Allow me to use the motto “E pluribus unum” to support my topic today about the Government transformation process in the present age.
The meaning behind the motto was, probably, one of the reasons that led Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere in 1776 to suggest to use it on the new United States seal, at a time when the integration of the 13 independent colonies into a unified country was about to happen.
The concept of union is also stated on the logo of my soccer team, the S.L.Benfica of Lisbon, since 1904, reflecting the sports spirit that everyone counts.
Can we translate the same concept and meaning into the current challenges, present in our Public Sector space and most of all to the way Governments are incorporating the new demands on services and optimization?
Taking a brief look into the available documentation on the topic, we will find terms such as “One-stop Government”, “Joined-up Government” or “Whole of Government”, attempting to translate this transformation journey.
It is not a simple journey and not always successful due to different factors.
We live in a world with increasing demands on governments from three different sides. First, Citizens have become more knowledgeable, requiring full and detailed information and better quality services. Internally, the Public Servants requiring better solution, able to integrate information and to avoid redundant work, and finally yet importantly, the external factors of the financial markets, whose variables, out of their control requires for a tight budget control. These three aspects are modelling the way governments are run, forcing the adoption of new ways of collaboration, aiming for better and a more cost effective operation.
With all these variants, how can a Government implement their transformation?
I will focus this analysis by dividing my approach into four parts. Part one, having a look into the concept of the Whole of Government, the importance of the way how to setup the transformation framework and the necessary conditions to avoid failures.
In my next article (part two), I will exploring one of the most adopted framework models with different scenarios – Shared Service Centre.
With the context and the boundaries defined, I will turn the attention on how technology can support cost efficiency with tangible benefits and which common scenarios and available IT solutions can be used (part three and four).
Understanding the Whole of Government
The term “whole of government” is an umbrella concept, intended to find answers to the decades of fragmentation and silo approaches in public services. This new way of thinking aims for an integration and coordination of the parts, finding synergies and achieving effectiveness and efficiency in all Government operations.
There seems to be a logic statement and it makes totally sense to push in this direction. So why is it so hard to implement such transformations?
We can find an initial answer based on the fact that it implies the collaboration between different departments, ministries and, finally, persons. The cultural aspect from different world regions needs to be take into consideration as well the political background, restricting the adoption of some scenarios that I will be speaking about, from a structural or strategic perspective.
Transformation needs to have clear and precise targets and definition of goals. Most of the times no clarity or too much ambition on the quick transformation motivates a rate of around 70% of transformation failures, according to a McKinsey Company study from 2013.
All transformation needs to have a good communication and promotion plan, engaging and explaining the impact of the affected parties, reducing the resistance to change and putting accountability on the leading ones but most important avoiding complexity over the scope.
Once this is granted, the sustainability of the transformation execution, with proper budget assignment, full engagement of the leaders and proving value with day-to-day achievements is mandatory.
The lack of achievements over these simple points motivates the failures on scale, through a lack of motivation, lack of management support from affected government areas and visibility to outside.
In summary, when transformation does not promote the understanding of the affected ones, aligning the structures and supporting systems, empowering people and developing the necessary skills within a clear commitment and motivation, failure is sure to happen.
Understanding the importance of clear goals and structured approach, which good examples can we find on government transformation?
The format and the focus needs to be in line with the goals. And there are worldwide many good examples of successful Government transformation programs. I am including here the link to an interesting document produced by CES – Centre of Effective Services, a company supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in Ireland where we can read about the complexity of the “Whole of Government approaches”
In this document, we will find references to the work done in Ireland, Australia, Scotland or Canada, pointing to the different ways of adoption and scope definition.
Which are the conditions that guarantee the success of transformation programs?
Within the government priorities, we find strategic and structural programs for a medium to long timeframe as well as tactic and punctual programs for a short timeframe.
Besides, the basic pillars that support the programs, considering the different parts involved, the creation of own management and operational structures with a proper governance model should leverage the government agencies and departments instead of creating new ones. This will lead into improvements and better co-operation between stakeholders. Examples of this collaboration can be raised by sharing data from different departments, accountability over achievements with recognition of involved ones or transparency over budgeting providing public awareness of projects spending.
Full leadership commitment, find the right people, along with the necessary empowerment to promote cross government changes, but most importantly with the necessary soft skills to manage and influence through collaborative adoption of change is a condition for success mainly when the implementation involves different stakeholders.
Why should Governments embrace the path of transformation?
It is well know how complex government reality and structures are. Most of the times, transformation is not done by own initiative, it is rather imposed. We can observe the present examples in European countries due to the financial crisis, with the intervention of the Central European Bank, International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, imposing structural changes on countries like Greece, Portugal or Ireland.
Another good example of a structural program, which is still to be proven as successful, is the Health re-structure initiative within the US government defined as priority by the Obama government.
These two examples reveal the impact of transformation from a top down approach; nevertheless, the most common examples are rather linked to more strategic or punctual situations aiming for the synergies over sharing, eliminating redundancies, reducing costs and inefficiencies and optimizing the impact of governments on the citizen’s life.
In terms of goals and tactical objectives, we will find different realities within the macro-political situations such as the ones described in the European countries.
More complex situations, the called “wicked” problems, such are crime, poverty, education or the present situations in Europe dealing with the flux of immigration require a strong cooperation between all government institutions and sometimes with private stakeholders. Even if many times this is one of the situations, where the goals are not achieved, it is also, where the strong leadership and a top down imperatives must be raised.
Sensitive topics such as Defence and Security require special attention and are in the order of the day on every government agenda. Due to the terrorist attacks, streamlining operations for prevention and detection increase the demand for a new way of operations setup, requiring perfect coordination, sharing information and action plans between the most diverse organizations within a country and outside, imperative for the security of citizen lives and assets.
Finally, another situation pushing for the coordination and immediate response from government institutions are natural catastrophes, which, again being punctual and unpredictable, require a joint work of public and private institutions on the way to mitigate the consequences and governments are putting strong focus on the ways available to improve their operations whenever an event occurs. Another concrete example of this category is the Zika virus in Brazil, especially at this moment where everybody is putting the eyes on this country due to the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio.
With all these examples and scenarios it is fair to say that government transformation and preparation for the challenges of the present age are necessary. They are necessary to achieve results like never before through optimization of the operations across government institutions by sharing assets, resources and information that lead to efficiency increase, but also promote the public engagement of different stakeholders to be ready to contribute to cope with complex scenarios.
The engagement of public and private organizations also helps to be better prepared for the unpredictable, both with preventive actions and consistent and immediate intervention.
With a clear picture about the main challenges to be faced, how can the whole of government policy become a reality?
Finally, it is the moment to define how to put the plan and the necessary steps on the way to become reality. There is always a gap between the plan goals and the reality afterwards, bureaucracy is one of the most common pains when dealing with cross-areas, as well as the lack of visibility and accountability of the involved ones.
Here is where a clear communication of the steps, with a proven leadership, with a clear governance model and accountable guidance over the adopted strategy becomes effective.
One important aspect is the link between the development of the policy and the implementation; lack of alignment between the two moments will provide the wrong message, motivation and engagement to the affected ones.
The full support all way down from the political members of the government is a key factor, many transformation initiatives go beyond the political cycle and this requires an upfront discussion and alignment. Even this can be hard to achieve for short-term initiatives, while it is very critical for the long-term ones.
The mentioned CES document describes very well the importance and the different options around the enablers of a whole of government infrastructure setup, reaching from the necessary structures to be put in place to the work processes’ requisites in order to become effective. The importance and the presence of political and administrative leadership as well the consideration on the culture and capacities, raise the importance of acting on the mitigation of different organization culture, aiming for a cooperation and interpersonal relationship providing the necessary capacities to overcome boundaries.
Summarizing the content of this article, we can say that despite the overall challenges, putting in place a successful government transformation is a question of commitment, accountability, clear and tangible goals and full engagement of all stakeholders.
The success will allow to show effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and accountability within government goals and in public services, so we can finally say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (E Pluribus Unum).
On my next articles, I will be exploring this topic further, with concrete example of the SSC – Shared Services Center, and how it can translate what was stated here.