Angela Evans
Thursday, October 14, 2021
The last several blogs explored the skills and competencies reflective of agile governance, and started to explore new educational programs aimed at building these competencies.

In this and the next three posts, I lay out new frameworks for educational and training programs intended for those moving into government (pre-career service), and for those currently serving in public service (professional development).  These frameworks build from ideas in this series, and offer possible approaches for designing relevant, integrated public affairs education and deliver that to a broad, diverse population. These ideas provide multiple pathways to ensure a steady stream of expertise so critical to the success of public service.

Also, these approaches complement the work undertaken by schools of public affairs that have refreshed their curricula and pedagogies.  They also recognize work undertaken by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Office Personnel Management and the U.S. Office of Management Budget, and the many associations and contractors who have developed training for public servants.

Some argue that the current norm of step-by-step, single institution innovations are successful, superior and more palatable than those advocating fundamental structural change.  This and the next posts do not settle this argument, but rather offer a different way to think about public affairs education, and to jump start meaningful discussions.


Before getting into the proposed frameworks, a brief review of three concepts presented in previous posts follows.  These relate both to traditional pre-service career education and professional development efforts for public service.

First, caring about public administration and its success. The Nation continues to bear witness to multiple public failures. Many policy challenges go unaddressed, are recast as partisan, or presented as unsolvable—all as citizen faith in public systems and the people who run them continues to plummet.  Much of the public believes that government just does not know how to solve problems for the common good, but rather fumbles or falls.  Even when government does succeed, its accomplishments are not recognized or are simply taken for granted.

For public administration to excel two things matter: (1) the people who make up the public service; and (2) the environments in which those people work.  Not only does government have to attract and retain a steady flow of experts whose intellect, grit, agility, and problem-solving skills can be applied directly and swiftly to addressing key challenges.  Governments also have to ensure that their work environments and cultures provide space and support to maximize success.  Agencies cannot attract and recruit energetic, purpose-filled, smart, and hard-working individuals only to place them in organizational structures led by those who do not know how to manage this talent, or who are themselves restricted by old protocols.

Second, the power of growing the right competencies.  Over the past several decades, researchers and management gurus have identified scores of skills and competencies deemed critical to management success. Many come with their own sophisticated schematics hoping to add to their bona fides--all seeking the “holy grail” of competencies. This longstanding quest covers a diverse set of views on an extensive range of skills.

As discussed in my previous blog posts, several critical competencies are essential for agile governance.  I offered them not as a neat and clean checklist, where ticking all of the boxes leads to development of the perfect specimen of a public leader; rather, when taken together these competencies present an integrated portrait of how public servants succeed in the world of public service.

Third, the settings in which learning takes place. Government and training providers are currently bound by time and space limitations that define the educational experience by credit/contact hours, week-defined semesters, and seasonal breaks (summer, spring and winter).  The physical plant of the school/university serves as the primary platform upon which learning takes place. In many ways, instead of enhancing the educational experience, this paradigm disrupts the way students learn, teachers teach, and knowledge is transferred. Breaking away from these traditional learning protocols and settings is essential to the success of public affairs programs.


I invite you to tune into a podcast aired on the Federal News Network and hosted by Michael Keegan, Leadership Fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, host of The Business of Government Hour, and editor of The Business of Government Magazine. Michael and I discuss agile government principles and their implications for the education and training of public servants.  This podcast offers additional insights into the role of agile government in education programs and research.

The next blogs in this series will focus on each of two traditional audiences essential for agile governance.  The first will address the pre-service, career masters’ program, and the second will address educational programming for those already in public service. Even this grouping is educational programming by pre-career service and in-service is arbitrary, since while some educational content is more relevant and specific to each of these groups, sharing elements of educational programming among these audiences is critical to the adoption and assimilation of agile governance.  Regardless of staging, success of the approaches discussed in the next blogs rests squarely on the involvement and participation of working public servants in career programs that address agility in the public sector.


Schools of public affairs have broadened their clients through undergraduate programming, executive and certificate programs, and enhanced experiential learning through internships and multi-disciplinary, multi-sector collaborative projects.


Links to all posts in this series: