Management Insights

Leadership and the Tricky Politics of Public Opinion

We usually think of politics in two ways: as the "big-P" politics of campaigns and referendums -- noisy, zero-sum contests that get lots of public attention -- and the "small-P" politics of gaining approval for policies and projects. These are the non-zero-sum contests of compromise and tradeoffs that revolve around regulatory approvals, planning board and city council votes, and the occasional state law.

But there's a third version, a kind of meta-politics that's critical to progress but rarely gets noticed. It's the politics of public opinion. How important is public opinion? Listen to Abraham Lincoln: "With public sentiment," Lincoln said, "nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions." READ MORE

Is the Era of Unfunded Federal Mandates Over?

A Congressional Budget Office report issued in late March includes a rather surprising revelation: With the exception of the Affordable Care Act and another law affecting child nutrition passed in 2010, Congress has not passed any significant bill imposing unfunded mandates on state, local or tribal governments since 2008.

When the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) was passed in 1995, the problem was considered so important that the bill that became this law was the first to be introduced in the new Republican-controlled House after that party took over Congress for the first time in 40 years. The reason? Republicans desperately wanted to amend the Constitution to require a balanced federal budget, but states and localities raised concerns that the federal budget might be balanced simply by passing responsibilities -- and costs -- down to state and local governments. READ MORE

Public Pensions and the Lessons of Success

Do we learn more from success or failure? When it comes to state- and local-government pensions, we tend to focus on the plans that are struggling. But there are valuable lessons to learn from public-sector retirement plans that have remained well funded and from governments that have successfully negotiated changes to put their pension systems on a path to full funding.

Well funded in Illinois: Given all the headlines about Illinois' seemingly endless struggle to reform its pensions, some might be surprised to learn that that the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), the state's second-largest public pension, is a model of fiscal responsibility. READ MORE

The Blurry Future of Health-Care Spending

Total U.S. health-care spending rose just 3.7 percent in 2012, decreasing as a share of the economy for the second consecutive year. In fact, health-care costs grew more slowly each year from 2009 to 2012 than in any other year since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began collecting the data in 1960. The news was welcomed, because for years soaring health-care expenditures had far exceeded U.S. economic growth.

But as Pew's State Health-care Spending Project found in a recent analysis, the national health-care spending story in 2011 and 2012 was very different from the experience of state and local governments, where spending increased twice as fast, principally because a temporary surge in federal Medicaid funding delivered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stopped flowing. As state and local governments continue to navigate the aftermath of the Great Recession, health-care spending remains a source of fiscal pressure. READ MORE

The Amazon-ification of Government, and Why We Need More of It

Ours has become an "experience economy" in which people have shifted from passive consumption of products or services to active participation in the process. Recognizing this shift, many companies now invest in the delivery of experiences -- what might be called the Amazon-ification of retailing. This process has come to be known as "design thinking," and governments need to pay more attention to it.

Design thinking is a "next practice," a methodology that infuses innovation activities with a human-centered design principle powered by a thorough understanding of what people want and need and what they like or dislike about the way a particular service is provided. READ MORE