December 7, 2010 By Theresa A. Pardo
With the November elections behind us, governors new and old now face the tough job of delivering on policy priorities. This is a difficult enough task in its own right, but the challenges are amplified in today’s economic and political environment. Elected officials in cities and towns from the West Coast to the White House increasingly see innovations in technology as key to making changes, particularly in such difficult times.
The credit for this new understanding of the relationship between technology innovation and achieving policy priorities goes to CIOs — they’ve worked long and hard to ensure that the highest level leaders understand the potential technology has for transforming government. Elected officials are now turning to technology as part of their core strategy. Technology as an engine for change is now a topic of campaign speeches; new attention is paid to technology-based services as a differentiator for economic development; officials seek to be identified as running “e” cities or digital states; and officials regularly highlight technology-enabled efficiencies and program innovations in their governments.
Among elected officials’ many priorities are government consolidation, increased access to quality education, stimulating economic development, and opening government data and processes. However, these same officials often lack full understanding of the role they must play in creating the conditions necessary for technology innovation to support policy changes. And if these officials don’t do more in this capacity, CIOs may be facing a case of “be careful what you wish for.” Most truly transformational technology applications require changes in the institutional and organizational fabric of government. If CIOs are pressured to deliver on technology’s promises without receiving the gubernatorial support necessary to provide institutional and organizational capabilities, costly and critical failures may result.
During the formative stages of a new administration, attention can be drawn to a governor’s role in developing the institutional and organizational capabilities necessary for technology innovation to support policy changes. CIOs must take the opportunity created by transition to outline for their governors the specific actions that they, as policymakers, must take to create these capabilities. During the past 16 years, the Center for Technology in Government has found that three particular capabilities are foundational to any effort that relies on innovative technology applications to support the transformation of governmental processes and practices. To be successful, governors must invest in these three foundational capabilities.
No matter the change agenda on hand — whether it involves consolidation of governments, increased efficiencies through enterprise systems or governmentwide transparency — coordinated action across agencies, jurisdictions and sectors is required. To be successful, governors need to understand that collaboration must be institutionalized as an organizational norm and management principle. It must be incorporated as a management strategy within our traditional bureaucratic institutions, as well as within our networks. The typical policy environment limits the capability of agencies to share authority, exchange resources, and jointly and strategically manage enterprisewide initiatives. To change this, governors must understand how policies can support or inhibit collaborative action. They must shape their policy decisions, and then nurture the capability of governments to create the necessary organizational cultures and systems to sustain effective collaboration across boundaries.
CIOs know what it takes to build the necessary institutional capabilities for collaboration in their states. To educate their governors, CIOs must use the knowledge that most successful governance structures involve bringing together a broad set of government stakeholders to design a framework that not only supports a governor’s policy and programmatic priorities, but also aligns with stakeholders’ goals and values. In addition, CIOs must let their governors know that there’s no one-size-fits-all governance structure — in many cases there are multiple — and policy or program specific structures will be necessary.
Elected officials and career executives increasingly recognize that many of their most important policy initiatives require government information to be managed, shared and used in new ways. Improving public health responses, educational assessments and human services integration, to name a few priorities, rely on government to change its current information practices. Doing so requires a new set of capabilities for collecting, managing, sharing and preserving multiple types of government information created and stored in diverse formats — and often on information systems that make reusing and sharing it difficult. For most government agencies, this continues to be an extra responsibility that may compete for resources with the demands of mission-focused operations. CIOs have spent the last several years working more closely with their state’s records managers and archivists to improve how the rapidly expanding amount of government information in digital form is managed and preserved.
Governors can support the development of these capabilities by creating a new government culture of “information stewardship.” This culture will instill the shared understanding that government information must be acquired, used and managed as a resource or asset that has organizational, jurisdictional or societal value, and therefore must be treated as such. CIOs can facilitate this culture by helping their governors understand the political, economic and social benefits of treating citizen and government information as a public asset — one that has multiple values to both government and society. Only then will policies be designed and resources allocated to improve these capabilities.
Elected officials have begun insisting on more comprehensive cost and value analyses for technology investments. CIOs must deliver on these expectations, but in doing so, need to communicate to their leadership that conventional approaches to ROI analysis may simply be inadequate for these increased demands. More substantial improvements in government may require larger or new kinds of investments. These projects require a way of assessing public value that matches their greater scope and complexity — a way that can build the needed public support and guide development. The low-hanging fruit available from earlier IT investments — such as establishing a Web presence and automating simple service transactions — has been harvested.
Public value generation is based on how an IT investment links government goals to investments to business processes to public interests. IT investments generate value in relation to the policy and administrative setting in which they operate. The goals and business processes provide links between how the technology operates and the interactions with stakeholders that generate value. Governments need new capabilities to examine how an investment links to the relevant government goals, operations and business processes — and they need to use that information in decision-making. This linking process is more complex than it may appear. It requires a comprehensive and reasonably detailed picture of government goals and operations, showing the relevant links between the technology and business processes. Governors must be aware of and address not only the importance of the question, but also the nature of the changes necessary to fully and adequately answer this most critical question for each investment — does it matter?
Achieving many 21st-century policy priorities rests on emerging technologies, such as cloud computing, social media, radio-frequency identification and mobile devices. These technologies present new opportunities for innovation in how government provides services, protects the public good and interacts with citizens.
But the technologies alone aren’t enough — institutional and organizational changes, such as the foundational capabilities outlined above, are necessary. CIOs working with their governors can use this important transition point to create governance structures that support coordinated action across boundaries, bring new clarity to governments as a steward of information, and bring new attention to questions of public value. In doing so, together they can create the capabilities necessary to leverage technology innovation to the achievement of policy priorities.
Theresa A. Pardo is the director of the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) and is on the faculty of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy and the College of Computing and Information at the University at Albany, State University of New York. At the CTG, Pardo leads a variety of applied research projects with government, corporate and university partners on the policy, management and technology issues surrounding information and technology use in the public sector.
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