In the 21st Century, no significant public problem fits entirely within one government agency, or even one level of government, and our federal system presupposes that all levels of government have an important role to play in the democratic process. Effective problem solving usually requires federal, state, and local governments to work successfully together, and often with the private and nonprofit sectors. And yet, we have not prioritized the building of collaborative capabilities to develop and implement effective policies and programs across levels of government and sectors of society. The demise of institutions such as the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, which kept these governance issues front and center in policymaking and administration, may have contributed to this collective neglect.
This is not an abstract academic issue. Fragmented and fractious inter-governmental arrangements—characterized by slow bureaucratic processes, conflicting rules, competing objectives, organizational stovepipes, and overlapping programs—are significant impediments to meeting public needs. Consistent with existing constitutional and legal structures, the United States needs to develop new intergovernmental, interjurisdictional, and intersectoral collaborative mechanisms to address such issues as:
More broadly, new problem-solving and public engagement approaches should be utilized. Some innovators inside and outside of government have begun to utilize a people-centered, experimental, and data-enabled problem-solving approach to address public needs. For example, chronic homelessness in some communities is being fought by a bottoms-up approach of bringing stakeholders together, creating a list of individuals in need, and using a dashboard to share real-time data across agencies and nonprofits. Our decentralized governmental system can maximize opportunities for this approach, while also serving to enhance representation in our increasingly diverse country.
Public agencies and administrators have an important role to play in working across levels of government and sectors. Public administrators can use their expertise to help design policies and programs that will have maximum chance of succeeding in an intergovernmental and intersectoral context. During policy development and implementation, they can build our system’s capacity to meet complex public needs by broadly engaging the public, helping facilitate ongoing intergovernmental dialogues, providing flexibility, and encouraging innovation. Public administrators can play a key role in ensuring democratic values in policymaking and implementation in multi-stakeholder environments with actors from non-governmental sectors.
As part of the Grand Challenge to “Develop New Approaches to Public Governance and Engagement,” the Academy will work with stakeholders to determine how to:
This is an illustrative list of topics. As the Grand Challenges campaign kicks off and progresses, other issues can and will be addressed based on stakeholder feedback about critical needs and opportunities.