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.

Nepal earthquake – Facebook safety check, Google public alerts #smem

Today, a 7.8 earthquake with multiple aftershocks hit Nepal. In the past, Google and Red Cross offered the opportunity with their apps to check in on people and to mark oneself with “I’m ok”.

Google Public Alerts page
Google Public Alerts

When you search on Google for Nepal earthquake, the site displays a public alert in bright orange featuring the main pieces of information needed: impact, tips from Ready.gov, selected tweets related to the tweets from vetted sources, such as the Indian Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies,  and major news outlets.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, posted a note indicating the launch of a new feature as well. I am connected to people who are in the region  it truly provided peace of mind when they both checked themselves in as safe. My notifications popped up with a green button allowing me to see that they marked themselves as safe. The good people at Twitter didn’t seem to jump on the bandwagon. They usually they set up pages to display all relevant information in one place for big events, such as elections or the Superbowl. Disappointed that they are not supportive.

Facebook Safety Check
Facebook Safety Check 

 

The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 7.44.06 PMThe Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) just published my article “The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government“. I analyzed mobile apps and their functions, as well as their development process. In addition, I interviewed public managers in the U.S. federal government to understand how they overcame institutional barriers to reuse open data and build mobile apps:

ABSTRACT

Background: Government agencies in the United States are creating mobile health (mHealth) apps as part of recent policy changes initiated by the White House’s Digital Government Strategy.

Objective: The objective of the study was to understand the institutional and managerial barriers for the implementation of mHealth, as well as the resulting adoption pathways of mHealth.

Methods: This article is based on insights derived from qualitative interview data with 35 public managers in charge of promoting the reuse of open data through Challenge.gov, the platform created to run prizes, challenges, and the vetting and implementation of the winning and vendor-created apps.

Results: The process of designing apps follows three different pathways: (1) entrepreneurs start to see opportunities for mobile apps, and develop either in-house or contract out to already vetted Web design vendors; (2) a top-down policy mandates agencies to adopt at least two customer-facing mobile apps; and (3) the federal government uses a policy instrument called “Prizes and Challenges”, encouraging civic hackers to design health-related mobile apps using open government data from HealthData.gov, in combination with citizen needs. All pathways of the development process incur a set of major obstacles that have to be actively managed before agencies can promote mobile apps on their websites and app stores.

Conclusions: Beyond the cultural paradigm shift to design interactive apps and to open health-related data to the public, the managerial challenges include accessibility, interoperability, security, privacy, and legal concerns using interactive apps tracking citizen.

FULL REFERENCE

Mergel I.: The Long Way From Government Open Data to Mobile Health Apps: Overcoming Institutional Barriers in the US Federal Government, JMIR mHealth uHealth 2014;2(4):e58, URL: http://mhealth.jmir.org/2014/4/e58, DOI: 10.2196/mhealth.3694

KEYWORDS

mHealth;
mobile apps;
open data;
prizes and challenges

Opening Government: Designing Open Innovation Processes to Collaborate With External Problem Solvers

The Social Science Computer Review has just released (in online first format) a Special Issue on Open Government edited by Mila Gasco. I contributed a paper titled “Opening Government: Designing Open Innovation Processes to Collaborate With External Problem Solvers.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 6.12.09 AMAbstract:

Open government initiatives in the U.S. government focus on three main aspects: transparency, participation, and collaboration. Especially the collaboration mandate is relatively unexplored in the literature. In practice, government organizations recognize the need to include external problem solvers into their internal innovation creation processes. This is partly derived from a sense of urgency to improve the efficiency and quality of government service delivery. Another formal driver is the America Competes Act that instructs agencies to search for opportunities to meaningfully promote excellence in technology, education, and science. Government agencies are responding to these requirements by using open innovation (OI) approaches to invite citizens to crowdsource and peer produce solutions to public management problems. These distributed innovation processes occur at all levels of the U.S. government and it is important to understand what design elements are used to create innovative public management ideas. This article systematically reviews existing government crowdsourcing and peer production initiatives and shows that after agencies have defined their public management problem, they go through four different phases of the OI process: (1) idea generation through crowdsourcing, (2) incubation of submitted ideas with peer voting and collaborative improvements of favorite solutions, (3) validation with a proof of concept of implementation possibilities, and (4) reveal of the selected solution and the (internal) implementation of the winning idea. Participation and engagement are incentivized both with monetary and non-monetary rewards, which lead to tangible solutions as well as intangible innovation outcomes, such as increased public awareness.

Reference:

Mergel, I. (2014): Opening Government: Designing Open Innovation Processes to Collaborate With External Problem Solvers, in: Social Science Computer Review, Special Issue: Open Government, doi: 10.1177/0894439314560851.

Social Technologies in Local Government Emergency Management #SMEM

Over Social Technologies in Emergency Managementthe summer we discovered and analyzed over 400 social media accounts of local government emergency managers in the five counties around Syracuse, NY. We included fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical care providers, public health organizations, and executive emergency management departments. The goal is to understand how (social media tactics) and what (social media content) emergency managers communicate online before, during and after an incident.

Social Technologies in Emergency ManagementThis week we presented our initial findings to the counties and had a very interesting conversation about local government needs and concerns when it comes to social media use.

We put together a draft report for practitioners highlighting their own good practices and practices we observed in other local governments following FEMA’s and DHS’ guidelines on how to use social media. The report and website will be continuously updated to reflect our newest findings.

Github for Government paper

I just returned from Germany where I presented a paper at the European Group of Public Administration Annual Conference (EGPA) at the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer.

I participated in a track on innovation in public administration and shared my paper titled “Introducing Open Collaboration in the Public Sector: The Case of Social Coding on Github“. The paper is based on a series of interviews I conducted over the summer with Github users in the U.S. federal government and quantitative data downloaded from Github’s API.

Here is the abstract:

Open collaboration has evolved as a new venue for innovation creation in the public sector. Government organizations are using online platforms to crowdsource and co-produce public sector innovations with the help of external and internal problem solvers. Most recently the U.S. federal government has allowed agencies to collaboratively create and share open source code on the social coding platform Github. A community of government employees is sharing open source code for website development, data sources, but also draft policy documents on Github. Quantitative data extracted from Github’s application programming interface is used to analyze the social network relationships between contributors to government code and the reuse of open government tools developed on Github. In addition, qualitative interviews with government contributors in this social coding environment provide practical insights into new forms of co-development of open source code and policy drafting in the public sector.

I also posted the full paper to SSRN. I’m still adding more interview data and need to do a more sophisticated network analysis before I can send this paper out for review. I would appreciate any feedback people might have to improve the paper.

Here is the full reference:

Mergel, Ines A., Introducing Open Collaboration in the Public Sector: The Case of Social Coding on Github (September 16, 2014). Available at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2497204

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 6.33.20 PM

APSA conference paper: Twitter use in state emergency management #SMEM

Clayton Wukich and I presented a paper at the annual American Political Science Conference (APSA) in DC last week. We analyzed three communication modes state emergency managers use in all phases of emergency management. The working paper is available on SSRN:

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 7.25.33 AM

 

Reference:

Wukich, Clayton and Mergel, Ines A., Closing the Citizen-Government Communication Gap: Content, Audience, and Network Analysis of Government Tweets (August 28, 2014). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2488681

New article: Social media adoption: Toward a representative, responsive, or interactive government?

I wrote a paper providing empirical evidence for a phased adoption framework of social media adoption in government that we published in 2013 in PAR. This new paper shows how government agencies move through stages of institutionalizing new technologies and how they adapt their internal standard operating procedures to reflect the changes in the way citizens interact with government.

The paper is available through the ACM Digital Library.

Here is the full reference:

Mergel, I. (2014): Social media adoption: toward a representative, responsive or interactive government?, in: dg.o ’14 Proceedings of the 15th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, pp. 163-170, doi>10.1145/2612733.2612740.

Abstract:

Social media adoption is oftentimes seen as technologically determined by third parties outside of government, with government’s role limited to reactively jump on the bandwagon and respond to citizen preferences. However, social media interactions are emergent and challenging existing bureaucratic norms and regulations. This paper provides empirical evidence for the institutionalization stages government agencies’ move through when they are adopting new technologies. Adoption occurs at varying degrees of formalization and not all departments in the U.S. executive branch regulate and restrict the use of new technologies in the same way. The internal procedural and organizational changes that occur during the adoption process are extracted using qualitative interviews with social media directors in the 15 departments which received the executive order to “harness new technologies” in order to make the U.S. government more transparent, participatory and collaborative. In addition to the perceptions of federal social media directors, a process tracing approach was used to map the accompanying governance and institutional changes and follow-up orders to direct the adoption of social media. Tracing both the behavior of individual organizations as well as the institutional top-down responses, this paper is both relevant for academics as well as practitioners. It provides the basis for future large-scale research studies across all levels of government, as well as insights into the black box of organizational responses to a top-down political mandate.

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:

 

#MyNYPD hastag failure: A sign that without trust Twitter does not serve as a resilient infrastructure during emergency reporting

By now the major social media failure of New York Police’s social media department has made it around the world. The well-intended pull tactic to ask citizens to tweet their best memories and share pictures with NYPD using the hashtag #MyNYPD was by an overwhelming majority of Twitter users used to send in pictures of their worst memories:

The hashtag was trending for two days in the US and created spin-off initiatives around the country and around the world:

I believe it was an honest attempt to use a tactic to actively engage citizens. Other government departments are extremely successful in asking citizens for their input or for sending in pictures, like the Department of Interior for example. There is research out there that shows that citizens feel more engaged and ‘heard’ when have options to directly get in touch with government officials through unofficial channels, such as social media.

However, what is interesting about this story is not so much that NYPD was surprised by the flood of negative images or might have misjudged the open culture of the Web. Instead, I find it much more interesting that NYPD won’t be able to rely on Twitter as a resilient infrastructure during emergency situations. Clearly, thousands of people in NY don’t trust the police in the first place and that has significant implications for outreach and preparedness messaging. If no one listens to you or even makes fun of you, how will you be able to create a trusted voice online? Who will listen in case of another hurricane that shuts down power lines? A recent Congressional hearing has shown that citizens’s cellphones were still connected to the Web and served as a lifeline during the power outage.

I believe this is an important lesson for NYPD to build a trustworthy online presence – in combination with the same offline trust of course – so that they can rely on social media during emergency situations. This has to be done between major events and not at times when citizens actually have be reached in an emergency. A tough road ahead for NYPD.