The Vodka Method

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One thing that I’m always interested to hear from customers is how they’ve done road inspections in the past. I thought I’d heard them all. However, the other day I came upon a new method that is rather…original.

It is the brainchild of Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov was a physicist by training, and a reformer by temperament. He entered politics at the end of the Soviet Union and remained a committed proponent of democracy in Russia until his assassination under suspicious circumstances outside the Kremlin in 2015.

In the mid-1990s, Nemtsov was the governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, located approximately 400 km east of Moscow.  One of his signature initiatives was a program to rebuild the region’s disheveled roads. Nemtsov was not a hands-off manager, and he took a personal interest in ensuring that the roads were built well, implementing an unconventional system to assess the quality of paving.  

His deputy, Yuri Lebedev, recalls that “He would get behind the wheel of a Volga, after putting a glass of vodka on the hood, and, if he could drive two kilometers without spilling the vodka, he would officially accept the new road.”

Nemtsov is a fascinating figure. I first read about his road inspection method in Amy Knight’s New York Review of Books article, “The Crime of the Century.” The quote from Yuri Lebedev comes from the documentary, Nemtsov, which can be screened for free at the documentary’s official website. If you’re like me and wondering if this story might be apocryphal then you can at least confirm that the quote is real by skipping ahead to 19:35.

Now, I hope it goes without saying that neither I, RoadBotics Inc., or anyone at RoadBotics condones driving with an open container, drunk driving, or any mixture of alcohol and roads. But this is what innovative governance looked like in Russia in the 1990s. If you want to see what innovative governance can look like in 2019, you should talk to us.


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