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Breaking the Failure Cycle
How Collaborative Technologies Can Drive Transformational Change
By Frank DiGiammarino
Just as managers in the public sector face an unprecedented array of challenges, they also face major difficulties in tapping into their most valuable resource: their own organizations. Today a new set of collaborative technologies allow public managers to bring together visionary leadership with critical data to make their organizations as agile as the emerging challenges and opportunities they face. But making the management and IT changes necessary to employ these new tools and transform an organization often meets with strong resistance. A New Paradigm for Public Governance
The National Academy of Public Administration is looking at new models for collaboration that are driving the innovations our government needs right now. In looking at the trends in the over 50 cases on, the National Academy has observed that doing nothing is becoming less and less tenable. Action is required to move our government forward – Citizens, government employees and the problems our nation faces are demanding it. There are both incremental and transformative activities currently in place across government. Several of the most innovative solutions have harnessed technology with a clear business problem to transform the fundamental delivery or performance of the agency’s service or mission. This is where government needs to be headed.

We have Bureausclerosis
Our government has bureausclerosis – a hardening of the arteries of government. An old American proverb states: “You can’t leap a twenty-foot gap in two ten foot jumps.” The current organizational culture of federal government has always emphasized reliable delivery of service over speed and efficiency. Most agencies are heavily constrained by rigid organizational hierarchies and stovepipes across organizations, all while pursuing narrowly-tailored
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mandates, undergoing rigorous oversight from multiple directions, and competing among each other for a fixed – and, increasingly, shrinking – pool of budgetary and human resources. The result has been a tangled web of organizational charts and appropriations accounts that, in many cases, bureaucrats themselves cannot decipher. Unclear accountability and fragmented processes result in too many points of contact for customers. Managers often lack any clear sense of how to incorporate new mandates into existing operations, let alone what delivery of those services should cost. Different agencies may face different constraints to varying degrees, but the overall effect they have almost always takes the same recognizable shape: ideas, vision, and leadership emanate from the top, but data, experience, and institutional knowledge accrue at the bottom. A hundred thousand front-line employees can not provide the singular vision and leadership required to manage a large bureaucracy, but the experience they bring to bear remains inaccessible to those who are in positions of leadership. Managers are forced to dictate change and do their best to filter it downwards.

Is there a Cure for Bureausclerosis?
Meeting the challenges of tomorrow requires closing the gap – not just between present and future states, but between leaders and employees, stakeholders, and citizens. It requires closing the gap between the leadership necessary to provide the vision of transformation, and the on-the-ground experience that informs successful leadership. It requires a transformation in the way government views and conducts business - moving leaders out of a paradigm that forces them to push potentially valuable contributors out of the process, and instead begin to pull them in. It requires closing the gap between ideas and data. For most managers, that’s a tall order because it requires them to go against the natural preference for the status quo. For this reason, when transformational change does happen, it’s usually involuntary. It happens when the incremental adjustments we naturally favor just aren’t enough to stay ahead of the game, and we are overtaken by events. Consider the American auto industry’s failure to support innovation advancing hybrid technology and thus reinforcing America’s dependence on oil and gas. Similarly the recent collapse of the nation’s banking system stems from the failure of industry leaders to adjust oversight policies in the face of the subprime mortgage phenomenon. In both cases, key decision makers chose to respond to developments with incremental change. Today, they’re struggling to solve the problem because they chose to manage rather than lead. When this happens to individual organizations, or even entire business sectors, the effects are usually survivable. Increasingly, though, a disquieting thought has crept into the minds of managers, into the political campaigns and
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across the public sector: What if this paradigm isn’t good enough anymore? The federal system that was born in the wake of Roosevelt’s call for “bold, persistent experimentation” has grown timid over the years and now faces, for the first time, a host of threats, challenges, and trends that threaten the viability of the public sector as we know it. American government itself headed for an overhauling moment. How do we change our course?

The Failure Cycle
In most cases, change today is driven by failure. When operations are running smoothly, leaders experience great comfort with the organization’s ability to provide a quality product or service within acceptable timeframes. Subsequently leadership has high comfort with their mandate and ability to deliver on their mission. But what happens when the organization begins failing in its mission? What happens when the demands begin to outstrip the organization’s resources? The graphic below outlines a very simplified series of steps that move an organization from failure to success and if not diligently managed, back into failure. Step 1: A new problem or challenge arises in your organization. You are experiencing tremendous organizational pain because you cannot deliver on your mission and you are uncomfortable with your lack of control over mission outcomes. Step 2: When the pain and discomfort outweigh your resistance to change, you respond to the problem, make progress and see some impact from your actions. Your environment is now one of high pain buffered by the belief that the changes you are making will lead to a resumption of mission and more control over outcomes. Step 3: Here your actions have paid off and you are now back in control – you have a higher level of comfort and low pain. You are proud of your accomplishment, reward the organization, and feel pretty good about your work. Your organization goes into maintenance mode. You stop seeking innovative solutions and take comfort in the fact that all is working well. Inattention to growing problems and innovative solutions lead to the next failure. The challenge is that your environment will change – things happen. In fact, the only thing we know for sure these days is that change is constant. Forces either in or beyond your control will drive you into the crisis environment of Step 4. You have little time to assess or react. You find yourself in an environment of high pain with no comfort and control over your outcomes – squarely back in Step 1.

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High Pain Limited Control

Response & Impact
Step 2

High Pain Low Control

New Problem or Challenge
Step 1

Resolution & Maintenance
Step 3

Low Pain High Control

The Game Changes

Step 4

High Pain No Control

While a simple view, this graphic represents how many government organizations operate. These organizations are constantly putting themselves into situations of system failure and expecting amazing eleventh hour actions that will save the day. Over the past decade, the list seems endless - 9/11, Katrina, Enron and WorldCom, the Internet Bubble, the energy crisis, the bridge collapse in Minnesota, and the most recent sub-prime mortgage crisis. As a nation, we have been striving for the comfort and security of Step 3 while underestimating the true risk of our growing problems. When our problems come to light, they are highly visible failures and have deep impact. Unfortunately the failures of Step 4 create a crisis environment where immediate action is required but time does not exist to adequately weigh options and solutions. The result - our responses are not well thought out and too often we are driven to incremental change to solve the immediate problem without careful analysis of the long-term transformation that will not just solve the problem, but will radically move us forward. Diligence in Step 3 is the key to seeking transformational change. As our global society speeds up and change becomes more of the norm, leaders have to constantly seek to identify new problems and challenges. The truly transformational organization never finds itself in Step 4. Instead they apply persistent examination of their operations and challenges and proactively seek the high pain/low comfort environment that will move them from Step 3 to Step 1. They seek to bypass Step 4 and more comfortably exist in Steps 1 and 2. The proactive identification of problems allows leaders and front-line
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employees time to carefully select solutions that meet not just the immediate challenge but extrapolate to address future challenges as well.

Using Collaboration to Break the Cycle
There are leaders stepping out across government to change the game and break this cycle. They are forcing both themselves and their organizations to exist in steps 1 and 2. The following are three examples that illustrate some innovative models. Connecting with Ideas After taking office in 2005, Kip Hawley, the Administrator & Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration, quickly recognized the need to improve TSA’s relationship with its front-line employees. The benefits of reaching out to the organization’s 43,000 transportation security officers (TSOs) were obvious; no one in the organization would be better positioned to evaluate the on-the-ground efficacy of TSA’s various policies and procedures and offer innovative suggestions. But Hawley was at a loss for how to tap this massive community in a way that harnessed their expertise to inform high-level policy decisions and produce durable institutional change. After consulting with various experts on his staff, collaborative technology emerged as a solution. Hawley learned about wikis, collaboratively-edited web sites that allow multiple users to aggregate their feedback, and edit and respond to each others’ thoughts and submissions. The best known example of a wiki may be Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anyone in the world can help write or update. The force that makes wikis a game changer – rather than just a nifty tool – is that as individuals collaborate, the collective whole grows smarter. There was no reason, Hawley thought, that TSA couldn’t implement the same model. In March 2007, Hawley launched TSA IdeaFactory, an internal collaboration site that provided a place for the TSOs to share important information and techniques for improving the security of the nation’s airports. The IdeaFactory, a secure intranet restricted to registered users inside the agency, became an instant hit. Airport TSOs now share ideas for improving their workplace environment and strategies for making the traveling public more secure. As of September 29,2008, there are 6000 regular users with approximately twenty five to thirty percent of those users are submitting, rating, and/or commenting on ideas. Since its launch, site users have generated 6, 596 ideas with 140,262 ratings and 58,468 comments. Out of this effort fifteen to twenty new ideas a week are put up for review before the Innovation Council and TSA has implemented thirty initiatives that are a direct result of ideas on Idea Factory1.

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Why does collaboration work? Simply put, it allows leaders to connect with innovative thinking without physically upending their organizations in the process. Instead of reorganizing his agency – a complex bureaucracy – Kip Hawley used collaborative technology to transcend it. The result was real, durable organizational change that gains almost automatic buy-in from frontline employees. With IdeaFactory, ideas don’t come down from the top; they come up from the bottom. And the search for ideas is constan. There is no comfort in the norm – the organization is constantly looking for its pain points and proactively moving into Step 1 to seek out of the box thinking to make the organization better. A Networked Approach In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission released its final report which focused on, among other things, a “series of barriers to information sharing that developed”2 among the 16 separate agencies that make up the United States Intelligence Community. Confronted with the startling possibility that the intelligence which could have prevented the attacks of September 11th might have been wedged into a binder on a dusty shelf in an FBI field office, the President worked with Congress in 2004 to create the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), a 1,500-person organization charged with overseeing the Intelligence Community. ODNI quickly realized that they were staring directly at a classic data/volume challenge: Advances in technology had allowed them to accumulate data faster than ever, but their power to analyze the data and connect disparate dots into meaningful patterns hadn’t caught up. As Dale Meyerrose, the ODNI’s Chief Information Officer, put it, “Intelligence is about looking for needles in haystacks, and we can’t just keep putting more hay on the stack.”3 Luckily, even before he knew about collaborative technology, Meyerrose understood the power of harnessing the experience and wisdom of front-line employees. So the C.I.A. set up a competition, later taken over by the DNI, where any employee at any intelligence agency could submit an essay describing a new idea to improve information sharing, and the best ones would win a prize. The first essay selected was by Calvin Andrus, chief technology officer of the Center for Mission Innovation at the C.I.A. In his essay, “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community,” Andrus posed a deceptively simple question: How did the Internet become so useful in helping people find information?” The answer lies in the boom of self-publishing. As a result of Andrus’ essay, ODNI’s own wiki, Intellipedia, went live in April 2006.4 An internal intranet with several levels of security – users are granted access based on their security clearance levels – Intellipedia allows users to read postings, contribute to the discussion, or add and edit content. Viewpoints are attributed to the agencies, offices, and individuals participating, with the hope that a consensus view will emerge. The site gives analysts from across the Intelligence Community a forum for sharing breaking news,
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critiquing each others’ analysis, and letting users sort through volumes of information and decide, together, what to keep and what to throw away. Today, the site has over 90,000 users 5and 132,000 articles on various individuals, places, and situations across all three security levels of the application. Analysts across government are harnessing collaborative technology to sort through a stack of hay faster and more efficiently than ever before – and they’re finding the needles. In testimony presented to Congress on September 10th, 2007, DNI Admiral Michael McConnell stated that Intellipedia has “enabled experts from different disciplines to pool their knowledge, form virtual teams, and quickly make complete intelligence assessments…The solution does not require special networks or equipment but has dramatically changed our capability to share information in a timely manner.”6 Where the IdeaFactory harnessed the power of collaboration to put TSA’s leaders in touch with its front-line employees, ODNI used it to put front-line employees across 16 very different agencies in touch with each other. For decades, presidents and legislators had labored to break down the walls among various intelligence agencies by restructuring organizational charts and lines of authority in ways that might make a contortionist blush. Today, managers across government are realizing that the only way to prepare a federal bureaucracy to meet emerging challenges is not to transform its structure – but to transcend it. TSA and ODNI have harnessed collaborative technology to measurably improve federal delivery of critical services. Nonetheless, both of these cases rely on a paradigm that forces leaders to push some of the most important constituencies – ordinary citizens and key stakeholders – out of the process. None of Us Is As Smart As All of Us At the Environmental Protection Agency, they’ve found a way to take collaboration a step further, reaching out to ordinary citizens. In November 2007, Molly O’Neill, EPA’s Chief Information Officer, announced an effort to enhance tracking and documenting environmental conditions in the Puget Sound, an arm of the Pacific Ocean that reaches deep into the northwestern corner of Washington State – and has profound effects on the quality of life of millions of residents. From her years of experience in environmental issues, O’Neill knew Thousands of scientists and stakeholder groups across the country were collecting different data, storing it in different systems, and analyzing it in different ways – but they were all looking at the same environment. With that challenge in mind, O’Neill launched the Puget Sound Information Challenge, The Challenge took the form of a symposium where participants were invited to share the best information resources, tools, ideas, and contacts in their
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arsenal to inform the protection of the Puget Sound. The result was a web site known informally as the Puget Sound Mashup,7 where users could submit requests for information, comment on each others’ data sets and methodologies, share best practices and lessons learned, and use innovative tools like Google Earth, social bookmarking, RSS feeds, and even YouTube to pool and analyze their data intelligently. Over the course of 48 hours, the site received over 175 contributions of ideas, data and applications, and over 18,000 page views. The Puget Sound Information Challenge is one of a growing number of examples of the federal government successfully enlisting stakeholders and citizens in tackling a critical issue.

How Can I Self-Medicate My Bureausclerosis?
Transformational change depends on strategy and vision to drive multiple, concurrent changes, rather than simply piling small adjustments on top of one another in sequence. Transformation is about declaring a new direction and boldly moving toward it. It requires the organization to become comfortable in uncertainty as they adjust to an entirely new paradigm. Most importantly, transformational change requires leadership from the top, but also organizational buy-in at all levels. Examining the success stories and talking with their leaders offers a few clear lessons. 1: This Isn’t a “Field of Dreams” Today, many public leaders see blogs, wikis, and other collaborative platforms, and feel immense pressure to do…something. But it is still fundamentally true that people only show up when you give them a reason. Simply deploying collaborative technologies doesn’t mean that people will use them. It is important to note that there needs to be a “safe fail” sandbox for people to experience and become comfortable with these tools. It is critical to experiment with them on both a personal and professional level in order to be comfortable with how they are used and to come up with creative ideas on how to use them. Once a leader decides to apply these tools to a achieve results, however, there are three key success factors that make a collaborative platform or tool an attractive proposition to potential users: It must solve a clear problem, target a specific audience, and provide a real value exchange. Lacking any of these three is usually the difference between experimentation with “cool” technology, and collaboration that truly adds value. 2: Focus on the Who

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Mass collaboration isn’t a panacea, but it does give leaders an opportunity to bring data and people together in new ways. Today’s most effective leaders are focused not on how they can solve a problem, but on who to pull into the problem-solving process. Leaders like Molly O’Neil at the Environment Protection Agency and Kip Hawley at the Transportation Security Agency effectively deployed collaboration in their agencies by realizing that bringing a wider array of stakeholders into the process wasn’t just a neat idea; it was also the right thing to do. The technology simply enabled tapping everyone from employees to stakeholder groups to the citizenry to change the game and get results. 3: Embrace the Opportunity Increasingly, it seems like the only thing easier than finding a reason to deploy collaborative technology is finding a reason not to. In an era that demands massive change we consistently call on our “inner lawyer” to slow innovation and empower the status quo. The very attributes that make collaboration a powerful catalyst for change – low cost and complexity, widespread availability of data – also make it easy for normal citizens to bring about extraordinary change. This is a paradox of collaboration: Any technology that allows government to “go around” its normal bureaucratic constraints also has the potential to let citizens “go around” government itself. Inaction by government, in the face of a desire for change, contributes to public disenchantment with the formal mechanisms of public governance. Government must understand that mass collaboration represents not just an exciting opportunity to engage citizens, but also a responsibility to draw the public into the process and ensure that public deliberation is fueled by accurate data and realistic expectations about what government can and cannot achieve. Even the best public managers must work within a bureaucracy that is designed to be fine-tuned – not transformed. The paradigm that government has grown used to is one in which threats and challenges reach across agencies and sectors, but solutions don’t. The result is a kind of artificial “ceiling” on how effective government can be – no matter how successful any individual player is they can only ever win the one game they’re playing. Public-sector leaders like Kip Hawley, Calvin Andrus, and Molly O’Neill had played this game before, and they knew the rules had to change. Agencies like TSA, ODNI, and EPA are adopting a networked approach to public governance, leveraging collaborative technology to play “3-D chess” – to implement solutions that reach across barriers and sectors. They are avoiding system failures and Step 3 by finding innovative ways to tap new audiences as resources and solicit feedback, transcend rigid hierarchies, bring vision and leadership together with data and experience, and become as agile and adaptable as the threats and opportunities they face.

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Our government needs as many of these leaders as we can develop. Our future depends on it. Acknowledgements: Dan Munz contributed to the development of this paper.

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