Report: Legal eagles can aid cross-government collaboration

One of the surest ways to create a foundation of trust for an intergovernmental project is to bring in the lawyers.

That is one of the findings reported by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in a new study that examines how to develop cross-agency projects at the state and local level.

Collaboration across agencies "is an endeavor that requires a great deal of trust on all sides," right from the start of a project, the report states. Establishing trust is much easier when all parties involved in a project have a clear understanding of everyone’s roles, the researchers found.

A common solution is to draft a memorandum of understanding that outlines the governance model. Other legal means include legislation, if applicable; a project charter; or an executive order, according to the report.

Once a project is under way, it usually takes a great deal of communication to develop a self-sustaining culture of collaboration that mitigates future political or funding challenges, the researchers found.

Clearly, project leaders must open lines of communication with key stakeholders and participants. But the report also recommends keeping the public informed about projects as they develop and soliciting feedback via Web sites, discussion boards and other venues.

Funding brings its own challenges, especially in projects that involve both state and local agencies. Often, the state, having the deepest pockets, will be the primary financial stakeholder. But that is not always the case, researchers found.

Sometimes the state can serve as one of several partner organizations that contribute funds, though that does not necessarily diminish its role in other areas. "When states are financial partners in a collaborative effort but not necessarily the leading entity, they can help bring credibility and stability to the project," the report states.

In other cases, the state might not provide money at all but instead contribute by enacting legislation or offering tax incentives.

Regardless of their approach, the report concludes, state CIOs must learn to work across government boundaries. Otto Doll, CIO of South Dakota, said it was a necessary part of their jobs.

“State CIOs must often reach beyond traditional organizational boundaries in order to provide innovative services,” said Doll, who led the group that produced the report.

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