Management Insights

The Public-Administration Quandary: ‘Who’ vs. ‘What’

Every senior public administrator has on occasion wondered whether a leadership position should be filled by someone with deep content knowledge or by a person whose executive skills and proclivities embody the process sensibilities thought essential to getting something done. Can't we all wince at memories of a promising individual with deep knowledge who foundered in execution because he or she lacked the skills of community consultation, adaptation and finding workable consensus? Conversely, can't we all recall the talented person who never seemed to "get" the cultural nuances of a field he or she did not know from long experience and was defeated in the trenches of change leadership?

There is no pat solution to this quandary. It is part of the mystery and challenge of public administration. But lest we forget that it happens at all levels, consider the sharp relief coming into view with recent federal-level crises. In replacing the secretary of veterans affairs, the Obama administration went not for the military veteran steeped in the organization or in medicine but for an individual who understood corporate culture and customer orientation. Conversely, what about the long-time Secret Service official, elevated in the face of earlier scandals, who crashed and burned in the face of spectacular security breaches at the White House? READ MORE

The Troubling Partisanization of Elections for Secretary of State

In early November 1956, a young state senator named Monroe Sweetland was locked in a tight election campaign for Oregon secretary of state, one that Sweetland would narrowly lose. But as election day neared, Sweetland was encouraged that voters finally seemed aware of the important duties of Oregon's second-ranking state office.

The reaction of two elderly women he met outside a post office on this particular day was especially heartening. Clasping Sweetland's hands in delight, one told him, "Of course you can count on both of our votes -- and all our friends, too!" But Sweetland's newfound faith in voter awareness was short-lived as the woman then exclaimed, "Yes -- all of us think that John Foster Dulles has just got to go!" READ MORE

The Critical Ingredients of Community Resiliency

Resiliency, according to the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities project, is "the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience."

As that definition suggests, there are many components to building resilient communities. A recent conference hosted by the Alliance for Innovation, for example, explored a modified version of the "3 Es" of resiliency -- environment, economy, and the emotional well-being of public leaders -- as the keys to building resilient communities. Presentations by current and former local-government practitioners, academics and other experts provided plenty of food for thought for public officials on the interconnected aspects of resiliency: READ MORE

The Rise of Customer-Centered Human Services

Everyone may be equal in the eyes of government, but that does not mean everyone is the same. One of the great weaknesses in human services over the past century is that they have operated with a mass-production, one-size-fits-all approach. In many circumstances, that is no longer necessary or appropriate.

This recognition is giving rise to a new wave of experimentation across human-services programs rooted in the premise that customized program design and delivery, based on a deeper understanding of the customers being served, will lead to better outcomes. READ MORE

Measuring the Impact of Public Innovation in the Wild

With complex, seemingly intractable problems such as inequality, climate change and affordable access to health care plaguing contemporary society, traditional institutions such as government agencies and nonprofit organizations often lack strategies for tackling them effectively and legitimately. For this reason, this year the MacArthur Foundation launched its Research Network on Opening Governance.

The Network, which I chair and which also is supported by, is what MacArthur calls a "research institution without walls." It brings together a dozen researchers across universities and disciplines, with an advisory network of academics, technologists, and current and former government officials, to study new ways of addressing public problems using advances in science and technology. READ MORE