Feb 8, 2009

Enabling Collaboration: What's Wrong?

The National Academy of Public Administration’s Collaboration Project issued a report, “Enabling Collaboration: Three Priorities for New Administration.” The paper encourages the Obama Administration to
  • Create an open technology environment
  • Treat data as a national asset
  • Foster a culture and framework for collaboration
This is a smart and juicy paper that bears more than one post. Let's start off with the indictment, or, three challenges that "currently inhibit the creation of a truly collaborative government" (Emphasis below added by me).
  • An Outdated, 20th Century Technology Approach—Today, the most effective modes of information sharing and problem-solving are driven by a flatter, more collaborative organization. To power this organization, the world has moved towards acquiring information technology (IT) as a service, with flexible and adaptable applications and operating models. Today, IT is no longer the “hardened” part of an organization – its main purpose is instead to enable flexibility in the organization. The technical capabilities of the federal government, however, were and remain designed to meet the needs of a structure that is almost entirely hierarchical. Individual agencies continue to own and maintain their own rigid IT environment, complete with hundreds or thousands of unique applications and dedicated infrastructure—along with the burdens of cost, maintenance, and inefficiency that come with it. This model is unsustainable, distracts from the core missions of government, and inhibits collaboration.
  • An Inability to Relate Data to Information, and Information to Decision Making—Throughout the 20th century, advances in communications enabled us to collect massive amounts of data from a diverse range of sources with unprecedented speed. The challenge posed for managers today is turning that raw data into information, and ensuring that this information informs decision-making. Unfortunately, problems in data interoperability, authenticity and knowledge management prevent government from engaging in this kind of empirical, data-driven decision-making, particularly as it relates to problems that involve multiple offices, agencies, or departments.
  • A Culture that Inhibits Collaboration—Organizations that successfully collaborate provide organizational and structural incentives for innovation through the adoption and continued use of information sharing environments. Today, government lacks these incentives. Bureaucracy is designed to maintain the status quo, and there are strong institutional incentives to value stability over innovation. Moreover, bureaucratic hierarchy, reinforced by outdated policies and laws, artificially separates technology leadership from agency mission performance.
So, we have a government with hundreds (or hundreds of thousands) of applications that don't talk to each other run by people who don't talk to each other. Definitely sounds like there is room for improvement. We'll take a look at the recommendations this week. What do you think?

Read the entire report (40 pages) below. [As an aside, the use of Scribd makes for an inaccessible document--if you want to quote it, you will have to seriously reformat! Never thought that I would wish for a PDF.]
Enabling Collaboration: Three Priorities for New Administration


  1. Gwynne -- Thanks so much for your kind comments! We look forward to reading what you have to say about the rest of the paper. Please don't hesitate to send us any questions about the paper and we'll be happy to respond with some blog-ready comments!

    Dan Munz

  2. @Dan, I am working it chunk by chunk in my "off hours." Will be sure to send on questions as they arise, and let me know how I am getting it wrong!


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