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Grand Challenges in Public Administration: Connecting Individuals to Meaningful Work

Aug 31, 2020



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By Academy Fellows Mark Pisano, Barry VanLare, Scott Fosler, Maria Aristigueta, and Rich Callahan

The Academy named in 2019 as one of twelve Grand Challenge in Public Administration, “Connecting Individuals to Meaningful Work,” and defined meaningful work as work that provides both dignity and an adequate income to all Americans.

The global coronavirus pandemic has upended our economy and our traditional modes of work. What has become apparent is that there are two Americas. While many in our country have retained work that provides sufficient income, dignity and enjoyment, millions of others have not. Our immediate and urgent challenge is to create meaningful work for all Americans and create one America.

One of the more significant developments arising over the past decade, sharpened by the pandemic, is a lack of understanding of what is happening to the economy, particularly to work and workers in our society. What individuals do--their labor, earnings, purchases, and the taxes they pay--is a primary determinant of economic performance, political stability and national well-being. If we hope to develop a stronger economy as we recover from the global impacts of the pandemic, we must understand what is happening to work and intentionally strive to connect individuals to meaningful, reliable, productive work.

This paper proposes a new approach to workforce development at the national level that relies on collaboration across all levels of government and all sectors. It draws on the expertise of Fellows of the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy), on the institutional design research on dynamics for developing cooperation by Elinor Ostrom, 1 and on research on the role of path dependencies to reset economies by Douglass North. In developing our proposals, this paper considers the role of economic development, the role of institutional design for policy change, and the implementation of intergovernmental tools needed to organize ourselves for the future. It is becoming increasingly apparent that what we are doing now is not working for majority large part of our population.

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