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Developing Global “Core Competencies” within Public Administration: The Convergence of Program and Information Management

 

1 Introduction

A key core competency within the practice of Public Administration is the management of programs. However, even an advanced search on the word “program” on the Internet results only in information technology products and methods. No information is returned on private and public sector programs and their methodologies.

What is needed is a globally recognized, certified body of individuals with skills in managing programs. Program Management must be established as a discipline with consistent approaches, methods, tools and techniques across business areas, and across continents.

Integral to effective program management is the understanding of information management and the undeniable convergence between these two disciplines.

Governments all over the world, at all levels, institute and manage programs. The federal government in the Unites States, for example, oversees over $2.5 trillion in programs and budgets that are critical to the functioning of federal, state and local agencies, boards and commissions.

It is a matter of concern that program management is still a relatively undefined methodological and repeatable process. Program Managers are not recognized as a certified body of individuals with skills in managing programs, separate from subject matter expertise.

While a competent program manager may be required to possess many skills including organizational, financial, human resource management and subject matter knowledge, they often lack knowledge in managing information.

It is not clear why information management has not made it into the lexicon of program managers and the skill sets of a competent program manager because information is the common currency of all aspects of a program. Information is no less valuable than cash, capital equipment, or people; so it demands the same degree of planning and careful management as the other resources.

It is important to reflect on the fact that many aspects of program management – its initiation and maturation process are dependent on information throughout its lifecycle. The sections that follow will connect the dots so that a lifecycle for program management and its convergence with information management clearly emerges.

 

2 Policy

During World War I, American humorist and social commentator Will Rogers was asked how the Allies should deal with the enemy submarine problem. He said the solution was simple, “Boil the oceans.” When asked how to boil the oceans, he responded, “I’m a policy man. I let others worry about implementation.”

Policy refers to directives, guidelines and positions taken by an organization that influence their decisions. Policies begin with an impetus for change: A policy may be initiated, rescinded or amended. Policies can be defined in terms of principles and values, such as the right to liberty and free speech. A policy can have immediate, short and long-term outcomes.

Policies provide the framework for raising one or more, possibly interrelated programs. In many ways, programs can be considered to be the delivery arm of policy. Programs can be delineated into processes and tasks that are carried out by program staff. Individuals need triggers, flows of information and feedback loops in order to conduct their tasks. The underlying medium for communication within a program is information, which can be considered the fuel that allows programs to be run and policies to be delivered.

 

3 Change

Tom Friedman has indicated in his seminal book, “The World is Flat” that information is becoming available at the speed of electronic communication, with the result that reaction time to events has literally disappeared. It is critically important to feed the results of change into a “reaction” model and determine the actions of government, industry and people. This can only be done if there is a predictive model that can be used by public administrators who understand the linkages between their programs, other interfacing programs and data that services them.

An event or trigger may be represented by a change in federal programs, the rate of inflation, an increase in clients, higher expenses, etc.  The implications of such triggers can result in a reduction of staff and services, consolidation of offices, increased levies, and other such remedies. These are all difficult social and consequently political issues. However, at a program level, it is possible to analyze the reason for change and objectively develop what the resultant actions should be.

Many of these questions depend on accurate and timely data that can be manipulated to answer unstructured questions. That means that the program design at the outset should have considered what types of questions could be asked related to its demographics, success and other such criteria. There needs to be an acknowledgement that program and information design and management are inexorably linked.

 

4 Program

Programs are normally defined as encompassing business vision, strategies and initiatives. A program creates outcomes. Therefore program management encompasses policy definition, design and delivery processes that produce these outcomes.

A program can be defined, top down, in terms of its components such as,

  • vision
  • goals (long-term), and objectives (short-term)
  • outcomes and their measures
  • scope
  • overlaps with other programs
  • resources
  • delineation in terms of program functional areas, functions, processes

Bottom up, a program validates its completeness and stability by inspecting its

  • business process design
  • process flow
  • information needs for each process
  • information inter-relationships
  • reporting requirements
  • staff roles and responsibilities

The top-down and bottom-up views can be rationalized until the framework and functioning of the program is solidified. The definition of information elements becomes clear and must be used throughout the program in a consistent manner by all program individuals. These are concepts of immense importance to provide a structured and repeatable method to define and evolve a program. What remains is how the information should be structured so that it forms a solid foundation for the program.

 

5 Information Management

Information technology plays a significant and integral role in all aspects of business today.  Business depends on information, especially just-in time, relevant, structured as well as unstructured subjective information.

Today, as a matter of practice, many organizations are scanning and sifting through social media sites when they are in a hiring process to obtain as much information about an individual. This data can be relatively unstructured and needs to be combined with factual data about entities of interest.

It is clear, as the illustration shows, that the continuum from policy development, program management, strategic planning to information technology is through a bond that exists between them – and that bond is information.

 

6 Information Cycle

Whether information is managed manually or through automated processes, there is a conceptual four-part cycle:

Part 1 involves gathering information that is valid and accurate through established techniques.

Part 2 analyzes captured data to ensure it is relevant by testing it using objective and subjective program criteria.

Part 3 establishes relationships between data entities and the program using rules so that meaningful knowledge is conveyed to business.

Part 4 deals with the administration of information.

Information management is indeed a very powerful concept and instrument in the hands of the right people from an administration and usage standpoint. Program managers that are progressive will understand the symbiotic relationship between business processes and business rules, and between business rules and information needed in support of those rules. MPA programs that offer this methodology as an integral part of their curriculum will turn out knowledgeable and practical program administrators for the new millennium.

 

7 Conclusion

Administrators who are managing programs today have not typically been exposed to the formal definition of relationships between their programs and information. As a result one finds multiple, overlapping programs, with redundant business rules and information files.
The illustration that follows lays out a framework of the program management cycle from the definition of policy, program, and processes to its overall management. For each of these “legs”, components are identified that are characteristics of each “leg” and it should be possible to produce these artefacts for any program.

Program Management should be a well-defined methodology. It should be repeatable. Program managers should understand what steps they need to perform in defining and managing it. Deliverables from its phases should be definable in terms of format and content. Inter-dependencies between the deliverables should be evident as well.

There is little doubt that upon proper application, business will gain all of the benefits espoused in this paper.

____________________________________________________________________

By: Shami Dugal

Shami Dugal is a business and information technology professional who has worked with public and private sector organizations for over thirty years. He has developed strategic planning, system lifecycle, project orchestration methodologies and trained managers as an integral part of his engagements. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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