The purpose of these Principles is to provide guidance to organizations that are seeking to improve the outcomes of their policies, regulations and programs. While not all government efforts can use Agile Government Principles, they are increasingly being adopted around the world. The National Academy of Public Administration Agile Government Center is developing case studies that can be used to better understand where and how Agile Government Principles can be used. We welcome your comments.
The mission should be extremely clear and the organizational unit laser-focused on achieving it. One of the most famous and enduring governmental mission statements is that of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Still, there have been recent discussions about updating it to include appropriate references to women. As each part of the Department undertakes their responsibilities, this mission must be at the forefront of their thinking. The purpose of Agile Principles is to suggest that the Department should continually evaluate the outcomes that are being produced against this mission.
Metrics will be widely agreed upon, outcome-focused, evidence-based, and easily tracked. An example of metrics that meet this standard comes from the HUD/VA supportive housing program. The quote below is from the 2019 Point in Time Count (PIT)
“The most recent PIT Count was conducted in January 2019. This national snapshot of Veteran homelessness showed that:
Customers should be part of the teams that design and implement agile programs. This will drive continuous iteration and improvement based on customer feedback. In the implementation of the Data Act, the United States Treasury created teams that included those who would be using the information from the Data Act into the design of the rules and regulations that were put in place to implement it. These teams expressed great satisfaction with the process.
Appropriate speed should be encouraged in order to produce quality outcomes and regulatory consistency. In hearings regarding the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, OMB officials pledged to spend 75 percent of the $787 million within 20 months. This was accomplished without triggering any significant findings by the Government Accountability Office of misuse of funds.
Empowered, Highly Skilled Cross Functional Teams
Team members will engage in continual face-to-face communication, replacing siloed bureaucratic systems and sectoral isolation. This will enable them to engage in solving real problem quickly. In his book Team of Teams, General Stanley McCrystal demonstrates that organizing to defeat a foe like Al Qaeda involves cross assigning team members, co-locating previously isolated functions, and greatly increasing the sharing of information. He also stresses the importance of speed with instant access to situational awareness.
Innovation should be rewarded, and rules and regulations that hinder problem solving should be examined and changed as necessary. One example of agile innovation is the creation of “Nudge Units” in governments around the world. These are typically small teams using elements of behavioral science to create change. Cass Sunstein, former head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs found that, “Nudges play a large role in regulatory initiatives in the United States in multiple areas, including environmental protection, financial regulation, highway safety regulation, anti-obesity policies, and education.”
Persistence requires continuous experimentation, evaluation, and improvement in order to learn from both success and failure. The best example of persistence in government comes from a quote by Franklin Roosevelt, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” Some programs of the “New Deal,” like the Works Progress Administration, are long gone. Others like Social Security form the core of our safety net. Both came from persistent experimentation in policy development and implementation.
Solid evidence should form the foundation for designing and implementing policy and program options. Public management scholar Don Kettl has concluded, “Leveraged government- the use of more evidence and more interweaving- tracks most closely with the instincts of both parties over the past two generations, when confronted with new problems.”
Leaders should eliminate roadblocks, aggregate and assume risks, empower teams to make decisions and hold them accountable, and reward good outcomes. The consulting firm McKinsey states that we need to develop new leadership capabilities. “First, they (leaders) must transform themselves to evolve new personal mind-sets and behaviors. Second, they need to transform their teams to work in new ways. Third, it’s essential to build the capabilities to transform the organization by building agility into the design and culture of the whole enterprise.”
Diversity of Thought
Diversity of thought must be encouraged in identifying the problems and crafting solutions. David Rock and Heidi Grant, writing in the Harvard Business Review, said, “Diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective. They may also encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant. By breaking up workplace homogeneity, you can allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases — entrenched ways of thinking that can otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.”
Published on: April 6, 2020
Updated on: April 22, 2020