I was also interviewed for a story in Wired on the US Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge.
I will be speaking at the Center for Science, Policy & Outcomes in Washington, DC on May 9th.
#IdeasToRetire: Information Systems in Public Management, Public Policy, and Governance
Death of ideas are painful. In his classic 1962 book, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn traces how “normal science” precedes. In normal science, a field evolves based on prior scientific achievements and is built, brick by brick, from an existing paradigm. The current paradigm grows and evolves and gradually an entire community coalesces around this set of beliefs. Scientific practitioners take great pains to defend the set of beliefs and, over time, the scientific community acts to suppress innovations that conflict with the existing paradigm. Further, the community makes no efforts to discover new ways of doing things, performance anomalies are covered up, discarded or ignored and there is no effort to invent new theory. Even worse, there is an active effort to suppress new theories and those who espouse them. It is only when an existing paradigm is utter bereft of value that the community starts to examine the existing paradigm and challenge it.
Information systems are fundamentally transforming how we manage public institutions and conduct public policy. Yet, even a causal glance at the mainstream public management and public policy research outlets reflects a glaring omission of serious research into information systems when it comes to their design, management, governance, and evaluation. This state of affairs is not acceptable given the critical nature of information systems and their potential to impact how we govern. For all of the investments that the public sector has made in technology, we still see dismal failures in IT usage, management and implementation in government. A critical issue that stands in our way to realizing the full potential of IT when it comes to transforming our public agencies, delivery of public services, and the crafting and execution of public policies – antiquated ideas that hold us back. Adherence to these ideas is causing two undesirable outcomes: (1) an unacceptable gap between the promise of technology and its current failure rate and (2) a failure to fully realize the benefits of technology. In this talk, I will share findings from the #IdeasToRetire project. Our conclusion from this project of this is simple: government is stymied by outmoded ideas and can do better. Fixing this requires both thoughtful insight and courage.
Governing Mega-Scale IT Projects: The Global Public Sector Experience
Information Technology (IT) projects are commonplace in the public sector. National, regional, and local governments continue to invest substantial resources into designing, developing, and maintaining information systems. The scale, scope, and potential impacts of IT projects continue to increase. Today, it is typical to find mega-scale IT projects in the public sector. Unfortunately, these projects seldom play out as planned. Mega-scale IT projects often fail to meet expectations, and when they fail, they do so magnificently. In this presentation, I will share lessons learned from a study of six mega-scale IT projects in the public sector. I will specifically call out governance issues associated with contracting, consultants, financing, human resources, leadership, and project management. [Flyer]
Designing Research Programs: Processes, Outputs, and Outcomes
I believe that research needs to be conducted in a manner that advances the greater public good, especially in fields that are of an applied nature (business, engineering, public policy, etc.). Research done with the sole intention of producing a journal article or conference paper is not good enough. Academia has a special responsibility to generate knowledge that advances society. In this talk, I will offer personal reflections on how to structure research programs to maximize several goals. First, to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the research process. Second, to maximize the potential that research outputs will be accepted by scholarly and practitioner communities. Third, to work with stakeholders to leverage the knowledge that is generated, to advance societal outcomes. I will share examples from a wide assortment of projects to elaborate on how scholars can build agile, responsive, and responsible research projects that have relevance beyond the ivory tower. I will pay particular attention to global research projects that are interdisciplinary in nature. In addition to sharing lessons about what works, I will openly share some of the trials and tribulations that I have encountered along the way. [Flyer]
I will be visiting Florida International University later this month to deliver a research presentation at the Department of Public Administration in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs.
Information Technologies, Public Management, and Public Policy: Reflections and a Way Forward
The public sector continues to invest heavily in information technologies (IT). Investments in IT have skyrocketed in recent times at all levels of government, from local to regional and national. These investments have been fueled by a recognition that IT have the potential to transform how we design our public institutions, deliver public services, and govern responsibly. Alas, we must take a moment to assess whether these aspirations have been fully realized. There is limited evidence that investments in IT have delivered on their promised benefits. What is even more troubling is that for every success story, we have quite a few information technology project disasters that have squandered taxpayer dollars.
We do not need to despair; we need more serious engagement on the intricacies of how technologies are introduced, managed, and leveraged within the public sector. In this talk, I will draw on over four years of research to outline critical issues that limit our ability to exploit the potential of IT in the public sector. I will draw on past research projects that have spanned topics such as designing crowdsourcing platforms, building analytical capabilities to mine big data, managing mega-scale IT projects, performance management of IT units, and emerging technologies (e.g. automated vehicles, drones, etc.). I hope to inspire researchers to take the IT management more seriously in the context of public administration, public policy, and governance.
I am visiting Victoria University of Wellington's School of Government this week. During my visit, I will deliver a presentation on strategic management of information systems in the public sector. I will also meet with faculty and staff to learn more about the various academic and research programs with the School of Government and the Victoria Business School.
I co-designed a new project for the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution along with my colleague Gregory Dawson. Ideas to Retire is a TechTank series of blog posts. These posts identify outdated practices in public sector IT management and suggest new ideas for improved outcomes. I am happy to report that the series launched today! You can find the introduction here. We will be featuring two ideas a week for the next 10 weeks.
Of the first two ideas featured, one is by James Keene (City Manager, Palo Alto, CA) co-authored with Jonathan Reichental (CIO, City of Palo Alto, CA). You can read about their idea here. The second idea is from David Bray (CIO, FCC).
Stay tuned for contributions from several other luminaries including Steve Kelman (Harvard University), John L. King (University of Michigan), Ramayya Krishnan (Carnegie Mellon University), Dan Chenok (IBM), Alfred Ho (University of Kansas), Jane Fountain (University of Massachusetts), Marc Ott (City Manager, Austin, TX), Neal Myrick (Tableau Foundation), Ellen Lettvin (US Department of Education), Richard T. Watson (University of Georgia), José Esteves (IE Business School), and Jonathan Liebenau (London School of Economics), Phil Howard (University of Washington), among others.
Thanks to all contributors that participated in this project!
- Learning from IT contracting mistakes in the public sector (Brookings Institution, TechTank Blog)
- CIO-enabled innovation playbook: Lessons for the public sector (Brookings Institution, TechTank Blog)
- “Model Citizens,” Planning, October, 2015, 26-29
- Creating a Balanced Portfolio of Information Technology Metrics was the most downloaded report published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government for 2015.
- I presented at the Flinn-Brown Leadership Academy - Arizona Center for Civic Leadership on Leadership in a Networked World
- I joined the ICMA's Performance Management Advisory Committee for a two-year term beginning on Jan 1, 2016.
Selected Interviews/Press Mentions
- Newcombe, T. “Learning to Share: How Cities Are Benefiting from the Sharing Economy,” Government Technology, December 14, 2015,
- Moore, J. “The 15 Most Innovative Agencies in Government,” NextGov, December 8, 2015,
- Keegan, M. “A Conversation with Dr. Kevin Desouza,” IBM Business of Government Radio Show, December 7, 2015
- Dovey, R. “Will City Regulators Treat Driverless Cars Like They’ve Treated Uber?” Next City, October 28, 2015
- Koma, A. “Hawaii Moves Ahead with Audit of State IT Spending,” StateScoop.com, October 21, 2015
It has been a busy and productive 2015. Best wishes to you and your families for a peaceful and prosperous 2016.
I will be visiting the University of Florida later this week. The Bob Graham Center for Public Service is hosting my visit. I will deliver presentations to students across several Colleges including the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and the College of Journalism and Communications. In addition, I will meet with research leaders and faculty across the University.
Creating a Balanced Portfolio of Information Technology Metrics
Information technology has made possible the availability of real-time data and the tools to display that data, such as dashboards, scorecards, and heat maps. This has boosted the use of data and evidence by government decision makers in meeting their agency and program missions. But what about the use of performance metrics by agency chief information officers themselves?
Typically, CIOs have a good inventory of metrics regarding the performance of their technical infrastructure, such as server down time. Metrics on non-technical elements, however — such as innovation capacity of the IT department and the health of the overall IT organization — are in earlier stages of development. These metrics are critical for CIOs to effectively manage their IT departments, and to convey the strategic value of IT capabilities for attaining agency-wide objectives.
A balanced portfolio of metrics are needed: for project management, for operations management, and for innovation. Based on interviews with over two dozen seasoned government CIOs, the report identifies illustrative metrics that CIOs might consider adopting and offers a set of recommendation for how CIOs might go about designing, implementing, and evaluating the effectiveness of their metrics initiatives.
Local Government 2035: Strategic Trends and Implications of New Technologies has received a lot of press coverage over the last few weeks. Here are a few of the highlights: