3 Ways to Work Through Governance Roadblocks

There are some ways around the governance monster and the roadblocks it carries with it.

SALEM, Ore. — In the private sector, the CEO or board of directors speak and the rest of the company listens. But in the public sector, the chain of command is often splintered among agencies, processes, funding sources and legal limitations.

When it comes to making projects happen across silos and unique institutional barriers, this can mean headaches for those pushing from the back end of the project pipeline. 

While state government is designed to keep the decisions from being made unilaterally, it also limits definitive decision-making throughout the agencies and branches of government. 

“… No one person is fully in charge. That makes governance very difficult,” said Sean McSpaden, principal legislative analyst with the state’s Legislative Fiscal Office. And all too often, monies allocated to a government agency is strictly monitored and cannot be reallocated for projects outside of a predetermined scope.

But according to McSpaden and a local official in Oregon government, there are some ways around the governance monster and the roadblocks it carries with it. They shared their insights at the Oregon Digital Government Summit held May 24.

1. Forming Partnerships

In Lane County, the Oregon’s fourth largest county, CIO Michael Finch said partnerships with outside agencies and local governments play an integral role in establishing a chain of governance and making projects more effective.

At the operational level, a group of regional information officers meets as part of the Public Agency Network (PAN) on a monthly basis to discuss ongoing initiatives and coordinate among local partners. 

Within the county government itself, the Technology Management Team meets quarterly with two representatives from the county board of supervisors to discuss the status of ongoing projects and coordinate next steps. 

“We operate governance in a variety of levels there, from an enterprise level down into specific projects or customer relationships,” the county CIO said.

2. Acknowledging Risk

Understanding and documenting the risk is also a crucial part of engaging with outside partners. While the sharing of resources can help to further cooperative efforts, Finch said it is imperative that documentation and conversations around the risk and responsibility of each partner.

“It’s also, I find, a lot of our challenge is keeping the business side stakeholders, members of your governance, informed about technology. It’s moving so fast even technologists have a hard time staying up on it,” he said. “It’s also having them understand once you can educate them, what the risks are and getting them to own the risks. Otherwise your IT department become the department of no, because if they don’t want to accept risks, then we’re certainly not going to do it.”

At the state level, while there are partnerships among stakeholder agencies, McSpaden said projects are often hampered by their organizational structures and issues as basic as where their funding comes from.

3. Vetting Major Projects

McSpaden also pointed to the Joint Stage Gate review process, which the legislative office has been working on in conjunction with the state CIO. The process relies on four major steps to vet major projects and programs from origination, to business case, to planning and execution.

“The process at its heart is focused on setting up projects for success …,” he said. “[There is] a lot of money, a lot of risk, a lot of complexity, a lot of moving parts. And certainly we’ve put a concerted effort into this process across the branches.”

“But again, neither one of us fully has the decision-making authority and we need to work with one another to make sure we have checks and balances to accomplish the same objective.”

The state and local representatives advocated for well-prepared documentation and accountability plans; IT models that align with the organizational and governmental structures; formal status and risk reporting that includes leadership, sponsors and external stakeholders; and the implementation of periodic reviews.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.