Strengthening the Connective Links in Government

John M. Kamensky at the IBM Center for The Business of Government: “Over the past five years, the Obama administration has pursued a host of innovation-fostering initiatives that work to strengthen the connective links among and within federal agencies.

Many factors contribute to the rise of such efforts, including presidential support, statutory encouragement, and an ongoing evolution in the way government does its business. The challenge now is how to solidify the best of them so they remain in place beyond the upcoming 2017 presidential transition.

Increased Use of Collaborative Governance

Dr. Rosemary O’Leary, an astute observer of trends in government, describes how government has steadily increased its use of collaborative approaches in lieu of the traditional hierarchical, bureaucratic approach. According to O’Leary, there are several explanations for this shift:

  • First, “most public challenges are larger than one organization, requiring new approaches to addressing public issues” such as housing, pollution, transportation, and healthcare.
  • Second, collaboration helps to improve the effectiveness and performance of programs “by encouraging new ways of providing services.”
  • Third, technology advances in recent years have helped “organizations and their employees to share information in a way that is integrative and interoperable.”
  • Finally, “citizens are seeking additional avenues for engaging in governance, resulting in new and different forms of collaborative problem solving and decision making.”

Early in his administration, President Barack Obama publicly placed a premium on the use of collaboration. One of his first directives to federal agencies set the tone for how he envisioned his administration would govern, directing agencies to be “collaborative” and “use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across levels of government, and with nonprofits, businesses and individuals.” To that end, the Obama administration undertook a series of supporting actions, including establishing crossagency priority goals around issues such as reducing veteran homelessness, data sharing, and streamlining the sharing of social media licenses between agencies. Tackling many of these issues successfully involved the transformative intersection of innovation and technology.

In 2010, when Congress passed a series of amendments to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), it provided the statutory basis for a broader, more consistent use of collaboration as a way of implementing policies and programs. These changes put in place a series of administrative processes:

  • The designation of agency and cross-agency priority goals
  • The naming of goal leaders
  • The convening of a set of regular progress reviews

Taken together, these legislative changes embedded the value of collaboration into the administrative fabric of the governing bureaucracy. In addition, the evolution of technology tools and the advances in the use of social media has dramatically lowered the technical and bureaucratic barriers to working in a more collaborative environment….(More)”