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Develop New Approaches to Public Governance and Engagement

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. 

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:

  • Grant Programs.  Federal grant programs for medical research, education, transportation infrastructure, and social welfare touch every American.  States, localities, and nonprofits spend too much time trying to navigate the multiplicity of programs and too many resources on documenting compliance.  This reduces the funding available to meet the public’s needs. 
  • Emergency Management.  Federal, state, and local emergency managers must cope with the rising number of extreme, havoc-wreaking weather events that impose huge costs on people, property, and places.  When disasters strike, the intergovernmental path for recovery can be bifurcated and disjointed, making it difficult, if not impossible, for local governments to navigate at a time of great crisis.  The current network of institutions at national, state, and local levels of government hinders disaster preparation, response, and recovery. 
  • Social, Economic, and Environmental Needs.  A wide range of needs require intergovernmental and intersectoral collaboration without which significant problems result.  For example, the opioid crisis and the water crisis in Flint, MI, were intergovernmental failings.  And the nation’s current struggle to address the mobility, housing, and employment needs of a rising population increasingly migrating to already congested urban areas will require new intergovernmental and intersectoral solutions. 

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:

  • Establish joint solutions to complex policy and administrative problems;
  • Design institutional mechanisms to promote intergovernmental and intersectoral solutions, effective practices, and lessons learned;
  • Improve the intergovernmental/intersectoral partnership and develop mutual accountability;
  • Educate and train intergovernmental and intersectoral leaders;
  • Identify the laws, regulations, and policies that significantly impede intergovernmental and intersectoral collaboration;
  • Assess new public problem-solving mechanisms; and
  • Improve the grants system to reduce compliance costs, focus on outcomes, and streamline programs.

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.



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GrandChallenges@napawash.org

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