States succeed on cross-agency projects

The federal government should look to the states for a lesson

in developing cross-agency projects, according to state experts. With less money to spend and

a smaller pool of customers to keep happy, many statewide initiatives have developed specific structures that cross multiple entities.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the groups brought together under that structure automatically know how to relate to one another,

according to leaders working on criminal justice integration projects nationwide. The problems are just as serious as those facing the federal government in trying to develop cross-agency projects, they say.

"There is a big difference between leadership and management," said Thomas McCarthy, a judge in Minnesota's First Judicial District and chairman of the state Supreme Court's Judicial Branch Technology Planning Committee. In both roles, he is closely involved with the state's CriMNet criminal justice network, which involves state and local organizations in six areas.

A leader sets the direction and high-level strategy, while a manager plans how to reach the goals and handles the day-to-day issues. "A successful project has to have both," McCarthy said.

Most organizations like to put one person in charge so that someone at the top is ultimately responsible. In an ideal world, that might be enough, but in reality, it doesn't work, said Gordon Lansford, director of the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System (KCJIS).

Such an approach misses out on much of the interaction that comes from having a broader group of people in charge of making decisions. That input is critical to getting the support necessary for any multiorganization program to work, Lansford said.

"With one person in charge, you might get to the end of the timeline, but you won't have a successful system," he said.

One approach that works is to make the person in charge report only to the committee, not one of the members. If that person is neutral, he or she can "see the pros and cons of what everyone has to say," Lansford said.

In Pennsylvania, the program manager for the state's Justice Network serves mostly as a facilitator, making sure that the different players understand where the others are coming from, said Linda Rosenberg, a former director of the network.

Accountability is still an issue, no matter who is in charge, because there has to be some way to track who is responsible for achieving goals.

In Kansas, each task is assigned to a single person, and so far that seems to provide a good level of accountability, Lansford said. KCJIS has approximately 65 tasks across the 11 agencies and organizations within the system's committee.

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