Exploring how outstanding public executives make tough decisions: An interview with Ronald Sanders, Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton – Episode #91

 How do outstanding senior government executives make tough decisions? Recent exploratory research suggests that these leaders need to be “ambidextrous,” meaning skilled at gathering input and conducting thorough analysis of complex decisions, while at the same time willing to make tough and courageous decisions. Moreover, these executives also appear to have a “bias for action,” meaning leaning towards decisiveness in decision-making even at the risk of not having enough information.

These findings come from a recent Harvard Kennedy School Working Paper, “‘I Won’t Back Down?': Complexity and Courage in U.S. Federal Executive Decision-Making” by Steven Kelman, Ronald Sanders, Gayatri Pandit and Sarah Taylor.

To learn more, we’re joined by one of the co-authors, Ronald Sanders, a Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton. Previously he served for 37 years in the federal government, 20 of which were in senior executive positions, including as Associate Director of National Intelligence.

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HUD’s Research Roadmap: An interview with Katherine O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Episode #90

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) invests significant resources ($237 million since 2009) in research and evaluation to improve the evidence base for policymaking and the efficiency and effectiveness of existing policies. In 2008, however, a National Academy of Sciences report called HUD’s research-agenda setting process too insular and too short-term focused. As a result, the Department set out in 2011 to create a new way of setting its research agenda. It launched a year-long research planning process to identify the most policy-relevant and timely research questions in the fields of housing and economic development with extensive input from the academic community, practitioners implementing programs and policymakers. The result of this effort is a strategic plan — the Research Roadmap — released in 2013 that highlights research projects that HUD aims to undertake over the next five years. In doing so, HUD’s approach offers a collaborative model for other public agencies in setting their research agendas.

To learn more, we’re joined by Katherine O’Regan, the Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at HUD, where she has served since 2014. An economist by training, she was previously a Professor at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Web extra: Katherine O’Regan discusses the next steps for the Research Roadmap. [click here]

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Using the Balanced Scorecard in the public sector: An interview with Kenneth Thompson, Professor, Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, DePaul University – Episode #89

 The Balanced Scorecard was introduced by Harvard Business School professor Robert Kaplan and management consultant David Norton in a 1992 Harvard Business Review article. It quickly became one of the most well-known approaches to performance management in the private sector. It was developed out of a concern that companies were placing too much emphasis on short-term financial indicators, without enough attention to longer-term drivers of organizational success. As a result, the Balanced Scorecard tracks indicators in four categories: 1) financial; 2) customer (or stakeholder) satisfaction; 3) internal processes; and 4) learning and growth.

Since then, many government agencies have adopted the balanced scorecard as well. To learn more, we’re joined by a leading expert, Kenneth Thompson, a professor of management at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University. He is the co-author, with Nicholas Mathys, of an IBM Center for the Business of Government report focused on applying the Balanced Scorecard to government agencies. As the authors explain, the Balanced Scorecard is a tool “for translating an organization’s strategy into action through the development of performance objectives and measures in order to fulfill its mission.”

Web extras: Kenneth Thompson discusses the four traditional components of the Balanced Scorecard, plus he adds a suggested additional fifth component. [click here] Also, he provides the example of Motorola to explain the motivation behind the Balanced Scorecard. [click here]

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Implementing a turnaround strategy at DOL: An interview with Seth Harris, former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor – Episode #88

The U.S. Department of Labor is a useful case study of a large public-sector organization that successfully strengthened a culture of results, data, learning and evidence. In doing so, it improved its performance on key outcomes. Moreover, by 2013, DOL had the highest score among cabinet agencies in terms of the use of performance information — and the only cabinet agency to see a statistically significant increase on this measure between 2007 and 2013. This progress reflects a concerted effort by the Department to use performance management, data and rigorous program evaluation to improve results.

An important leader in this effort was Seth Harris (@MrSethHarris), who served as Deputy Secretary of Labor from 2009 to 2014 and as Acting Secretary in 2013. He joins us to discuss key elements of DOL’s turnaround strategy.

Web extra: Seth Harris discusses the results of DOL’s performance turnaround efforts. [click here]

Related interview: To learn more about DOL’s efforts to help operating agencies build evidence around important programmatic and policy questions, see the Gov Innovator interview with Demetra Nightingale, DOL’s Chief Evaluation Officer. [click here]

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Insights from the FTC about promoting employee engagement: An interview with David Robbins, Executive Director, Federal Trade Commission – Episode #87

How can public agencies at the federal, state or local levels strengthen employee engagement? We get insights from the Federal Trade Commission. Since 2010, the FTC has been among the top three federal agencies in terms of employee engagement, according to the Employee Engagement Index, based on factors that facilitate employee engagement such as effective leadership and supervision, as well as work that provides meaning to employees. The index uses data from the Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVP) of nearly 400,000 federal workers in 37 agencies.

To learn more about what the FTC does to build and maintain strong employee engagement, we’re joined by David Robbins, the Executive Director. In his role, which reports directly to the Chairwoman, he oversees the administration and management of the agency. As background, the FTC has three main bureaus (consumer protection, competition, and economics) and about 1,200 employees. It has a dual mission to protect consumers and promote competition.

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Using Pay for Success to fund early-childhood programs: An interview with Janis Dubno, Voices for Utah Children – Episode #86

How can a Pay for Success approach — also known as a Social Impact Bond — be used to finance evidence-based early-childhood programs? And what lessons have been learned so far about doing that?

To gain insights, we’re joined by Janis Dubno, a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit Voices for Utah Children. A former investment banker, she helped design Salt Lake County’s social impact bond for early education and has authored several reports on applying Pay for Success to early-childhood interventions.

Web extra: Janis Dubno explains some of the broader reasons why public leaders may want to consider a Pay for Success approach. [click here]

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Closing the social-class achievement gap for first-generation college students: An interview with Nicole Stephens, Professor, Northwestern University – Episode #85

Can a brief, hour-long intervention significantly improve outcomes for first-generation college students? Research by Nicole Stephens and her colleagues shows that it can. She is a social and cultural psychologist and a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

As background, college students who do not have parents with four-year degrees — in other words, first-generation students — earn lower grades and encounter more obstacles to success in college, on average, than students with more advantaged parents. Innovative approaches can help close this social class achievement gap.

An important example comes from research by Professor Stephens and her co-authors published in the journal Psychological Science. Based on a rigorous research design using a randomized controlled trial, they find that a brief difference-education intervention (in the form of a student panel for incoming students) reduced the social-class achievement  gap, based on grade point, by 63% compared to students who participated in a similar panel that did not highlight students’ different backgrounds.

Web extra: Nicole Stephens discusses another brief social belonging intervention that also had sizable effects, studied by researchers Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen. [click here]

Note: Following our interview, this intervention was discussed in a New York Times article on first-generation college students. [click here]

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Using analytics to tackle tough agency challenges: An interview with Dean Silverman, former head of the IRS Office of Compliance Analytics – Episode #84

How can public agencies at the federal, state and local levels use analytics — including test and learn strategies — to tackle their toughest challenges? We get insights from Dean Silverman, the founder and former head of the IRS Office of Compliance Analytics (OCA), which launched in 2011.

Reporting directly to the IRS commissioner, the OCA’s mission is to improve compliance with tax laws and to make data analytics a key part of the IRS’s strategic decision-making. Its work led to billions of dollars in savings through fraud detection and reductions in improper payments. The OCA’s approach, though, is applicable well beyond the area of tax and finance, in terms of building analytical capacity within an agency; bridging silos between analytics, operations and IT; and using analytics to address key strategic challenges.

Dean Silverman lead the OCA for four years, until January, when his appointment expired.

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The importance of administrative data for learning what works in public policy: An interview with Raj Chetty, Professor, Harvard University – Episode #83

Why is administrative data, also known as big data, important for learning what works in public policy? And what steps can help the U.S. strengthen its data infrastructure for policy-relevant research? To gain insights, we’re joined by Raj Chetty for part 2 of our conversation. A Professor of Economics at Harvard University, his research combines empirical evidence (often using administrative data) and economic theory to help design more effective government policies.

As background, administrative data means the data collected by government agencies for program administration, regulatory or law enforcement purposes. Federal and state administrative data include detailed, useful information on labor market outcomes, health care, criminal justice, housing, and other important topics. Access to administrative data for research purposes – while carefully protecting privacy – can produce important insights about what works and how to improve public sector programs and policies. For further reading, a useful resource is the chapter Building Evidence with Administrative Data from the Analytical Perspectives section of the President’s 2016 Budget.

For part 1 of our conversation, on behavioral economics, click here.

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Cost-benefit analysis 101 for policymakers & public managers: An interview with Henry Levin, Professor, Columbia University – Episode #82

Knowing “what works” in policy is important, but so is knowing what policy alternatives cost. For instance, do the benefits of a certain program or intervention outweigh its costs? Or among two interventions designed to achieve the same goal (say, improving children’s reading ability), does one produce a given level of improvement at lower cost? Questions like these can be answered with cost-benefit analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis.

We get an overview of these topics from Henry Levin, one of the nation’s leading experts. He is a professor of economics and education at Teachers College at Columbia University and a professor emeritus at Stanford. He’s the co-author of the book Cost-Effectiveness Analysis: Methods and Applications.

Two key terms discussed in the interview are:

  • Cost-benefit analysis, which typically compares the cost of a single program to the value of the outcomes it achieves for taxpayers. (One can also compare the costs and benefits of multiple similar programs, which is called portfolio analysis.)
  • Cost-effectiveness analysis, which considers how much each program costs to achieve the same outcome.

Web extra: Henry Levin provides an example of how cost research helped catalyze policy change in New York City, using the example of CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), designed to increase graduation rates among community college students. [click here]

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