Management Insights

The Data That’s Hiding in Plain Sight

What makes open data a powerful tool for governing better is the ability of people inside and outside of institutions to use the same data to create effective policies and useful tools, visualizations, maps and apps. Open data also can provide the raw material to convene informed conversations about what's broken and the empirical foundation for developing solutions. But to realize its potential, the data needs to be truly open: not only universally and readily accessible but also structured for usability and computability.

One area where open data has the potential to make a real difference -- and where some of its current limitations are all too apparent -- is in state-level regulation of nonprofits. In May, a task force comprising the Federal Trade Commission together with 58 agencies from all 50 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the Cancer Fund group of nonprofits and the individuals who run them. The complaint alleges that the groups are sham charities that spend "the overwhelming majority of donated funds supporting the Individual Defendants, their families and friends, and their fundraisers." State officials spotted telltale signs of abuse and fraud by studying information the organizations had submitted in their federal nonprofit tax returns and state-by-state registration forms. READ MORE

The Value of Nudging Public Workers to Save for Retirement

Polly was 67 years old, had failing health and was ready to retire. She had rejoined the workforce in her 50s after her husband passed away, but never took advantage of her employer's deferred-compensation program. Although her employer reminded her that if she joined the plan the organization would match her contributions, she thought she could not afford it. Polly lost out on 15 years of retirement savings.

Inertia is a big part of the savings problem. Behavioral economists talk about the importance of nudging people so they make better decisions. Automatically enrolling employees into a retirement savings plan is an example of a nudge that is effective and has become popular in the private sector. Employees have to take action to opt out of the retirement plan. READ MORE

What ‘Cognitive Government’ Could Do

From the Internet of Things to predictive analytics to artificial intelligence, a host of cutting-edge technology innovations appear destined to redefine the role of government. Robots, for example, could help governments design better services, while cognitive software applications are already fueling exponential changes in medical research.

But the rate of technological change also raises important questions about the ability of government agencies to adapt. The trend toward "made-for-me" service delivery and citizen-led co-creation is likely to stress the capabilities of many governments, for example. As Jack Welch, then CEO of GE, famously said, "If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near." READ MORE

Leadership as ‘a Kind of Genius’

Twenty-five years ago, as I was growing interested in how cities produce leaders and leaders shape cities, I heard a state business association president define leadership. A leader, he said, "is someone who helps people get where they want to go."

He was speaking to a community leadership class, and I could sense the audience deflate. That's it? Help people go somewhere? Like a bus driver? What about organizing constituencies, offering a vision and persuading the public? What about standing up for people -- or standing up to the powerful? What about holding office? READ MORE

The Dark Side of Government in the Sunshine

Like motherhood, ice cream and the all-expenses-paid vacation, seemingly everybody should like transparency in government. The specter of elected or unelected officials making decisions behind closed doors conjures up visions of corruption and would seem to signify government on behalf of private interests. For this reason, most democratic governments, to varying degrees, now operate under various laws and rules intended to promote openness.

As a card-carrying good-government type, I am supposed to like transparency, and I generally do think it's a good thing. Certainly there are real downsides to secrecy and backroom deals. There are many positive effects that can come from subjecting public processes to greater scrutiny and from requiring the disclosure of processes and data. Transparency itself, however, is not without its pitfalls. So what's wrong with government in the sunshine? Here are a few of my concerns: READ MORE