Ready to Govern: Planning the transition into public management (fast)

Last week, my colleagues Tina Nabatchi, Sean O’Keefe, David Van Slyke and I participated in the initial “Ready to Govern” event organized by the Partnership for Public Service and IBM’s Center for the Business of Government. Among the participants were colleagues from other Public Management departments around the country, practitioners from technology and consulting companies, as well as former career civil servants. The goal of the event was to identify the main management issues a new administration needs to know as soon as they take office. We were asked to take a bipartisan approach. The event was off the record, but we were encouraged to blog without attribution.

The event started out with a keynote by a high-ranking government official who reported about the second-term management innovations that are worth keeping. The current Presidential management agenda focuses on customer service, shared services, open data, smarter IT delivery, strategic sourcing, and benchmarking. While the agenda might not have changed, she highlighted that the current context in which government is operating has completely changed. She pointed especially to cybersecurity threats as well as the need to attract the brightest and smartest talent to public service. Using a new HR instrument, the current administration has created a new on-boarding tool to bring talent into government for short-term 2-year stints. These Presidential Innovation Fellows usually move back into their previous positions or might stay in government, however this tool is different than the Presidential Management Fellowship that is designed to provide a career path into government.

I was very excited to learn that especially the innovative and agile delivery of IT services through 18F plays a very prominent role in moving the Presidential management agenda forward. 18F is (located at 18th and F street in DC) home to many Presidential Innovation Fellows. I like to call them a ‘digital swat’ team. They helped for example to fix HealthCare.gov, created DOD’s Blue Button health records access, or the recent soft launch with improvements to FOIA. It is also interesting to note – at least from my perspective – that the federal government has accomplished to change the perception and potentially even the culture of government. Granted, this happens in a very small pocket of government, but it’s exciting to see that 18F attracts the best IT talent in the country. For example, the senior software architect of the NYT left the industry to join 18F recently, because his own industry is not innovating fast enough. Implied here is that he believes the federal government is a more attractive employer that is able to innovative faster. Obviously given the current arrangement the 18F fellows have to work on high profile/high impact projects, it is difficult to transfer the same environment easily to other federal agencies. But I like to think that change and innovation needs to start somewhere.

As part of the recent developments to improve basic public management practices, our keynote speaker highlighted also the strategic sourcing initiatives to make government a smarter buyer by changing the incentives to buy in bulk. One goal is to use existing data and analytics better and bring on more expertise to leverage the buying power of the federal government.

For the current administration open data plays a central role for economic development. With currently over 120,000 federal data sets published on Data.gov, the administration sees huge potential for economic development. The effort will continue to publish more data and shift the focus from mere publication to actual better use of the data. There are many (almost already ‘traditional’) success stories, such as NOAA’s weather data sets that are adding value with new business models outside of government. As an example, pilots and farmers are creating applications that are useful to them and are moving them on the market. However, the federal government wants more people to pick up the data and come up with meaningful applications.

In a world of big data analytics and the Internet of Things, I believe that government has barely scratched the surface of real-time collection and interpretation of data in the moment they are created and to use them to improve government decision-making. One of the problems to tackle is the existing data quality, (slow) decision making where to pull the data from, how to clean it up and get approval to publish the data. However, most of the issues with the data can only become apparent when people actually start to work with the data and use it. I have high hopes for the recently appointed White House Chief Data Scientist that he will have the time to make a meaningful contribution and initiate changes before the current administration rotates out of government.

After the initial keynote, it was time for us as a group to focus on getting the next management transition ‘righter’. One of the participants who was sitting next to me made a powerful statement: He said he has been part of eight Presidential transitions and it never goes smoothly. Another colleague, a former political appointee, raised the concern that every department head receives 18 binders with super urgent issues to immediately tackle, which bogs down initiatives and changes for the first six months of each administration. His wish was that each new public manager receives a short list of 3-5 issues to tackle and hit the road running, put together a team s/he trusts, focus on the department’s core mission, and get ready to tackle (new) national priorities from the start.

Our group then discussed the main management challenges a new administration has to face. We compiled an initial list that focused on those practices that we think should be kept and moved over to the next administration. We also identified a list of gaps that we think can be tackled by smart public management researchers.

I’m sure the list will come out soon – I am actually not sure if I am aloud to publish it, but there is significant overlap with the Presidential management agenda: we were concerned about fundamental management practices, such as recruiting and retaining talent, innovative management practices, etc.

My main concern is however: what if we work – in different constellations and with the input of many smart public management researchers and public managers on recommendations for the next Presidential management team and no one is listening? How do we accomplish the task to inform both Presidential candidate’s teams before they take office? Can they even communicate with us or are they too occupied to focus on political campaigning and don’t have the capacity to think beyond election day? I trust that the Partnership for Public Service and IBM’s Center for the Business of Government have the connections to communicate with future decision makers. My concern also highlights the wide gap between current public management research that is usually published with a 2-3 year time lag and the actual need for just-in-time research and information by policy makers and decision makers. We – researchers – need to get better at communicating more directly with the administration.

I would love to see a smooth transition that builds on the past strengths and quickly moves public management forward without losing the momentum that I have observed – especially in smart IT delivery.

New IBM Report: A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions

IBM’s Center for the Business of Government has published a new report: “A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions“.IBM Center for the Business of Government: A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions

This new report addresses the key question of how government should measure the impact of its social media use.

Social media data – as part of the big data landscape – has important signaling function for government organizations. Public managers can quickly assess what citizens think about draft policies, understand the impact they will have on citizens or actively pull citizens ideas into the government innovation process. However, big data collection and analysis are for many government organizations still a barrier and it is important to understand how to make sense of the massive amount of data that is produced on social media every day.

This report guides public managers step-by-step through the process of slicing and dicing big data into small data sets that provide important mission-relevant insights to public managers.

First, I offer a survey of the social media measurement landscape showing what free tools are used and the type of insights they can quickly provide through constant monitoring and for reporting purposes. Then I review the White House’s digital services measurement framework which is part of the overall Digital Government Strategy. Next, I discuss the design steps for a social media strategy which will be basis for all social media efforts and should include the mission and goals which can then be operationalized and measured. Finally, I provide insights how the social media metrics can be aligned with the social media strategic goals and how these numbers and other qualitative insights can be reported to make a business case for the impact of social media interactions in government.

I interviewed social media managers in the federal government, observed their online discussions about social media metrics, and reviewed GSA’s best practices recommendations and practitioner videos to understand what the current measurement practices are. Based on these insights, I put together a comprehensive report that guides managers through the process of setting up a mission-driven social media strategy and policy as the basis for all future measurement activities, and provided insights on how they can build a business with insights derived from both quantitative and qualitative social media data.

 

Media coverage:

 

Implementing Cross-Agency Collaboration – New IBM Report by Professor Jane Fountain

IBM – Center for the Business of Government just published a new report in their collaborative governance series on “Implementing Cross-Agency Collaboration”. Based on Professor Fountain’s in-depth analysis of collaboration projects in the U.S. federal government, the report provides insights into two main factors that support effective collaboration in government:

  1. people skills to develop trust, norms, and connections, and
  2. organizational processes that allow cross-agency actions to be sustained over time.

Much of the existing research, either focuses on specific roles that are needed or the resulting inter-organizational structures. What is largely ignored are the resources and processes needed as well as informal networking and governance mechanisms that need to be allowed outside the existing formal hierarchies to allow cross-agency collaboration.

This is a timely report, that is helpful for public managers to understand that even in a bureaucratic hierarchy, innovations, knowledge and resources to fulfill broad mandates, need to involve new roles in government, such as the recently established Government Innovation Officers. These new GIOs need to be boundary spanning individuals who tap into the resources they can get access to from their own networks, but also have the freedom to connect with other public managers across organizational boundaries.

As the new Open Government paradigm is spreading around the world, this report can also help open government activists to understand, build, and evaluate the processes and roles needed to successfully collaborate with all stakeholders: activists, nonprofits, public sector organizations on all levels of government as well as contractors to implement innovative platforms.

11 Tips for crafting your social media policy

Social media applications have become an (almost) accepted standard to explore new ways of communication between government and its stakeholders. However, government agencies willing to jump onto the bandwagon had to jump over many hurdles to make social media work for them. As early as December 2008, the powerhouse behind what is now known as HowTo.gov — Bev Godwin, Sheila Campbell, Jeffrey Levy, and Joyce Bounds — have published a manuscript describing the hurdles and perceived barriers for new forms of online engagement. Among them are:
  • Employee access to online tools
  • Terms of service
  • Advertising
  • Procurement
  • Privacy
  • Persistent cookies
  • Surveys
  • Access for people with disabilities
  • Administrative requirements for rulemaking
Many of these barriers prevented the rapid and risk-free adoption of social media technologies. Some of the perceived barriers were solved in the meantime. As an example, GSA signed model Terms of Service agreements with many social media providers.
A few agencies were willing to jump into the cold water early on and started to experiment with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and so on, until GAO released a report directing government organizations to create social media policies for managing and protecting information they access and disseminate using social media applications. As a result most federal government agencies now have internal social media guidelines in place (for an overview, visit my blog, which includes pdf documents of publicly available social media policies).
Some guidelines only provide a general context for the use of third party platforms others describe in very detailed fashion including daily schedules, accepted tools, directions for tactics, campaigns, etc. The Army social media handbook is already published in its third iteration. It not only includes guidance for the internal use of government-run social media accounts, but extends suggestions beyond the boundaries of organization to include family members who could potentially reveal sensitive information and thereby harm the Army’s missions.
Based on my conversations with social media directors in the U.S. federal government and an analysis of the available social media guidelines, I came up with the following elements for the design of social media guidelines in the public sector:
  1. Social media use should support the organizational mission and overall communication strategy.
  2. Government agencies need to decide what they regard as appropriate content and what online products they are willing to share with their stakeholders via social media.
  3. The workload and decision responsibilities need to be assigned and distributed among a social media ringmaster, content creators and curators, account administrators, and content providers with expert knowledge about issues.
  4. Before agencies can select the right tools it is important to understand who the (potentially diverse) audience is.
  5. Access to social media content needs to be made available through alternative mechanisms to avoid exclusiveness.
  6. I am a big fan of “hierarchy in the network” and always tell government officials who ask me for advice to clarify what their online netiquette includes, such as a comment policy or appropriate online conduct. EPA provides great guidance using this flow chart.
  7. After all these issues are clarified and answered as part of a social media guideline, the tool question can be tackled: Where do an agency’s stakeholders prefer to receive their information? On Facebook? Twitter? Via a newsletter? The answer should not be: We need to be on Facebook, because everyone else is.
  8. After the tools are selected, guidance on how and who sets up and administers the accounts needs to be designed.
  9. Daily routines need to be established. For different social media tactics see more in my PA Times article “Government 2.0 revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector.”
  10. One of the most challenging tasks it to measure and interpret the successful use of social media tools on behalf of government. Many agencies use quantitative measures, such as counts of the increasing number of followers or likes. Others use anecdotes highlighting responses from their audience. Other more sophisticated approaches include the use of dashboard solutions by third party providers.
  11. Lastly, a social media strategy needs to include a section on training. Providing the resources, including opportunities to discuss tactics and strategies with peers, is however not only important for those employees who will be managing social media accounts, but also for top managers to understand the culture and changing social interactions with the public, as well as their evolving expectations.
Read more in my IBM Center for the Business of Government special report “A manager’s guide for designing social media strategy.”

New IBM report: Working the Network – A Manager’s Guide for Using #Twitter in Government

Here is the executive summary of the report:

Twitter—a microblogging service that allows for short updates of 140 characters—has grown to over 540 million registered accounts as of early 2012.News organizations, corporations, and the U.S. government have adopted this new practice as an innovative form of interaction with their stakeholders. Many government agencies maintain at least one Twitter account, and even multiple accounts, based on their operational needs and their diverse audiences .It can be unclear to government Twitter users what the best strategies are for interacting with the public on Twitter, and how an agency can use Twitter in a meaningful way to support its organizational mission.

Twitter updates are seen as public conversations and are increasing not only transparency and potentially accountability, but can also—when used appropriately—lead to increased inclu­sion of public opinion in policy formulation through information aggregation processes. Twitter can be used effectively to involve a large number of citizens and create conversations with an engaged, networked public. The outcome of these conversations can be new insights and even innovations in the public sector including suggestions on how to make government more effec­tive, or rapidly accelerating emergency responses that help to improve public safety.

This report is based on insights gained from discussions with social media directors in U.S. federal government agencies and observations of their daily Twitter tactics. Part I provides an overview of current strategies for using Twitter to interact with citizens. Four main strategies are identified:

• Push

• Pull

• Networking

• Customer service

In addition, hands-on best practices are presented for both public managers and social media administrators.

Twitter is still a relatively new tool. The platform frequently changes and features are added or moved, so government organizations need to be flexible and react to the changes. Suggestions on how to overcome both the technological and behavioral challenges are provided, and examples of best practices show how agencies have overcome these hurdles.

It will be important for the future use of social media in the public sector to show how invest­ments in content curating and online interactions affect a government organization. Current measurement techniques are provided to help social media managers create a business case for the effective use of social media.