Improving decision-making is the greatest challenge in and around government today.

The stakeholders are diverse. One decision can affect the public, other levels of government and government contractors.

The issues are the most crucial of our time -- public safety; economic vitality; individual opportunity; the scope and quality of governmental services; and re-balancing the roles of private sector, public sector, and individual initiative throughout society.

Some decisions are reduced to a science and automated -- the calculation of Social Security payments, for example. Other decisions, such

as whether and how to overhaul income taxation, remain a seemingly artless art.

Yet the art and the science fall on a single spectrum of process maturity. And knowledge of that spectrum provides a vital key to organizational and personal success.

Consider the evolution of an executive branch agency's dealing with legislative hearings. A new agency is likely a Novice that muddles chaotically through its preparation for a hearing. Much of the work will be wasted. Perhaps none of the constituents -- the public, legislators, witnesses, the chief executive and agency staff -- will be satisfied with the results.

After struggling through a number of hearings the agency becomes an Experimenter, choosing from partly defined processes for collecting information and drafting testimony.

Through enough attention to process, the agency graduates to be an Implementer with well-tested procedures for working with legislative staff members to understand the nature of a hearing, deciding what testimony to present, anticipating questions and rehearsing answers. But even this behavior is still reactive.

An Innovator treats hearings in the broader context of working continuously with the public and legislature to develop needed changes in governance.

Of course, trade associations, businesses and individuals face the same challenges and opportunities in dealing with legislative hearings. The Novice treats preparation as a scarcely explored art backed by little science. For the Innovator, it is a science backed by well-practiced artistry. No matter what one's maturity stage, success can be enhanced by understanding and improving one's proficiency.

More generally, each of us -- as a concerned citizen, governmental leader, employee, or supplier -- wants to help improve governmental decisions. Just as for businesses and community groups, the products of governments today are decisions and implementations. Contributing relevant information and good ideas is essential, but not enough. We need to improve processes too.

Organizations do take steps to improve their procedures. Techniques such as Business Process Reengineering and Total Quality Management come to mind. But many key governmental and societal decisions are made using Novice and Experimenter behavior for which these techniques may not apply well. Is there a more comprehensive paradigm?

The above-mentioned four process-maturity steps are derived from the information proficiency paradigm, which focuses attention on proficiency with information to make decisions and proficiency through information to communicate and implement decisions.

This paradigm was originally developed to fill in the once-missing gap in the now-complete continuum of key Information-Age issues faced by today's organizations: setting goals and achieving results, enhancing information proficiency, managing information as a resource, deploying information systems and benefiting from technology.

Information proficiency has one root in information resources management and another in proficiency to make decisions, thereby setting goals, and to implement decisions, thereby accomplishing people's jobs and organizations' missions. The paradigm arose in 1989 as the theme underlying the mission of the U.S. General Services Administration's Information Resources Management Service (IRMS), a group spearheading acquisition and deployment of $20 billion of technology and services per year. IRMS stated its mission as "To help clients achieve information proficiency."

The process-maturity spectrum forms the heart of an informa-

tion proficiency measurement and enhancement program that any organization or individual can use to find and capture its most important improvement