their techie parents and may in fact be much more protected as a result.  While their parents appreciate public praise and are very close to familial or quasi-family social networks, this upcoming group may well respond to more personal incentives for future change and therefore may need to understand more about what is in it for them.  Highly competitive Millennials are proving to be civic-minded and open to positive change; their children may likewise be models of public participation and service.

These generations that will drive future societal adjustments through their acceptance or denial of change will be the people that we as public administrators will be attempting to influence through our policy implementation.  If we select the wrong incentives, change will not occur as we would hope.  Taking the possible tax on sugared sodas as a current example, some Millennials have already raised a cry against this as a punishment for something that people should have a right to buy.  How is this different from existing cigarette or alcohol taxes?  It is not, but the people who are most impacted by it, the people whose behavior and actions we wish to change, are!

By Yvonne J. Kochanowski, DPA, MBA, yvonne.kochanowski@capella.edu

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