Do we really need another book on transforming government to
prepare us for the myriad challenges that are sweeping over the
public sector? Yesuntil government picks up the pace. As this book
points out, we need a government that can operate on demand.
From the table-setting preface through 21 chapters this book offers
a thoughtful collection of fresh perspectives on what needs to be
done to create a 21st century governance model. The model must
include authentic citizen engagement; reliance on collaborative
networks; and partnerships to deliver services and solutions. While
readers may wish to devour all of this books ideas from cover to
cover, four chapters may offer the most actionable, near-term
takeaways for busy practitioners.
Citizen Enragement vs. Citizen Engagement
In his chapter, Turning Citizen Enragement into Citizen Engagement,
Alan Shark explores the potentially dark side of
e-governmentincluding the possibility of some sites intentionally,
or not, (contributing) to citizen rage. Concentrating on this
phenomenon at the local level, Shark shares his insight on
expectations for citizen interaction across generations.
Many citizens today, particularly younger ones, expect to provide
their own contentnot just be the recipient of it from local
jurisdictions. Shark also notes, the mobile device has become the
central means of communicating two-way informationfacts as well as
opinion, text as well as photos and videos.
This trend raises a number of questions:
- How can government keep pace with these changes and
expectations for greater interactivity?
- How do we deal with the inevitable widening of the digital
- What can or should local governments do to ensure that people
feel their voices are being heard?
While this chapter does not provide a blueprint for how government
can proceed on these challenges, Shark offers examples and provides
references and online links to many local-level innovations and
forward-looking initiatives at the state and federal level. Shark
reminds us, Civic engagement has always been a necessary component
of democracy (Now) there is no turning back. The digital town hall
21st Century Collaboration
Three chapters offer guidance and examples of what more can be done
to make collaborative culture the default for American governance
In his chapter on Improving Collaboration at the Federal Level, Tom
Stanton uses the Hurricane Katrina and BP oil spill incidents to
remind us how painfully obvious it was that our government
bureaucracies and related players were incapable of acting in
harmony with one another to respond to these disasters. And while
technology can be an enableras it has been in the collaboration,
for example, of a wide array of public assistance programshe also
notes that technology alone is not sufficient.
Indeed, organizational culture also likely played an important
role, Stanton says. He goes on to argue that its time to promote a
more collaborative organizational culture within the federal sector
by putting in place more collaborative leaders and managers and
having the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and
individual departments employ more interagency structures and
rating systems in policy implementation. Beyond this, Stanton
offers a wide range of specific tools that OMB and departments can
use to overcome internal, congressional, and interest-group
resistance to these reform measures. In effect, he concludes that
agencies that fail to improve collaboration among all levels of
government risk finding that the way they perform their missions is
Wither Regional Governance?
Next, Thom Reilly and Robert Tekniepe bring this discussion down to
the city and county level in their chapter, Collaborative Regional
Networked Systems. Given the imperative for cross-jurisdictional
cooperation in virtually all matters affecting regional challenges
of the 21st centuryincluding economic development, security,
environment, transportation, healthits time to tackle the barriers
to such efforts. These barriers include the weak state of regional
governance institutions; and federal and state laws, regulations,
and funding arrangements that inhibit providing more integrated
services across multiple governmental boundaries and among private
sector and nonprofit organizations.
Reilly and Tekniepe drill down further to provide examples of nine
different organizational approaches being used across the United
States to bring about such networking, including efforts in St.
Louis; San Francisco; North Central Texas; Boston; Utah; Erie
County, New York; Nevada; Kentucky; and Allegheny, New York.
Furthermore, the authors identify 20 factors considered keys to
success in these collaborative undertakings that cover such topics
as environment (history and support for collaboration), member
characteristics, process and structure, communication, purpose, and
resources. This chapter includes an extensive list of references
and concludes with the observation that local leaders (need to) be
skilled in managing networks.
I would go one step further: Our community of practice (the
American Society for Public Administration, among others) should
examine todays public administration curriculum and training
programs (including certified public management competencies) to
ensure that leaders at all levels of government are equipped with
the professional skills to avoid the obsolescence Tom Stanton warns
against in his chapter.
Taking her cue from Charles Darwin, who suggests that humans have
avoided obsolescence by learning to collaborate and improvise, Lena
Trudeau offers practical examples of collaboration and
improvisation in her chapter, The Evolution of Collaboration. With
an eye toward tapping the power of Web 2.0, she delves into an
array of cases that demonstrate how early technologyenabled
collaboration has led to innovative success. Here are a few
- the combination of the KatrinaHelp wiki and the Katrina
PeopleFinder project that took advantage of a collaborative
web-based network to quickly make available comprehensive online
data across a wide spectrum of users
- an eight-day national dialogue on IT solutions that generated
hundreds of actionable ideas and approaches to make improvements on
a wide range of governance topics
- a Google maps approach (Virtual Alabama) used to assist a
states first responders at the local level
- a collaborative editing approach (the New Zealand Police Act
wiki) that involved a global audience to reform laws on these
To overcome the limitations of the early innovationstypically
one-off experiments that used only a fraction of the power of
collaborative technologynew, open government initiatives are
underway to make headway on three major fronts: transparency,
participation, and collaboration.
Here again, Trudeau brings us up-to-date on significant efforts at
different levels of government that show promise, including NASAs
Open Source Software Development initiativean open government
planning process, and Manor Labsa local-level idea generation
platform in Manor, Texas.
These chapters offer only a taste of the penetrating thought and
reporting that has gone into Transforming American Governance.
I recommend it to professional public managers at all levels of
government as well as to those whose mission is training and
educating future generations of public servants.