Four Strategies for Transforming State Government

As Obama seeks to bring transparency to the federal government, he has plenty of examples to draw from in the states.
September 16, 2009 AT 3:00 AM
Jonathan Breul
By Jonathan D. Breul  |  Contributor
Jonathan D. Breul is executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

President Barack Obama came to office promising to "redesign" the federal government and how it interacts with citizens by moving to a "21st century government." He's been getting headlines for innovations being undertaken by his new administration. But the secret is that many of these have been piloted first by state governments in recent years. In fact, before the big financial crunch of recent months, states have been pursuing four strategies to transform the ways they govern.

These four interrelated strategies - anticipatory governance, results-oriented governance, collaborative governance, and transparent governance - were first described in "Four Strategies to Transform State Governance," a report last year by the late Keon S. Chi, a long-time researcher at the Council of State Governments.

Jonathan Breul and John Kamensky in this week's column lay out some basic strategies that will help state and local leaders get in front of the ever worsening budget storm and provide us with practical examples of where state governments are successfully implementing these strategies.

- Stephen Goldsmith

A key point Chi made is that these strategies are largely based on political will, not a large investment of money. He noted that these strategies: "...are doable without investing a great deal of additional resources and can be implemented in a relatively short period of time without partisan debate if state officials are serious about meeting the challenges of the future. They are based on the assumption that states can help transform themselves by...using selected best practices developed and tested by other states as starting points rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel or experimenting with untested organizational theories."

Following are some specific examples of where states are using these governance approaches to transform their ways of doing business:

Anticipatory Governance

Anticipatory governance aims to shift from short-term decision-making to long-term and strategic planning. Individual agency plans and objectives are swapped for statewide plans with shared visions and goals. Successful anticipatory government initiatives include:

Minnesota 2020 Caucus. A bi-partisan legislative caucus that foresees the policy and demographic challenges the state will face in the coming decades.

Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida. The Commission provides annual reports to the legislature and governor on issues related to population growth, infrastructure, natural resources, and natural disasters.

Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan. The plan charts a visible and lasting course for the islands over the next four decades.

Virginia Performs. Governor Tim Kaine initiated this program to empower agency heads to embrace the state's existing results-focused system and prioritize performance.

At the federal level, there is no similar effort. The Government Accountability Office has long called for a government-wide strategic plan, but this is probably unlikely to happen. However, there is a nonprofit initiative that could serve as a foundation for making the federal government more "anticipatory," the State of the USA, Inc., which is developing a Web site of statistical information that will be a nonpartisan resource for citizens and policymakers to see how well the U.S. is performing in economic, social, and environmental areas. Its launch is set for Fall 2009.

Results-Focused Governance

Results-focused governance focuses its policy formulation, execution, and adjudication on measurable performance. By reducing the focus on rules and process-oriented management, state governments become more entrepreneurial, flexible, and innovative. Successful results-focused governance initiatives include:

Washington State's Government Management Accountability and Performance (GMAP). This disciplined method of performance management enables Washington's governor and agency heads to make speedy decisions and achieve measurable results in selected service areas.

Iowa's Charter Agencies. This approach allows volunteer state agency managers to waive administrative rules in order to be more creative and efficient, in exchange for results. (For more on Iowa's experiment with charter agencies, read GOVERNING's Lean Legacy .)

Maryland's StateStat. Similar to GMAP, Governor Martin O'Malley regularly convenes agency heads to focus on achieving specific results.

Again, there is no parallel federal effort. The Obama campaign has called for a "chief performance officer" reporting to the president. Several federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, have created an "EPA-Stat," but far more could be done. Federal efforts to create "charter agencies," which at the federal level were called "performance-based organizations," have not had much success in being replicated.

Collaborative Governance

Collaborative governance focuses on replacing silo-based organizational culture with interagency and intersector collaboration. Instead of agency-specific databases, for example, states develop integrated information management systems. Instead of fragmented structures with turf protection, states consolidate structures and shared services. Successful collaborative governance initiatives include:

Illinois Shared Services Program. This project is transforming agency silos - agencies having their own back-office functions - into an enterprise framework - agencies sharing back-office functions.

National Center for Interstate Compacts. The Center supports states in developing durable and adaptive tools for promoting and ensuring cooperative action among the states while avoiding federal intervention and preemption.

At the federal level, there has been a significant move over the past few years to develop cross-agency shared services. This has been done around mission support functions, such as personnel, technology, and finance. These are collectively called "lines of business" and have been under development for the past four to five years. They offer both savings and collaboration opportunities. President Obama directed agencies to become both more collaborative as well as more transparent. He has also included this as an element in his budget guidance to agencies.

Transparent Governance

Transparent governance aims to transform closed and inward administrative processes and multi-layered bureaucracy into open government with clear public access and citizen-friendly and responsive mechanisms. Successful transparent governance initiatives include:

Georgia's Office of Customer Service. Charged by the governor with developing a uniform, statewide system for measuring results for more than executive agencies.

AmericaSpeaks. A nonprofit that engages citizens through town hall meetings in addressing local, state, and national issues that range from developing municipal budgets to social security reform.

D.C. Government's Data Warehouse and CapStat. The District of Columbia has opted for radical transparency in sharing its operational data, and how it acts on it with its citizens and employees. It makes raw, real-time data feeds available, allowing non-government groups to use it in "mash ups" and other forms of data visualization.

This is the area in which the Obama administration has moved quickly. Like D.C., it created a Web site to share agency data, It has also reached out to citizens to help design its public tracking Web site for recovery act funds,, and has issued guidance to agencies to more readily provide access to public documents.

Still, it is states that are forging the way. In recent months, a series of states have started to open their "checkbooks" online for citizens to see, and to analyze. Some are also leading the federal government in posting their uses of ARRA funds. Taken together, these various transparency efforts will likely be a key driver in the broader transformation of government to being more accountable and with greater citizen engagement in how it operates.