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Summary Agile Government Principles

April 06, 2020

April 06, 2020

Published on: April 6, 2020
Last Updated on: November 17, 2021
Summary Principles for Agile Government.

The purpose of these Principles is to provide guidance to organizations that are seeking to improve the outcomes of their policies, regulations and programs. While not all government efforts can use Agile Government Principles, they are increasingly being adopted around the world. The National Academy of Public Administration Agile Government Center is developing case studies that can be used to better understand where and how Agile Government Principles can be used. We welcome your comments.

  • Mission- This is at the heart of Agile Government. It should be crystal clear, laser focused, and easy to communicate and understand.
  • Metrics- These should reflect the mission and be outcome focused, widely agreed upon, evidence based, and easily tracked.
  • Customer Driven Behavior- Customers should be intimately involved in design and redesign of the program and a focus on the customer journey should be ingrained in the culture of the organization.
  • Speed- Speed should be encouraged and enabled by establishing clear deadlines and that create a sense of urgency about meeting them.
  • Empowered, Highly Skilled, Cross-Functional Teams- Team members should be expert in their role, diverse in their thinking, engage in continual face to face communication, and make well-supported decisions that address the immediate challenge and advance the project.
  • External Networks- Developing and sustaining networks is an integral part of leveraging the support of customers and the public in accomplishment of the mission of the organization.
  • Persistence- Achieving successful outcomes requires continual experimentation, evaluation and improvement over time in order to learn from successes and failures.
  • Innovation- Should be rewarded and there should be a preference for new approaches that test rules, regulations and past practices in order to deliver better results and higher levels of customer satisfaction.
  • Evidence-Informed Solutions- Solid evidence should form the basis for designing and implementing policy, regulatory and program options.
  • Organizational Leaders- Leaders should eliminate roadblocks, aggregate and assume risks, empower teams to make decisions, hold them accountable and reward them

Commentary on Agile Government Principles


The mission should be extremely clear and the organizational unit laser-focused on achieving it. One of the most famous and enduring governmental mission statements is that of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Still, there have been recent discussions about updating it to include appropriate references to women. As each part of the Department undertakes their responsibilities, this mission must be at the forefront of their thinking. The purpose of Agile Principles is to suggest that the Department should continually evaluate the outcomes that are being produced against this mission.

Some veterans groups have pushed VA to change its mission statement to reflect the existence of female veterans.


Metrics will be widely agreed upon, outcome-focused, evidence-based, and easily tracked. An example of metrics that meet this standard comes from the HUD/VA supportive housing program. The quote below is from the 2019 Point in Time Count (PIT)

“The most recent PIT Count was conducted in January 2019. This national snapshot of Veteran homelessness showed that:

  • In 2019, there was a 2.1 percent decrease in the estimated number of homeless Veterans nationwide and 793 veterans now have shelter.
  • 37,085 veterans experienced homelessness in January 2019, compared to 37,878 in January 2018.
  • This year to date, more than 11,000 veterans have found permanent housing and critically needed support services through the HUD-VASH program.
  • And still, the estimated number of Veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States has declined by nearly 50 percent since 2010.”

Customer Driven

Customers should be part of the teams that design and implement agile programs. This will drive continuous iteration and improvement based on customer feedback. In the implementation of the Data Act, the United States Treasury created teams that included those who would be using the information from the Data Act into the design of the rules and regulations that were put in place to implement it. These teams expressed great satisfaction with the process.


Appropriate speed should be encouraged in order to produce quality outcomes and regulatory consistency. In hearings regarding the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, OMB officials pledged to spend 75 percent of the $787 million within 20 months. This was accomplished without triggering any significant findings by the Government Accountability Office of misuse of funds.

Empowered, Highly Skilled Cross Functional Teams

Team members will engage in continual face-to-face communication, replacing siloed bureaucratic systems and sectoral isolation. This will enable them to engage in solving real problem quickly. In his book Team of Teams, General Stanley McCrystal demonstrates that organizing to defeat a foe like Al Qaeda involves cross assigning team members, co-locating previously isolated functions, and greatly increasing the sharing of information. He also stresses the importance of speed with instant access to situational awareness.


Innovation should be rewarded, and rules and regulations that hinder problem solving should be examined and changed as necessary. One example of agile innovation is the creation of “Nudge Units” in governments around the world. These are typically small teams using elements of behavioral science to create change. Cass Sunstein, former head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs found that, “Nudges play a large role in regulatory initiatives in the United States in multiple areas, including environmental protection, financial regulation, highway safety regulation, anti-obesity policies, and education.”


Persistence requires continuous experimentation, evaluation, and improvement in order to learn from both success and failure. The best example of persistence in government comes from a quote by Franklin Roosevelt, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” Some programs of the “New Deal,” like the Works Progress Administration, are long gone. Others like Social Security form the core of our safety net. Both came from persistent experimentation in policy development and implementation.

Evidence-Informed Solutions

Solid evidence should form the foundation for designing and implementing policy and program options. Public management scholar Don Kettl has concluded, “Leveraged government- the use of more evidence and more interweaving- tracks most closely with the instincts of both parties over the past two generations, when confronted with new problems.”

Organizational Leaders

Leaders should eliminate roadblocks, aggregate and assume risks, empower teams to make decisions and hold them accountable, and reward good outcomes. The consulting firm McKinsey states that we need to develop new leadership capabilities. “First, they (leaders) must transform themselves to evolve new personal mind-sets and behaviors. Second, they need to transform their teams to work in new ways. Third, it’s essential to build the capabilities to transform the organization by building agility into the design and culture of the whole enterprise.”

Published on: April 6, 2020

Updated on: November 17, 2021