What Does a 21st Century Government Look Like?


Senator Obama says we need to move from a 20th century government to a 21st century government.  Like Senator McCain, he is calling for a program-by-program review of the existing government.  But neither of them paint a picture of what a 21st century government might look like.

They should look to what the states are doing.  A recently released IBM Center report, on what state governments are doing to transform themselves, might be a place to start seeing what a 21st century government might look like.  The report, “Four Strategies for Transforming State Governance,” by the late Dr. Keon Chi (a long-time researcher for the Council of State Governments) describes a range of very interesting ideas – already in practice in state government — that might inspire their government reform agendas.

Chi identified four transformation strategies that he felt could be acted upon in a relatively short period of time without investing a great deal of additional resources and without partisan debates.  They are based on an assumption that states can transform themselves by using best practices developed and tested by other states as starting points rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel or replicate federal or private-sector management practices.

The four strategies that he felt can transform state governance are:  (1) anticipatory governance, (2) results-focused governance, (3) collaborative governance, and (4) transparent governance.  

Anticipatory Governance:  Anticipatory governance aims to shift from short-term decision-making to long-term and strategic planning.  Individual agency plans and objectives are swapped for statewide plans with shared visions and goals.  Successful anticipatory government initiatives include:

Minnesota 2020 Caucus.  A bi-partisan legislative caucus that foresees the policy and demographic challenges the state will face in the coming decades.

Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida.  The Commission provides annual reports to the legislature and Governor on issues related to population growth, infrastructure, natural resources, and natural disasters.

Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force.  The task force’s plan charts a visible and lasting course for the Islands over the next four decades.

Virginia Performs.  Governor Tim Kaine initiated this program to empower agency heads to embrace the state’s existing results-focused system and prioritize performance.

At the federal level, there is no similar effort.  GAO has long called for a government-wide strategic plan, but this is probably unlikely to happen.  However, there is a non-profit initiative that could serve as a foundation for making the federal government more “anticipatory,” The State of the USA, Inc., a non-profit that is developing a website of statistical information that will be a nonpartisan resource for citizens and policymakers to see how well the US is performing in economic, social, and environmental areas.  It’s launch is set for early 2009.

Results-Focused Governance:  Results-focused governance focuses its policy formulation, execution and adjudication on measurable performance.  By reducing the focus on rules and process-oriented management, state governments become more entrepreneurial, flexible, and innovative.  Successful results-focused governance initiatives include:

Government Management Accountability and Performance (GMAP).  This disciplined method of performance management enables Washington State’s governor and agency heads to make speedy decisions and achieve measurable results in selected service areas.

Iowa’s Charter Agencies. This approach allows volunteer state agency managers to waive administrative rules in order to be more creative and efficient, in exchange for results.

Maryland’s StateStat.  Similar to GMAP, governor O’Malley regularly convenes agency heads to focus on achieving specific results.

Again, there is no parallel federal effort.  The Obama campaign has called for a “chief performance officer” reporting to the president.  Several federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, have created an “EPA-Stat,” but far more could be done.  Federal efforts to create “charter agencies,” which at the federal level were called “performance-based organizations,” have not had much success in being replicated.

Collaborative Governance:  Collaborative governance focuses on replacing silo-based organizational culture with inter-agency and inter-sector collaboration.  Instead of agency-specific databases, for example, states develop integrated information management systems.  Instead of fragmented structures with turf protection states consolidate structures and shared services.  Successful collaborative governance initiatives include:

Illinois Shared Services Program.  This project is transforming agency silos (agencies having their own back-office functions) into an enterprise framework (agencies sharing back-office functions).

National Center for Interstate Compacts.  The Center supports states in developing durable and adaptive tools for promoting and ensuring cooperative action among the states while avoiding federal intervention and preemption.

At the federal level, there has been a significant move over the past few years to develop cross-agency shared services.  This has been done around mission support functions, such as personnel, technology, and finance.  These are collectively called “lines of business” and have been under development for the past 4-5 years.  They offer both savings and collaboration opportunities.  There have also been a number of collaborative efforts in mission-focused areas, such as the development of common standards for electronic health records or state fusion centers for homeland security, but these efforts tend to be more episodic rather than a standard way of doing the government’s work.

Transparent Governance: Transparent governance aims to transform closed and inward administrative processes and multi-layered bureaucracy into open government with clear public access and citizen-friendly and responsive mechanisms.  Successful transparent governance initiatives include:

Georgia’s “Office of Customer Service” – Charged by the Governor with developing a uniform, statewide system for measuring results for more than executive agencies.

AmericaSpeaks – A non-profit that engages citizens through town hall meetings in addressing local, state, and national issues that range from developing municipal budgets to social security reform.

DC Government’s Data Warehouse and CapStat.  The District of Columbia has opted for radical transparency in sharing its operational data and how it acts on it with its citizens and employees.  It makes raw, real-time data feeds available, allowing non-government groups to use it in “mash ups” and other forms of data visualization.

Again, at the federal level, there have been some efforts along these lines, but certainly not a comprehensive approach.  The federal government recently increased transparency in tracking federal spending and both Senators Obama and McCain both vow more transparency if they are elected president.

What would you add?


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One Response to “What Does a 21st Century Government Look Like?”

  1. Norman M.Macdonald Says:

    An excellent example of a large effort that uses collaborative governance is the organization that handles wild fire and forest fire. I believe in collaborative governance because I have used it on a smaller scale in reinvention labs that are still alive and well and constantly changing. A word of caution: the lines of busines — if they are internal to an organization — have been known to become electronic stove pipes.

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