Marina Leight from GOVERNING discusses new FutureStructure initiative and how the biggest challenges facing governments today are connected. The first FutureStructure Summit: Water, Waste & Energy is taking place in Chicago on August 29.

By Marina Leight, Associate Publisher, Infrastructure, GOVERNING

When we look at the biggest challenges facing governments today—from pension reform to healthcare, education or the nation’s aging infrastructure—we often neglect to consider how these challenges—and their potential solutions—are interconnected.

Governments have gotten very, very good at solving problems as specialists. Transportation people work on transportation problems, finance people work on finance issues, health and human services experts focus only on social programs, and so on—and it’s rare that they interact or coordinate with each other.

This is a fundamentally vertical approach—a by‐product of the Industrial Revolution—and arguably it’s an approach that has worked very well since then, making complex issues easier to deal with and solutions easier to replicate. But as we grow more aware of the subtle but profound connections—between transportation options and citizen health, for example, or between the health of a community’s infrastructure and that of its economy—and as technology makes it easier to observe and monitor all of those connections, it becomes possible to take a more holistic, horizontal approach.

Enter the idea of systems engineering and our new initiative, FutureStructure.

FutureStructure is a new framework for thinking about communities as large, complex systems consisting of deeply interdependent smaller systems.

Among the things that people want most from their governments are safe, clean, healthy places to live and work—communities where families and businesses can thrive and prosper. They expect to have access to clean, drinkable water and reliable energy sources. They expect their bridges and roads to be structurally sound. They expect to be able to take their children to schools where they will be safe. All of these things‐‐these systems‐‐are connected and interrelated—and all have an impact on the community’s societal and economic health overall.

Today, when a water pipe breaks, it gets fixed. But what if that broken water pipe were an opportunity to consider the water system in context? What about the overall strength of the water infrastructure or its impact on the community’s waste management or transportation systems?

A systems approach to creating great communities opens the door to a whole new conversation, a new decision‐making paradigm and most importantly a more horizontal approach to the way we deploy resources.

Earlier this year we launched FutureStructure with the support of a handful of key underwriters. The result of extensive research studies and interviews with leaders across the country, our first Special Report was released in June (you can download it at, and our first FutureStructure Summit takes place August 29th in Chicago. The second Special Report is scheduled for November, and the second Summit will take place in San Francisco on November 13. Additional reports are planned for 2014.

We are so excited about where this conversation is headed. We hope you will join us in working out how to create “great places to live for the people who live there.”  Follow the hastag #FutureStructure on Twitter to learn more and be sure to check out our video.

Please contact me at [email protected] for more information.

Marina Leight serves as GOVERNING’s Associate Publisher for Infrastructure. She directs GOVERNING’s expansion in the infrastructure, water, energy, waste and transportation verticals by developing new business, strategic relationships and policy and management-oriented programs for state and local government officials. She’ll also coordinate on new content and product strategies while directing sales, marketing, and research operations for GOVERNING in the infrastructure area.