Leadership from Invention to Impact

A Report from the 2015 Public Sector for the Future Summit

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Government leaders are developing bold strategies to increase public value. Yet with citizen trust in government waning, the public sector needs more than new visions; leaders need to drive structural change by identifying high-yield strategies, bracing stakeholders and workers to endure an evolving and unpredictable operating environment, and gauging how much structural change is necessary to sustain progress.

To help leaders address these challenges, Leadership for a Networked World and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, in collaboration with Accenture, convened the 2015 Public Sector for the Future Summit: Leadership from Invention to Impact. The Summit focused on advancing “uptake” reforms—proven programs that require robust leadership—and “edge” innovations—untested ideas with enormous potential. The conference also highlighted four strategic areas for transforming government (the optimized enterprise, agile workforce, evidence-based organization, and citizen-centric service) and featured presentations detailing reform efforts in each domain:

  • Leaders from New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Business Services Center described efforts to gain economies of scale, scope, and learning by streamlining MTA’s finances and operations.
  • David Bray, the Chief Information Officer at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), discussed how he has overhauled the FCC’s legacy technology systems by cultivating change agents.
  • Officials from the Idaho State Tax Commission and Results Washington, the state’s performance management office, showcased their embrace of evidence-based government.
  • An analyst from the National League of Cities and two industry leaders described sharing economy platforms, leading to a discussion about strategies government could adopt and adapt.

While there is no single recipe for change, there are common ingredients: analysis, collaboration, leadership, and an organizational culture that embraces change. If leaders can ensure the right mix of these elements, they can increase their legitimacy and effect citizen-centric transformation.

“The sharing economy has really pushed me to think about what in my city is being underutilized. How do we expand that conversation to the things that we’re involved in in the public sector?
Cass Sunstein Spencer Cronk
Minneapolis City Coordinator

Report Insights

  1. Digital Diplomacy: Creating an Optimized Enterprise and Agile Workforce at the Federal Communications Commission

    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.

  2. Embracing Evidence-Based Government in Idaho and Washington

    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.

  3. The Sharing Economy and the City of the Future: Pathways Forward in Government

    The sharing economy is flourishing. Lyft, Uber, SideCar, and other Transportation Network Companies have altered travel. Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, and other home-sharing platforms are disrupting how people use apartments, homes, and spare bedrooms. Platforms like TaskRabbit (a mobile marketplace for short-term hires), SnapGoods (a site for lending/borrowing high-end household items), and Feastly (a marketplace for dining experiences) are taking off.

  4. Turnaround: How the Business Services Center Has Transformed the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority

    In 2013, when Wael Hibri became the Senior Director of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Business Services Center (BSC), and Hilary Ring became Hibri’s deputy, the leaders had a problem. Established in 2009, BSC was supposed to save funds by consolidating the agency’s human resources (HR) and financial services. However, MTA’s employees believed that BSC had caused recent layoffs. They also faulted BSC for failing at basic tasks, like paying invoices. The organization’s problems were so great that many of Hibri’s and Ring’s colleagues expressed shock that they were taking the posts. Ring recalled, “People were like, ‘you’re going there!?’”

“A nudge is like a GPS... That is, an intervention that completely preserves freedom of choice, but that steers people in directions that will maybe make things easier and better for them. It’s an intervention that maintains liberty, but also influences people in good directions. Warnings, reminders, information, uses of social norms and default rules are all nudges.”
Cass Sunstein
Robert Walmsley University Professor Harvard Law School


There is no “secret sauce” for effecting change, but a pattern stands out about how the presenters at the Summit succeeded: they asked incisive questions when developing their strategies and mixed force and inclusion to implement their approach.

The presenters began by going back to the drawing board and asking how to generate new forms of value. They then addressed questions that blended proactive and reactive thinking. To steel themselves for the future, they explored how to embed dynamic capabilities in their operations and workforce. Meanwhile, they always had to be aware of short-term exigencies. Monitoring the present while analyzing the future was paramount.

While asking sound questions helped these leaders devise strategies, their ability to balance force and inclusion ensured that they could implement them. Officials in Washington and Idaho balanced tact and pressure to ensure staff buy-in; MTA leaders blended action and data-gathering to distill their priorities; and to change the FCC’s IT system, Bray combined top-down goal setting with bottom-up solution finding. The implication is that no leader will have all the answers (and few employees will follow someone who claims to have them), but a diverse and collaborative approach can help an organization grow.

While there is no single recipe for change, there are common ingredients: analysis, collaboration, leadership, and an organizational culture that embraces change. If leaders can ensure the right mix of these elements, they can increase their legitimacy and effect citizen-centric transformation.


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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.

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