Government Reform: Lessons from the Past for Actions in the Future

Report by Dan Chenok and John Kamensky: “This report provides an overview of the evolution of various federal government reform efforts over the past 30 years, with a focus on How government works to get things done for the American people, and the leaders in government who have and continue to implement important agency missions.

This overview of government reforms and actions provides important lessons for leaders today and tomorrow.

Reform approaches will vary, depending on the types of reform are being pursued. Each type relies on different strategic implementation approaches, with different lessons learned that the authors hope will be of value to leaders today.

Strategic Approach 1: Overarching Reform Initiatives: examines reforms that affect the broader governance systems of the federal government and its organization. Examples include the Reinventing Government reform initiative in the 1990s.

Strategic Approach 2: Governmentwide Mission Support Initiatives: examines the evolution of a series of mission support “chiefs” in each agency, often by congressional mandate. These would include positions such as chief financial officers, chief information officers, chief human capital officers, and most recently, chief data officers.

Strategic Approach 3: Initiatives That Enable Mission Delivery: various presidential administrations place an emphasis on developing different capabilities that can improve agencies’ ability to better deliver on their missions. Examples include open government, improving customer service, and fostering innovation….(More)”.

Unlocking Responsible Access to Data to Increase Equity and Economic Mobility

Report by the Markle Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF): “Economic mobility remains elusive for far too many Americans and has been declining for several decades. A person born in 1980 is 50% less likely to earn more than their parents than a person born in 1950 is. While all children who grow up in low-opportunity neighborhoods face mobility challenges, racial, ethnic, and gender disparities add even more complexity. In 99% of neighborhoods in America, Black boys earn less, and are more likely to fall into poverty, than white boys, even when they grow up on the same block, attend the same schools, and have the same family income. In 2016, a Pew Research study found that the median wealth of white households was ten times the median wealth of Black households and eight times that of Hispanic households. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated existing disparities, as communities of color suffer higher exposure and death rates, along with greater job loss and increased food and housing insecurity.

Reversing this overall decline to address the persistent racial, ethnic, and gender gaps in economic mobility is one of the great challenges of our time. Some progress has been made in identifying the causes and potential solutions to declining mobility, yet policymakers, researchers, and the public still lack access to critical data necessary to understand which policies, programs, interventions, and investments are most effective at creating opportunity for students and workers, particularly those struggling with intergenerational poverty. Data collected across all levels of governments, nonprofit organizations, and private sector companies can help answer foundational policy and research questions on what drives economic mobility. There are promising efforts underway to improve government data infrastructure and processes at both the federal and state levels, but critical data often remains siloed, and legitimate concerns about privacy and civil liberties can make data difficult to share. Often, data on vulnerable populations most in need of services is of poor quality or is not collected at all.

To tackle this challenge, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Markle Foundation (Markle) spent much of 2020 working with a diverse range of experts to identify strategic opportunities to accelerate progress towards unlocking data to improve policymaking, answer foundational research questions, and ensure that individuals can easily and responsibly access the information they need to make informed decisions in a rapidly changing environment….(More)”.

Freedom of Information Act—How Open is Public Access to Government Data?

US Government Accountability Office: “The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) establishes a legal right for individuals and organizations to request access to government information. In FY 2019, federal agencies reported that they processed nearly 878,000 FOIA requests for government information, an increase of 32% since FY 2012.  

In honor of Sunshine Week—an annual observation that promotes open government—today’s WatchBlog post looks at our recent reports on agencies’ implementation of laws that seek to improve the public’s access to government information.

What does the government disclose as part of open government laws?

FOIA requires agencies to publicly post certain information without waiting for specific requests and report on these disclosures annually. These proactive disclosures include final opinions, administrative staff manuals, and records that have been requested 3 or more times.

In our March report, we assessed agency policies related to these disclosures. Among other things, we found that the Department of Housing and Urban Development did not report proactively disclosing any records from FY 2017 through 2019. Similarly, we found that the Veterans Health Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration did not report the number of records disclosed for all required categories in FY 2019.

We made 8 recommendations to help improve compliance with these requirements.

What might the government not disclose under FOIA?

FOIA requires agencies to provide the relevant records in response to a request unless an exemption applies to limit the disclosure of that information, such as withholding classified national defense or foreign policy information. The graphic below provides more detail on FOIA’s 9 exemptions.

Pie Chart showing federal exemptions to FOIA by category

In FY 2019, agencies denied approximately 34,000 requests based on exemptions. More than half of these requests were related to law enforcement and investigations….(More)”.

Unlocking benefits for agriculture with FAIR data

Toolkit by CABI: “The Data Sharing Toolkit contains seven eLearning modules with supporting case studies, checklists, cheat sheets and guides. All the modules help demystify how to use, collect and share Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) and safeguarded data for you, and, for the people in agriculture you wish to empower.

Step 1 Login or sign-up for a free CABI Academy account to get started

Step 2 Start at Module 1 if you are new to data, or simply —

Step 3 Start with whichever module resonates most with your project needs, as you don’t need to do all seven to upskill in FAIR data.

Seven modules with seven guiding questions:

Each question supports best practice for FAIR and safeguarded data in investments in agriculture around the world, in support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grantees and program officers….(More)”.

Connecting parliaments: Harnessing digital dividends to increase transparency and citizen engagement

Paper by Julia Keutgen and Rebecca Rumbul: “…The overarching argument of this paper is that parliamentary digital transformation is a relatively underfunded area of work, but a vitally important one in achieving the very common overarching goals of open, accountable, inclusive and participative government. Improvements in how parliamentary digital capacity building can be done better are possible with better strategy, funding and cooperation, and when parliaments are enthusiastic and willing to take the opportunities offered to them to improve themselves.

Now more than ever, digital transformation has become essential for parliaments. Such transformation can have a significant impact in making parliaments more transparent and accountable and can enable them to leverage greater public interest and engagement in the legislative and electoral processes.

Good external digital engagement requires parliaments to review their own internal digital structures, assess where development and investment are needed, and how digital improvement will assist in achieving their goals. Differential priorities in the needs of the parliament or societal actors can form a guide, according to which specific areas for digital development might be prioritised. These steps require long-term investment, which should go in parallel with the digital transformation of the Executive. However, because a country’s digital transformation is primarily the preserve of the Executive, it can bypass the legislature and may be almost disproportionately influenced by the ruling party. Uneven digital transformation between public bodies and the legislature may weaken the profile and legitimacy of the legislature itself. Furthermore, governments that effectively restrict digital development within the legislature are essentially restricting democratic integrity.

Besides the long-term process of building and developing infrastructure, short-term pilot projects can be useful to test approaches and begin building the digital infrastructure of the future. Properly targeted funding, to achieve specified digital transformation goals, agreed in collaboration with the development agencies operating in target areas, can yield significant dividends in improving the digital democracy ecosystem. This approach can neutralise harmful, short-termist and wasteful approaches to digital deficiency, and remove the ability of the more unscrupulous parliaments to play development agencies off against each other to leverage greater rewards or resources.

Digital transformation of parliaments requires better strategy, funding and cooperation on the part of donors and implementers as parliaments are enthusiastic and willing to take the opportunities offered by digitalisation….(More)”.

Open data in action: initiatives during the initial stage of the COVID-19 pandemic

Report by OECD and The GovLab: “The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for access to timely, relevant, and quality data. This demand has been driven by several needs: taking informed policy actions quickly, improving communication on the current state of play, carrying out scientific analysis of a dynamic threat, understanding its social and economic impact, and enabling civil society oversight and reporting.

This report…assesses how open government data (OGD) was used to react and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic during initial stage of the crisis (March-July 2020) based on initiatives collected through an open call for evidence. It also seeks to transform lessons learned into considerations for policy makers on how to improve OGD policies to better prepare for future shocks…(More)”.

World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives — Leveraging greater value from data to help the poor

Report by the World Bank: “Data has become ubiquitous—with global data flows increasing one thousand times over the last 20 years. What is not always appreciated is the extent to which data offer the potential to improve people’s lives, including the poor and those living in lower-income countries.

Consider this example. The Indian state of Odisha is susceptible to devastating cyclones. When disaster struck in 1999, as many as 10,000 people lost their lives. This tragedy prompted the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority to invest heavily in weather forecast data. When another, similarly powerful storm struck in 2013, the capture and broadcast of early warning data allowed nearly one million people to be evacuated to safety, slashing the death toll to just 38.

Data’s direct benefits on lives and livelihoods can come not only from government initiatives, as in Odisha, but also through a plethora of new private business models. Many of us are familiar with on-demand ride-hailing platforms that have revolutionized public transportation in major cities. In Nigeria, the platform business Hello Tractor has adapted the concept of a ride-hailing platform allowing farmers to rent agricultural equipment on demand and increase their agricultural productivity.

Furthermore, Civil Society Organizations across the world are using crowdsourced data collected from citizens as a way of holding governments accountable. For example, the platform ForestWatchers allows people to directly report deforestation of the Amazon. And in Egypt, the HarrassMap tool allows women to report the location of sexual harassment incidents.

Despite all these innovative uses, data still remain grossly under-utilized, leaving much of the economic and social value of data untapped. Collecting and using data for a single purpose without making it available to others for reuse is a waste of resources.  By reusing and combining data from both public and private sources, and applying modern analytical techniques, merged data sets can cover more people, more precisely, and more frequently.  Leveraging these data synergies can bring real benefits….(More)”.

The World Happiness Report 2021

Report by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network: “There has been surprising resilience in how people rate their lives overall. The Gallup World Poll data are confirmed for Europe by the separate Eurobarometer surveys and several national surveys.

  • The change from 2017-2019 to 2020 varied considerably among countries, but not enough to change rankings in any significant fashion materially. The same countries remain at the top.
  • Emotions changed more than did life satisfaction during the first year of COVID-19, worsening more during lockdown and recovering faster, as illustrated by large samples of UK data. For the world as a whole, based on the annual data from the Gallup World Poll, there was no overall change in positive affect, but there was a roughly 10% increase in the number of people who said they were worried or sad the previous day.
  • Trust and the ability to count on others are major supports to life evaluations, especially in the face of crises. To feel that your lost wallet would be returned if found by a police officer, by a neighbour, or a stranger, is estimated to be more important for happiness than income, unemployment, and major health risks (see Figure 2.4 in chapter 2)
  • Trust is even more important in explaining the very large international differences in COVID-19 death rates, which were substantially higher in the Americas and Europe than in East Asia, Australasia, and Africa, as shown here (see Figure 2.5 of chapter 2). These differences were almost half due to differences in the age structure of populations (COVID-19 much more deadly for the old), whether the country is an island, and how exposed each country was, early in the pandemic, to large numbers of infections in nearby countries. Whatever the initial circumstances, the most effective strategy for controlling COVID-19 was to drive community transmission to zero and to keep it there. Countries adopting this strategy had death rates close to zero, and were able to avoid deadly second waves, and ended the year with less loss of income and lower death rates.
  • Factors supporting successful COVID-19 strategies include
    • confidence in public institutions. Trusted public institutions were more likely to choose the right strategy and have their populations support the required actions. For example, Brazil’s death rate was 93 per 100,000, higher than in Singapore, and of this difference, over a third could be explained by the difference in public trust….(More)”

Building Behavioral Science in an organization

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Report by Action Design Network in conjunction with UPenn Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences: “Behavioral science can be applied to a variety of practice areas within an organization via a range of design and measurement tactics. It can influence strategy and design throughout an organization, including product design, marketing and communications, employee and customer engagement, and strategic decision making. Applied behavioral science includes both designing for the moment (the domain of nudges and cognitive biases) as well as creating the broader context for shaping the thoughts, emotions, and behavioral patterns of employees and customers. 

This book draws on the collective wisdom of applied behavioral scientists with deep experience within their respective practice areas to provide practical guidance on building a behavioral science function that has a meaningful impact on your organization….(More)”.

A New Portal for the Decentralized Web and its Guiding Principles

Internet Archive: “For a long time, we’ve felt that the growing, diverse, global community interested in building the decentralized Web needed an entry point. A portal into the events, concepts, voices, and resources critical to moving the Decentralized Web forward.

This is why we created,, to serve as a portal, a welcoming entry point for people to learn and share strategies, analysis, and tools around how to build a decentralized Web.

Screenshot of

It began at DWeb Camp 2019, when designer Iryna Nezhynska of Jolocom led a workshop to imagine what form that portal should take. Over the next 18 months, Iryna steered a dedicated group of DWeb volunteers through a process to create this new website. If you are new to the DWeb, it should help you learn about its core concepts. If you are a seasoned coder, it should point you to opportunities nearby. For our nine local nodes, it should be a clearinghouse and archive for past and future events.

Above all, the new website was designed to clearly state the principles we believe in as a community, the values we are trying to build right into the code.

At our February DWeb Meetup, our designer Iryna took us on a tour of the new website and the design concepts that support it.

Then John Ryan and I (Associate Producer of DWeb Projects) shared the first public version of the Principles of the DWeb and described the behind-the-scenes process that went into developing them. It was developed in consultation with dozens of community members, including technologists, organizers, academics, policy experts, and artists. These DWeb Principles are a starting point, not an end point — open for iteration.

As stewards, we felt that we needed to crystallize the shared vision of this community, to demonstrate how and why we are building a Decentralized Web. Our aim is to identify our guiding principles through discussion and distill them into a living document that we can point to. It is to create a set of practical guiding values as we design and build the Web of the future….(More)”.