Agile Government Why Now: An Introduction
The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) established the Agile Government Center (AGC) in November 2019. The Center serves as the hub of a network that brings together governments, non-profits, foundations, academic institutions and private sector partners to develop and disseminate agile government principles. The network also aims to develop and support strategies to provide public goods and services that fully meet customer needs and build public trust. The IBM Center for Business of Government (the IBM Center), under the leadership of Dan Chenok, is a partner of NAPA’s Agile Government Center.
The AGC and its community of interested leaders, the Agile Government Network (action network) are building upon the Academy’s initial efforts as presented in two Academy reports: Building an Agile Federal Government: A Call to Action and the report entitled the Road to Agile Government. The network is committed to advancing the value and practice of agility in public governance through research, global engagement, and academic program content.
The curriculum and pedagogy of schools of public affairs are central in this quest. This series of posts is intended to initiate a dialog on how to integrate agile governance principles into curricula -- with the hope that collaboration among NAPA, Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA), and schools of public affairs 1 will result in the steady flow of public servants who embrace the principles of agile government, and who also demonstrate the associated skills and capacity to act on these principles in their day-to-day work.
Intentional, sustained exchanges of expertise and ideas among public administrators, policy making communities, and academia have few channels that bring research and education to practice on consistent and enduring bases. At best, this absence of regular exchange leads to serendipitous contributions from those working on policy to develop and sustain reasoned approaches to policy problems. For the public administration environment, the lack of long-term relationships erodes the ability to create effective and agile public governance. Too often, the result is an impoverished policy dialog moribund administrative environment, and diminished reliability and quality of public services.
The most significant challenges facing public administration today involve the isolation of public servants, the rigidity of the administrative and regulatory systems in which they operate, and the lack of opportunity to develop relevant and emerging competencies. The persistence of these challenges has resulted in public management failures of enormous consequence (such as a runaway COVID 19 pandemic and power grid failures). These failures have cost lives and livelihoods, and further eroded the public’s trust in government. Despite these obvious shortfalls, the public administration field struggles to correct them.
Restoring belief in public service as critical to the preservation and endurance of democracy requires bold and risky strategies. Building expertise, constructing a knowledge base, establishing networks of skilled leaders, tackling the most contentious and complex of problems, and sustaining a passion and purpose for public service are the strategic weapons for seeding agility and resiliency in public administration. Foundational to developing and offering professional training that advances agility is adherence to the ten principles of agile government. These include: clarity of mission and expediency in achieving it; use of metrics to demonstrate success; persistence in the face of failure; collaborations of highly skilled cross functional teams; robust and, perhaps most important of all, championing innovation and assessment. The ten principles of agile government are presented below 2:
Agile Government Principles
- Mission: Mission is extremely clear, widely accepted and the organization is laser focused on achieving it.
- Metrics for Success: Metrics are widely agreed upon, outcome-focused, evidence-based, and easily tracked.
- Customer-Driven Behavior: Customers are part of the teams that design and implement agile programs. There is continuous iteration and improvement based on customer feedback.
- External Networks: Networks are an important part of leveraging customers and the public.
- Speed: Appropriate speed is essential to produce quality outcomes, regulatory consistency, and a clear focus on managing risks.
- Cross Functional Teams: Empowered, highly skilled, diverse cross-functional teams and networks lead to improved results.
- Innovation: Innovation is rewarded, and rules and regulations that hinder problem solving are examined and changed as necessary.
- Persistence: Persistence requires continuous experimentation, evaluation, and improvement in order to learn from both success and failure.
- Evidence Informed Solutions: Solid evidence forms the foundation for designing and implementing policy and program options.
- Organizational Leaders: Leaders eliminate roadblocks, aggregate and assume risks, empower teams to make decisions and hold them accountable, and reward good outcomes.
An agile government also promotes diversity in topics taught, students attending, and research done by schools, as well as program outcomes and hiring practices. Absent agility, current public services practices are less likely to promote equity and achieve diverse and inclusive outcomes in the field.
This first in a series of blog posts offers a starting point for dialog and debate on how best to infuse innovation, renewal and new directions in public administration. The next post poses new and emerging competencies required for agile public governance. Other posts offer approaches through which schools of public affairs can embrace agile governance values and adopt curricular and pedagogical innovations to develop these competencies, and discuss ways the NAPA can use its capacity and the extraordinary expertise of its Fellows to offer programs to advance agile government. The last post offers resources on agile government compiled and selected by the members of the Agile Government Network.
The ideas presented in this “agile governance education series” start of what we hope will be robust conversations, open debates, and rich exchanges among those who see value in agile government principles, and the promise in their adoption and implementation. This series is part a set of activities generated by the National Academy of Public Administration Grand Challenges agenda. The series can spur adjustments and updates based on new information and insights contributed by other authors. We also plan to add new pieces to this portfolio that offer more specific ways in which academia can join in these efforts.
1 - For purposes of this series, the term “schools of public affairs” refers generally to schools of public administration, public management, public policy, and public service.
2 - Source: See DeSeve, G. Edward. “The Road to Agile Government, Driving Change to Achieve Success.” Page 6.
About the Author
Angela Evans is the primary author of these posts, in her roles as a Visiting Fellow with the IBM Center and a Fellow with NAPA. Angela has spent over 50 years in public service. She led the Congressional Research Service (CRS) as its deputy director for 13 years and is the immediate past dean of the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs (LBJ School). She has been in positions where linking academia and public policy communities have been critical. Her professional career experience brings unique knowledge and perspectives to the field of public affairs.
At CRS she had responsibility for ensuring that the research, data and information provided to the Congress in their legislative, oversight and funding responsibilities was current, reliable, and authoritative. This required a deep understanding of the policy process, robust exchanges with academic communities and think tanks, and the ability to address the needs of Members of Congress and their staff in real time. Angela also was responsible for ensuring that the analysts, researchers, and staff of CRS had the knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully carry out the mission of CRS. During her time as deputy, CRS underwent a major review and complete overhaul of its human resources systems and operations governing job skills, hiring, and performance.
While serving as the dean of the LBJ School, Angela led the strategic review of the degree programs offered by the LBJ School. These efforts involved working with faculty, public sector employers, and other academic leaders both in and outside the University of Texas to identify the skills needed by graduates of the School to contribute immediately as they entered the full range of policy settings. Angela also initiated the creation of what is now called the “Deans’ Summit”–an informal, but sustained, collaboration among deans of top public affairs schools (see footnote 1). A major initiative of this group was defining competencies and how best to instill them in students.