Learning from the Past to Envision the Future: Assessing the Long Arc of Government Reform
April, 08 2019 | Dan Chenok, John M. Kamensky & Mark A. Abramson
At any given moment in time, governments in the United States and around the globe are carrying out key missions in service to their citizens, learning from and engaging with partners in other sectors, and acting as cost-effective stewards of public resources. The countless positive daily actions of government leaders go largely unrecognized amidst a constant focus on the highly visible but far smaller set of challenges and problems faced by the public sector. However, stepping back to view progress over a span of decades reveals evidence of the sum total of this continuous evolution in government management—as well as providing perspective on the future of public service. It is from this longer-term perspective on the performance and potential of government that the IBM Center for The Business of Government wrote the book Government for the Future: Reflection and Vision for Tomorrow’s Leaders.
The IBM Center was established in 1998, when a group of leaders in the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers created a new organization, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. The Endowment’s goal was simple: to encourage academic research on topics of import for government managers, and to increase understanding about what works in government. To advance this research agenda, a small grants program provided research stipends to experts, based on a competitive review of proposals submitted in response to a semiannual announcement with research priorities for the coming year. With the acquisition of PwC Consulting by IBM in 2002, the Endowment moved to IBM and was renamed the IBM Center for The Business of Government.
For 20 years since 1998, the IBM Center has published research from more than 400 outside experts—largely from academia, as well as non-profits and journalists. Collectively, these experts created a body of knowledge about best practices and lessons learned for government improvement. In addition, the IBM Center has developed a record of public sector challenges and opportunities through more than 500 interviews with government leaders on its radio show, the “Business of Government Hour.” In Government for the Future, we draw from this rich repository of content to reflect on major drivers of public sector progress over the past two decades.
More importantly, reflection on this content provides a foundation to paint a vision of what government management may look like two decades hence. Our work builds on this foundation to bring together a set of viewpoints about the public sector in 2040. This vision of tomorrow’s government is framed through essays from experts that lay out a roadmap for how to maximize benefits and minimize risks, with potential innovations ranging from the workplace of the future to the advancement of space exploration.
Looking Back: Significant and Enduring Management Trends
We highlight six significant and enduring management initiatives of the past 20 years that were identified through a survey of government managers and experts:
- Digital initiatives, including mobile computing and cloud computing
- Data initiatives, including big data, analytics, visualization, and dashboards
- Performance management initiatives, addressing the evolution of the supply of performance management information, and creating a demand for its use
- Social media-related initiatives, following the impact of social media, which has been evident at all levels of government and has become a major agency communication tool
- Collaboration initiatives, such as public-private partnerships, cross-agency collaboration, and inter-governmental collaboration
- Risk management initiatives, including cyber, financial, and environmental risks
Lessons Learned: What does the implementation of management reform over the past 20 years teach current and future government leaders about how to proceed with these and other management reforms in the future? Our research identifies four lessons from our analysis of past management initiatives:
- Management reform is not for the faint-hearted. Management reform requires major commitment and staying power. In short, it’s not for the timid or those with short time horizons. It takes a well-executed implementation plan and top-level commitment.
- In launching management initiatives, government leaders should target key goals and not overload the “system” with too much reform concurrently. Successful change leaders in government are selective about which management initiatives to launch.
- Successful management initiatives require much time and effort, and a focus on implementation. While less successful initiatives launched over the last 20 years may have been sound conceptually, many suffered from poor execution.
- Effective leadership makes management initiatives succeed. While it has become a cliché, leadership from the top drives success in launching a management initiative.
Looking Ahead: The Next Twenty Years
Based on lessons learned from the past and the research done, an outline of a vision of what government might look like in 2040 comes into focus. We see two sets of developments evolving. First, technology will drive the redeployment of resources—people, dollars, and organizational structures. Second, as a consequence of these technology changes, the way people work and interact will change, and this will reframe how government works—including service delivery, citizen involvement, and different business models.
We envision three technology-based drivers of change for government in coming years:
- Artificial and augmented intelligence (AI) will change the game. Advances in the use of AI will change roles, both within government and between government and citizens.
- Data will drive progress. The increased availability and use of data will reframe how government managers use knowledge and insight to analyze performance, make decisions, and deliver services.
- Government services will become platform-based. In this scenario, government will be more of a facilitator, creating the conditions for platforms that could be built in the private and non-profit sectors collaborating with the public sector.
Moreover, the vision of our authors suggests that these technology drivers will have three broader impacts on the government of the future:
- Government will be more citizen-driven. Government in 2040 will be more citizen-focused, with people leveraging technology and data to interact with their government.
- Government will become more network-based. The role of government workers evolving within a network-based environment as a result of technology will change, becoming flatter, more open, and more collaborative.
- Volunteer participation with government will increase. Citizens will have more time to spend on volunteer activities in 2040—either as retirees or as members of a 2040 workforce that benefits from technology.
At an event marking the release of Government for the Future, chief management officers for the US Government across the last four American Presidential Administrations (who carry the title of Deputy Director for Management of the US Office of Management and Budget) shared insights about the march of management progress as a bipartisan tradition, in which leaders have built on the successes and lessons learned. This evolution began with the National Partnership for Reinventing Government of the 1990s, which informed the E-Government Agenda of the 2000s, which in turn helped shape the open government and digital agenda of the last decade, which in turn has created a path for the current priorities of IT modernization, data strategy, and workforce improvement to deliver better mission, service, and stewardship performance by government for the American people. Each of these sets of initiatives has been implemented through the President’s Management Agenda, which now stands alongside the President’s Budget as a process to ensure long-term and sustained management excellence for government.
For 20 years, the IBM Center has been privileged to contribute cutting-edge research that has led to practical, actionable recommendations for government executives, and to have collaborated with like-minded organizations to improve government performance. With Government for the Future, we look to continue this collaboration among government, academia, non-profits, and industry through the next twenty years. We hope that the perspectives provided through our research will help leaders make this positive vision for government into tomorrow’s reality.
Dan Chenok is Executive Director of the Center for The Business of Government. John M. Kamensky is Senior Fellow at the IBM Center for The Business of Government; prior to joining the IBM Center, he served for eight years as deputy director of Vice President Gore’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government. Mark A. Abramson is the original Director of the IBM Center and Co-editor of the IBM Center for The Business of Government book series. You can learn more about the IBM Center and download reports for free at: www.businessofgovernment.org.
Mark A. Abramson; Daniel J. Chenok and John M. Kamensky, Government for the Future: Reflection and Vision for Tomorrow's Leaders, The IBM Center for The Business of Government, 2018.