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Government as an Innovation Catalyst: Three Post-Pandemic Trends

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
April 4, 2022

On March 24, 2022, Deloitte released its report on The 10 Government Trends Reshaping the Postpandemic World. The report has excellent insights for public administration practitioners and academics. As I read through the report, I noticed how three trends could be combined to reinvent the government’s role in spurring innovation and providing better services to citizens.

Linked Up Government: Building Connections for Greater Impact

The first trend we will focus on is how government agencies coordinate across their organizational boundaries to confront wicked problems. Governments have been creating collaborative partnerships for years with mixed results. I’ve been on government-wide projects with compelling missions that were not resourced sufficiently and didn’t receive the needed attention. Then, as a Presidential Management Fellow, I worked on the Federal government’s Y2K Task Force which received sufficient attention to succeed. Since then, I’ve been on other collaborative projects that were tasks I worked on after doing my actual work.

Then, the pandemic of 2020. Government agencies worldwide had to collaborate to respond to the global public health crisis quickly. Fortunately, the agencies had cloud technology that allowed for intense collaboration even while government employees worked remotely. Agencies also had past partnerships to help in learning to collaborate more effectively. The Deloitte trends report gives the example of Children’s Cabinets which are interagency partnerships in 30 U.S. states to coordinate providing services to children. Linking the resources and actions of siloed government agencies is vital as governments manage more wicked problems.

Data-Fueled Government: Breaking Down Silos with Turbo-Charged Data

Another trend that the pandemic has accelerated is the elimination of data silos in governments. Governments are highly proficient in gathering, analyzing and storing data. However, government agencies rarely shared information with other government agencies before the pandemic.

At the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, I was on a task force to reduce the number of data calls or requests to collect data from other agencies. The task force determined which reports duplicated data or if we could obtain the data from other means. Other Federal government agencies had similar task forces because the data call process was burdensome. Data often must be extracted from one system, converted to a shareable format and then entered into another system. In addition, data migration and data syncing were labor-intensive processes where the slightest error could derail the data transfer.

The pandemic forced governments to find better ways to share data between government agencies, industry and academia. Again, data sharing became mission-critical, and, again, cloud technology came to the rescue. Governments learned how to blend data from different agencies into one data stream that fueled the COVID-19 dashboards that kept the public informed. The role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) went from a little-noticed senior leader, to a vital part of the agency’s mission. Agencies also created proactive data privacy and security policies as data sharing accelerated.

Government as Catalyst: Driving Innovation Ecosystems

The COVID-19 crisis has underlined the importance of constant innovation – and the need to respond with speed, agility, and scale.” According to the 2022 Government Trends Report, governments are becoming catalysts for innovation in three ways. First, governments are building ecosystems to focus on “key societal issues and reducing friction.” The second way is to create novel partnerships to leverage “external innovation to drive mission delivery.” Finally, the third way is using agile approaches to “[s]eeding critical areas of innovation.”

Governments have historically been a catalyst for innovation. In 1714, the British Parliament passed The Longitude Act, which offered a substantial prize to whoever created a “practical and useful method to determine longitude to an accuracy of half a degree.” Since then, governments have established similar awards to spur innovation. Government agencies also use commercial spinoffs to aid businesses in developing new products and services. The authors recommend that governments “create dedicated sensing and scouting units to identify emerging technologies and capabilities in the market.” The authors also recommend an “agile governance model” that uses “government-industry sandboxes” to encourage experimentation in government-commercial partnerships.

Government as an Economic Accelerator

The 2020 Pandemic has helped accelerate many technological trends as governments raced to find a vaccine. Governments also learned how to collaborate better as agencies, industry and academia partnered to share data and ideas. Governments were on the path to linking up, sharing data and catalyzing innovation. The COVID-19 crisis helped governments realize the significant value of these trends and why governments should invest substantial resources in these three trends. As the world recovers from the pandemic, governments should continue to benefit from these three trends because agencies will be better prepared to confront the next set of wicked problems. And profit from the next set of wicked opportunities.

Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Navy’s Inspector General Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

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