Achieving results no one can achieve alone

The traditional model of agencies independently administering hundreds of programs is transitioning to one that emphasizes cross-agency results. This transition implies collaboration — within agencies, among agencies, among levels of government and among the public, private and nonprofit sectors. And it's happening out of necessity.

"As bureaucratic government has failed in one policy area after another, policy-makers have looked to implement policy through networks instead," writes Harvard University professor Elaine Kamarck in a new book called "Collaboration: Using Partnerships and Networks"in the IBM Corp. Center for the Business of Government book series.

Her research on various models for 21st-century government describes how innovations are moving beyond the formal structures of government.

Consider the impact of the Agriculture Department's Food Stamp coupon program on everyone's grocery shopping habits. Ten years ago, food stamps were essentially paper money used once in a transaction then destroyed. Today's nationwide system that allows you to swipe your debit or credit card through a card reader at the grocery store to pay your bill at nearly all 83,000 grocery stores in the United States started a decade ago as a collaborative venture sponsored by the federal Food Stamp program in an effort to reduce the administrative costs of delivering benefits and reducing fraud.

This collaboration included banks, state governments, the National Association of Clearinghouse Administrators and grocery stores. Collaboration through the use of networks and partnerships to get results citizens care about is a growing trend. But it challenges government leaders and managers in new ways because it requires them — and their employees — to behave differently from how they have in the past.

One part of this shift is a change from the bureaucratic model, which focused on agencies and individual programs run by separate organizations, to a model that places more emphasis on services and results.

The new model implies organizing around customers and outcomes, not the traditional focus on agencies and programs.

In a January 2003 report on the status of management in the federal government, General Accounting Office officials said, "National goals are achieved through the use of a variety of tools and, increasingly, through the participation of many organizations

that are beyond the direct control of the federal


In other words, government is now turning to networks and partnerships to achieve many national


Are public managers ready for the challenge? The skills needed to manage in a collaborative environment are different from traditional managerial skills but are becoming essential for successful leaders.

For example, the Office of Personnel Management's list of core competencies for the federal senior executive of the future includes the ability to work in a team environment. It also includes the ability to develop "alliances with external groups (e.g., other agencies or firms, state and local governments, Congress and clientele groups)," be able to engage in cross-functional activities and find common ground with a widening range of stakeholders.

What are the characteristics of successful collaborators? Robert Agranoff, a professor at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, studied more than a dozen networks in the Midwest. He identified a range of roles that government leaders perform, what managers did and what kinds of personal characteristics they brought to their jobs to be successful.

The roles included activities such as:

Creating the governance framework for the network.

Making the most of the available resources, such as technology and expertise.

Being a strategic investor.

Finding collaborators and helping them work together.

Breaking down barriers.

Tracking, monitoring and collecting data.

Providing an electronic communications system.

Managing public relations.

As the government moves forward to meet challenges in such diverse arenas as the environment, homeland security, jobs and training, education and health care, the use of collaboration through networks and partnerships is a new tool that enables leaders to achieve national goals in ways that are more challenging and more exciting.

A critical element of success seems to be having the right people involved in the creation of those networks and partnerships. Such people have a different set of skills from those used in traditional government, which depend more heavily on institutional arrangements, legislation and the budget process.

Developing this new set of skills is done by hiring employees who are collaborative by nature, by training current managers and frontline employees, by rewarding this new set of behaviors and by creating communities of practice among those attempting to solve common problems. It will be a major challenge for government leaders whose future policy success will increasingly depend on their ability to collaborate with others by creating networks and partnerships in areas as diverse as homeland security, job training or reducing poverty.

Are you ready?

Kamensky is an associate partner with IBM Corp.'s Business Consulting Services and is senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Burlin is a partner and global government leader with IBM Business Consulting Services. They have co-edited a new book, "Collaboration: Using Networks and Partnerships," published by Rowman & Littlefield.


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