Category Archives: Uncategorized

Interagency Collaboration – 7 New Zealand Case Studies

by David Osborne

Twenty years ago, when I was doing the research that led to Reinventing Government, someone suggested I talk with a fellow at the New Zealand embassy named Derek Gill.  Derek and I had lunch, and he proceeded to tell me the story of radical reinvention in New Zealand from 1984 through 1988–the most far-reaching, rapid transformation of bureaucratic systems that had or has taken place in the world.  I scribbled for two hours and asked Derek to send me anything he could that documented the reforms.  Derek and I have kept up a friendship through the years; he has often helped me explore topics such as strategic management and performance budgeting, for other books.  Ten years ago I had the pleasure of visiting him and his family in New Zealand while speaking at a university there.

Today, many of us are struggling with the challenge of how to get different government departments and programs to work together to solve our most intractable problems.  Such problems don’t fall neatly within departmental lines, so interagency collaboration–what the New Zealanders and Brits call “joined-up government”–is indispensable.  But in most governments, such collaboration is still an unnatural act between unconsenting partners.

Derek and some of his colleagues at the Institute of Policy Studies have written a valuable paper on this topic, based on seven case studies in New Zealand.  Their findings are congruent with mine: the most important thing you can do to drive interagency collaboration is to make all agencies accountable for improving outcomes. When the goal is improving real outcomes that citizens care about, managers have to reach out to potential partners–within government and outside government.  Departmental lines become obstacles one must surmount if one wants to succeed.

Derek and his colleagues provide many more useful insights about the process in their paper, and they write in a casual, entertaining style.  I think you’ll enjoy it. Let me know by posting a comment.

Better Connected Services for Kiwis: A Discussion Document for Managers and Front-Line Staff on Better Joining Up the Horizontal and the Vertical

A Bailout Badly in Need of Reinvention

by Larry Grant

Frankly, I didn’t want to think much more about government regulation, but it is clear that somebody better.

In an earlier post on this blog, I said that the regulatory cycle went something like:  crisis, creation of a regulatory agency, quiescence, and capture of the regulators by the regulated.  This seems to be playing out right now in the current financial crisis.  There are, to be sure, some added wrinkles: a massive bailout of the financial industry and the adoption of dictatorial powers by the executive branch to dispense these financial favors – excuse me, a “clean” grant of authority.  Still, in reaction to the administration’s “solution,” a new regulatory agency is being proposed.

What can we expect to happen, and how might a reinventor think about it?  I expect that should such an agency be created, it will most likely contract out the actual work of designing and effecting regulation to the experts – yes, the same “experts” who created the mess in the first place.  So we will have bureaucrats, well meaning I’m sure, trying to deal with the flim-flam artists of our age.  Guess into whose pockets the money will flow?

There is an alternative – certainly not the only one, but something a little different.  It reminds me a little bit of the issues surrounding public financing of professional sports stadiums.  It has always seemed bizarre that the public should subsidize rich men’s jock sniffing without getting any of the reward.  If the public invests, why shouldn’t the public own?

As Paul Krugman says, “… if government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to – a share in ownership …”  If it is true that the actual percentage of bad loans is in the neighborhood of 3 percent, and the real problem is that we don’t know where they are in these mixed packages of mortgage-backed securities, then once it gets untangled, the people (read “taxpayers”) could get the potential profits.

What reinventors need to do is design ways that government can become savvy investors in the firms that solve the problems.  Then it will be clear who the customer is.

State governments are from Mars, local governments are from Venus

by Beverly Stein

I’ve been in both state and local government.  I served in the Oregon legislature for three terms where I thought of myself as a friend to local government.  Then I served for eight years as the head of the largest county in Oregon and used to quip “You should be required to serve in local government before you serve in the state legislature — otherwise you just don’t get it!”

I also worked for nine months in the State of Iowa on a PSG Transformation Partnership Team with Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.  Among our projects was working to improve the relationship between Iowa’s 99 counties and its cities with the state.   In the beginning of this project we conducted a workshop with representatives from cities, counties, the state administration and some legislators.   We asked each group about their perception of the other groups.   The local governments heard that the state thought they were inefficient.  The state heard that local governments thought they didn’t have a clue about the challenges faced at the local level and the impact of state mandates.

This is not a new problem.

As people who have been married for a long time know, issues in relationships are the product of many years of good and bad experiences.  Cities, counties and states have been married for over 200 years — a lot of time for patterns to emerge, patterns that do not work well in the 21st century.

Of course, in times of economic crisis, this relationship worsens.  States are forced to slash budgets, often at the expense of local governments.  Localities, for their part, are forced to turn to alternative means of methods of funding – like raising property taxes – that are highly unpopular with constituents.  As a result, state and local governments, instead of cooperating, often blame and point fingers at each other.

In terms of sheer power – to allocate resources, control local decision-making, and cut or raise taxes – the relationship between state and local governments is, without dispute, unequal. States have ultimate control over localities, while local governments are forced to comply (or develop creative ways of not complying) with whatever decisions the state makes.  This is true even in home rule states; local governments may have large degrees of control, but that control is ultimately granted – and can be taken away – by the state.

We are, of course, currently experiencing such an economic crisis, and it is not likely to go away anytime soon.  Across the country, states and localities are enveloped in the worst fiscal crises in recent memory, and as the situation continues to worsen, the state/local relationship has reached a breaking point.

I believe the tension between state and local governments and their perceptions of each other are not much different from state to state.  However, some states have better relationships with their local governments than others.

I am aware of a few attempts to improve the situation. Several years ago in Oregon, the state human services department joined representatives from a county to jointly present their budget to the legislature.  This had a dramatic effect on the perception of legislators, to the degree that they could more clearly see the budget needs of counties and no longer cling to the perception that county services are optional.

There have also been bills in Oregon to professionalize the relationship between state and local government.  These bills allow counties to opt out, have liability protection, and the ability to reduce services when funding is cut.  Oregon has also created Community Solutions Teams to better address the problems on the local level and created a Performance and Accountability summit designed to align performance measures.

In California, the League of California Cities doubled their membership dues to bolster their lobbying power at the state.  Their goal is to build alliances with business communities and others, help cities exert pressure on state, and develop contact with the media. The league has been relatively successful; at least the situation is much better than before.

What ideas do you have for improving the relationship between state and local government?

Calling all Government Reinventors!

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