The late Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz once said, “It is better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.” The insights of a 19th century military leader might seem irrelevant to 21st century governance, but at the 2015 Public Sector for the Future Summit, Mike Teller, the Chief Information Officer of the Idaho State Tax Commission, argued that the swell of data available to public officials today creates an information overflow not dissimilar to the fog of war.
In late 2013, when David Bray became the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), he knew he was parachuting into a troubled situation. For one thing, the FCC had had nine CIOs in the previous eight years. “[That's] always a good sign,” Bray quipped, in a presentation at the 2015 Public Sector for the Future Summit. But as he went on to explain, the rapid turnover in executive leadership masked deeper challenges with the FCC’s Information Technology (IT) operation. In an agency with just 1,750 staff, there were 207 different IT systems—the equivalent of one IT system for every nine staff members. What’s more, over half of those IT systems were more than ten years old, resulting in the FCC spending 70 to 80 percent of its IT budget on maintenance. Finally, the FCC was employing many paper-based, human-intensive processes that could benefit from automation. As Bray explained, IT costs spent on maintaining existing systems were “escalating” across the agency with no sign of relief. For an organization that was supposed to be at the forefront of 21st century communications technology, the FCC’s IT division was lagging behind.
On January 1, 2015, recently reelected Michigan Governor Rick Snyder ascended the steps of the state capitol, took the oath of office, and delivered an inaugural address with a stirring vision. More concretely, he argued that the state needed to reorient its approach to social services. “We’ve tried to solve problems by creating new programs, segmenting programs, and adding layers of government,” he explained. “Each program focuses on a finite segment of someone’s life without looking at the whole person and understanding what’s holding them back from success.”
In 2014, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS)—an organization housed within the state’s Department of Human Services that investigates child abuse and supports troubled families—was in crisis. It had recently experienced a 36 percent staff turnover rate and needed 60 percent more personnel—a major reason the unit had a backlog of approximately 6,000 investigations. Over 12 years, DFCS had had nine leaders. Most disturbingly, Georgia had recently experienced six high-profile child deaths.
The average U.S. citizen lives into his/her late 70s; the life expectancy for a person with a mental disorder is 66; and if someone has a mental disorder and is a Medicare or Medicaid beneficiary, that citizen is only expected to live to (roughly) the age of 55, on par with someone in sub-Saharan Africa. To Dr. Joseph Parks, the director of Missouri’s HealthNet Division (the state’s Medicaid organization), this is “an appalling emergency” and is emblematic of a foundational problem: the U.S. health care system “depends almost entirely on the person who’s sick.” People must identify when something is wrong and determine whom to see. For people with serious mental health problems or chronic medical conditions, the results of this setup can be catastrophic.
In 2007, the board of directors at Four Oaks—a non-profit child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral health agency in Iowa—was excited and concerned. Founded in 1973 to serve ten children in Cedar Rapids, a city in eastern Iowa, the agency was enjoying a decade in which its budget nearly doubled, and it was serving almost 14,000 clients in more than a dozen cities across the state. Nevertheless, the board was troubled by something more foundational: it had no way of knowing whether the organization was fulfilling its mission of “assur[ing] that children become successful adults.”
In this following excerpt from the 2015 Human Services Summit Summit report, we share insights from a discussion led by Dr. Ron Heifetz, Founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School, around the different leadership challenges at each level of the Human Services Value Curve. This discussion revealed that these challenges become increasingly “adaptive” and cannot be resolved through authority and change management alone.
Federal agency leaders are innovating at an unprecedented pace. Strategies such as shared services, advanced analytics, cloud-based computing, and digital services have increased efficiency and effectiveness. And yet, when we consider the largely untapped potential of shared services, new opportunities for digital transformation, and fulfillment of the President’s Management Agenda—especially per the DATA Act—it becomes clear that agency leaders must mobilize for the future of such capacity-building models and initiatives.
To help federal leaders create a shared vision and plan of action for growing shared services and digital strategies, Leadership for a Networked World and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, in collaboration with Booz Allen Hamilton, convened senior leaders for The 2015 Federal Leadership Summit: Mobilizing for Shared Services and Digital Strategies. Leaders at the Summit collaborated with their peers in federal government, Harvard faculty, and select industry experts to develop their individual and collective strategies for advancement.
What if there were a way to prevent criminal behavior, mental illness, drug abuse, poverty, and violence? What if we had evidence-based interventions to ensure that young people grow into caring and productive adults? What if we had new strategies to cultivate the skills and values people need to deal patiently and effectively with others’ distressing behaviors?
During this session, Dr. Biglan draws from a lifetime of new research on behavioral science to put forth a bold new plan to help solve many of the very real social problems facing our country. He will share research demonstrating how nurturing environments can increase people’s wellbeing in virtually every aspect of our society, from early childhood education to corporate practices. He considers lessons human services leaders can apply to efforts to prevent many of the psychological and behavioral problems that plague our society. Participants engaged in a dialogue about how to transform our practice models to move to prevention over time, establish new outcome metrics, and translate lessons of the nurture effect into action.
As you pour your first coffee of the day the phone rings. It’s the call you were worrying about. The governor’s chief of staff urgently needs your support to move funding for a program through the legislature. “This program is important to the governor, and it’s key to our goal of safer neighborhoods – you see that, right?” she asks.
Leadership for a Networked World’s applied research, student innovation challenge, and on-campus summit programs are an initiative of Dr. Antonio M. Oftelie, Innovation Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), part of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. TECH is a hub for students, faculty, alumni, and government and industry leaders to learn together, collaborate, and innovate. LNW accelerates these efforts by connecting leaders across sectors and developing cutting-edge thought leadership on innovation and organizational transformation.