Friday, December 12, 2008

Could Universities Help Government Be More Effective?

I had a really interesting idea the other day. I'm currently a graduate student in information management at ASU. As part of the curriculum we are required to complete a project that has the students working with a company to "transform a business through information technology." This is a great idea and the project (I'm about half done) has really helped me understand business and technology better. I'm sure other business schools and other universities do similar projects. Well, here's my idea: instead of focusing on private companies, why don't we have some of them focus on government agencies.

Government has become synonymous with waste and inefficiency. Most people extend that into the belief that government employees are lazy and incompetent. However, as I've worked with some of Arizona's government agencies, I've found the opposite to be true. Many of the people I've worked with are dedicated, hardworking people who are try to look out for the best interests of the people they serve. So why isn't service so much better? Government agencies tend to hire people that focus on the mission of that agency. Social agencies look for social workers, law enforcement looks for police officers, etc, but how many government agencies look for business minded individuals with MBAs and management experience? Many government agencies are dedicated to helping people but don't have the tools to help them run more efficiently.

So, suppose university business programs started creating projects where business students worked with government agencies to reduce waste and increase efficiency. Their focus would be to determine the most effective outcomes and then engineer processes and procedures to get there efficiently. If implemented effectively, this has the potential for reducing red tape, speeding up government functions, and saving tax payers money - all without reducing services (and possibly even increasing some services).

I believe this is an idea with a lot of potential. I spoke to one of my State Representatives to get his thoughts on it and he thought it was a great plan. However, he also pointed out some of the barriers to a program such as this.

1) It cannot be run by the Legislature. Government agencies don't trust the Legislature (after all, they always trying to cut government budgets). This would have to come either from the universities and or from the agencies themselves.

2) Not all agencies are amiable to change. Some agencies just want to keep things status quo. It's human nature to resist change and adopting business principles and accountability into government is a large change. While I stated that there are some very dedicated, hard working people in government that would welcome increased efficiency, not everyone is like that.

3) It can be difficult to keep large projects going. Every time the governor changes, there is a chance that agency leaders will get replaced. If the governor's office switches parties, those chances are really good. So how do you keep a project going when your boss changes? Especially if the new boss wants to head in a totally different direction?

These are very real but not insurmountable obstacles. This program would, most likely, be tricky to implement but I think the benefit potential is huge. I say we quit complaining about government waste and get to work.

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