Baltimore City’s Book Club to Help Improve Government

Baltimore City’s budget director, Andrew Kleine, runs the “Good Government Book Club”. Open to the city’s 14,000 employees, the book club meets two or three times a month during lunch and discusses and reads books about a variety of topics including communication, efficiency, urban policy and citizen engagement.  The book club’s one rule: “the book must offer some value to public servants”.

Featured in Governing, Kleine discusses the success of the book club, how he selects the books they read and how the book club is improving city government.

It’s a trick to find books that are accessible. We’re not going to read really technical books, just because that would bore people. We’re trying to find more popular titles that still have a lot to offer. We’ve read a book by a former head of the IRS (Many Unhappy Returns), which was almost a memoir, but there are a lot of lessons in it. The book If We Can Put a Man on the Moon is a series of success stories and it’s interesting to read and to say, “here’s what government can do if we really put our mind to it and have good leadership.”

Some things have been inspired by the club. For example, we’re implementing lean government in the city. The first book we read in the club was Extreme Government Makeover, which is about lean government. We recently had our first couple of lean events and they’ve been wildly successful.Before we read Citizenville, we had been doing things to engage citizens, but this gave us ideas on how to step up our game. We added crowdsourcing to our online budget tool and I feel like that was inspired by that book.

One manager said “I’ve been managing for 10 years and this is the closest thing I’ve ever had to management training.” Another employee, who was pretty jaded, came to a club meeting and said “This is a revelation for me. I’m so inspired to take these ideas back to my office and implement them.” That’s what it’s all about — giving people ideas that they can implement at any level.

To read more about Baltimore City’s book club or for a list of books they’ve read, visit Governing’s website.