What is collaborative governance, and why do we
care? In 2004, editors John Kamensky and Thomas Burlin
quoted public management expert Russ Linden in their book
Networks and Partnerships:Collaboration is about co-labor, about joint effort and
ownership. The end result is not mine or yours, it is ours.
In their 2008 The Public
Challenge of Managing Across Boundaries, Mark Abramson and
Alan Balutis asserted further that the federal government cannot
accomplish its program objectives without increased collaboration
between departments; across federal, state, and local governments;
and across sectors.
Managers at all levels of government increasingly face tough
challenges that defy mastery within the silo, such as the
unsustainable expenditures associated with Medicare. For efforts to
be sustainable over the long term, they typically require formal
written commitments, budget and infrastructure that enable ongoing
cooperative effort, and prepared players who have their heads in
Are We Ready?
Like all who orchestrate networks or work in themwhether they
conduct at Carnegie Hall or play on the college all-star
teamgovernment employees must practice to play well.
A recent report by the Partnership for Public Service,
Unrealized Vision: Reimagining the
Senior Executive Service, states that the federal
varsity is only partially prepared: The SES as a whole is
stove-piped within agencies and is not providing a corporate or
enterprise-wide view of the federal government. Yet the nature of
problems today requires collaboration across agencies and other
governmental organizations; with the private, nonprofit and
academic sectors; and across borders and cultures.
Likewise, the junior varsity became subject to substantial revision
of 5 CFR Parts 410 and 412 in a U.S. Office of Personnel Management
final rule published in December 2009. The regulations now require
initial training of supervisors within one year of appointment and
at least every three years following.
A focus on developing employees and improving performance is
intended to ensure that agency leadership pipelines not only
anticipate supervisory retirements, but respond to the nearly
government-wide low scores on the 2008 OPM Federal Human Capital
survey question asked of civilian federal employees: In my work
unit, differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful
way. Successful collaboration demands competent performance, not
just any performance from government.
Not every sport is played in teams of course, but governments duty
to its citizens precludes operating in isolation. Increasingly, we
will need diverse teams of agile talent drawn from everywhere to
fulfill governments mission. These players will need to negotiate
and commit to agreements, incentives, rules, conditioning drills,
playbooks, budgets, and schedules that work.
Government managers, as well as nonsupervisory experts, may be
compelled by circumstances to accept routine collaboration as a
given and be required to sustain it as long as necessary.
Fortunately, there are best practices from which to draw lessons
Kamensky and Burlin compiled a durable sourcebook of collaboration
case studies, assessment tools, and governance frameworks. However,
even best-practice arrangements must be reshaped periodically to
meet changing conditions. Now is a good time to search for
additional models of collaborative excellence and to improve our
practice. Asking questions is a good way to begin to raise our
game. Good questions this year might include:
Which known instances of large scale
collaboration are stillproducing useful outcomes?
Do only those that can scale up to country
size merit our attention?
Might the governance framework that enabled
a successful, private-sector collaboration be adaptable to the
requirements of government? For that matter, must a problem-solving
partnership always be initiated by government?
What can we learn from wildly successful
outcomes obtained by high school students who partner across
boundaries? Do we understand enough about the current environment?
Enter the Social Media Solution
As any business student knows, it is prudent to do a SWOT
(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. Yet
within the ranks of government, it is rare to find disciplined SWOT
analysis of one of the biggest drivers of change today: the rapid
global adoption of social media.
Social media will be used not only to push government to find
solutions, but also to provide new support for collaborative
governance. New York University professor Clay Shirky says in his
book. Here Comes Everybody: The
Power of Organizing Without Organizations that Web 2.0 really
signifies global interactivity among people.
Web 2.0 technology is proliferating via free and low-cost social
media software applications, but it is really about communication
among people, including those who have never met one another, on a
scale that is unprecedented. It is attracting innovative energies,
driving mass amateurization, reducing barriers to entry, and
reshaping knowledge worker habits.
The government community must grasp the risks and benefits of using
social media applications, as well as the implications of the
emerging phenomenon of social media use, whose impact Clay Shirky
compares with the invention of the printing press. It is easy for
social media fans to complain that governments rate of adoption is
too slow, since a thicket of security concerns and information
management laws must be navigated successfully.
However, it would be disastrous for citizen engagement, civic
education, and future prospects for co-labor if public managers
were to dismiss social media tools because those concerns exist.
Two examples illustrate the new support for collaboration that is
becoming possible in the public arena.
Civil Protection 2.0
At the November 2009 Web 2.0 Expo co-produced by OReilly Media and
TechWeb in New York City, the government track included
presentations of successful collaborations across sectors. Building
Civil Protection 2.0 described collaboration between Italian
government emergency managers and volunteers after last years
earthquake in Abruzzo, including such lessons as
leaders were able to rise above the my way
or the highway mentality
what government workers and volunteers
wanted was key to their continued engagement
communication and training could be
flexible and near realtimeusing a social media platform
the capture and organization of outgoing
volunteers tacit knowledge, to shorten the learning curve for
incoming replacements, was critical and took a lot of time and
week-long emergency drills increased the
efficacy of volunteer efforts and substantially enhanced local
governments ability to respond.
A seed of collaborative supportintended to help the U.S. Census
Bureau cut through red tape and coordinate with federal, state, and
local government partnershas been sewn on GovLoop. At latest count,
the Census-managed Gov-Loop Group has 36 members. The intent is to
share information, distribute public communication best practices,
and encourage participation in the 2010 Census and other projects.
GovLoop Founder and President Steve Ressler outlines the intended
advantage this way:
problem: difficult for agencies to
collaborate across agencies andespecially across federal, state,
local, and international
typical solutions: hard to build audience;
requires substantial time and resources; often quick expense for
limited return; hardest part is community building and management
GovLoop groups: quick, easy, secure way to
provide collaboration across agencies and levels of government;
built-in government audience interested in collaborating with best
practices around community building and management
benefits: quick; beta; works across levels;
third parties can help government collaborate more quickly without
some of the red tape; expertise is available on community building
Other topics requiring crossagency and federal, state, and local
collaboration that occur to Resslera member of the first class of
the Department of Homeland Security Graduate Fellowship Program who
left DHS in 2009 to run GovLoop full-timeinclude H1N1, food safety,
government recruitment, emergency management, and public
Some will argue that collaboration is really just about people
talking to each other. But it is so much more. Conversation
prepares government employees to initiate, co-design, co-manage,
and maintain long-term collaboration about as much as having played
store as children prepares adults to run a business.
Others will rightly warn us to beware the hype that social media
technology is the answer to successful technology The Public
Manager collaboration. As Norm Lorentz, director in the global
public sector practice at Grant Thornton and former chief
technology officer at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget,
told Brittany Ballenstedt recently in a Nextgov article, The governments problems are
inherently not tech problems; they are inherently mission,
governance, and alignment problems.
If human beings can find the capacity within themselves to
collaborate when people are suffering terribly, as in the case of
the Haiti earthquake, then that proves it can be done. Therefore,
if we are really serious about improving government, why not
proactively exercise worldclass leadership? Why not play in a way
that truly mattersby adopting a default setting of collaboration,
thereby diminishing citizen suffering by delivering more effective
and efficient government?
The government community has a choice to make. Although innovative
technology use, such as GovLoop, is part of the answer, courageous
leadership also will be required. The longer we choose parochial
concerns over collaboration, the less latitude we will have to
design or influence creative, enduring solutions.
This year, think bold thoughts about leadershipdevelopment and
solutions that can span network and bureaucracy, giving thanks to
those who went before and our support to current pioneers.