As we take on new research initiatives at the National Academy of Public Administration* (the Academy), an initial step in gaining a strong understanding of the organization and identifying the foundational elements of the organization’s current state, is in essence going back to square one. From there we can develop a research framework that comprehensively describes the current state and identifies where the organization wants to go and what success will look like.
The square one exploration has revealed a lot about where challenges originate and where the opportunities for improvement reside. Rarely are these findings simple or discrete. For example, our recent work with the US Merchant Marine Academy and the US Coast Guard Academy both have illustrated the complexity of our Federal Service Academies and how challenges arise and are addressed. This often requires examining origins across the institutes of higher learning as well throughout the federal structures of the Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, respectively. The USCGA study assessed the Coast Guard Academy’s efforts to build and sustain cultural competency and the USMMA study was a comprehensive assessment of the organization – both with the goal of providing recommendations to strengthen the organizational and structural processes to better support the current student body and the future members of the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. These reports identified a complex set of challenges with opportunities for mitigation and resolution across multiple organizations and spheres of government and public service.
Our recent congressionally directed report that reviews the Sources of and Access to Death Data focused on the issues related to utilizing state owned death data and how it can impact program integrity. It analyzed the challenges and perspectives faced by both federal agencies as well as the state entities managing this data. A key takeaway was that the opportunities for improvement that can lead to more accurate and timely data for decision making exists at both the federal levels as well as with the states. Once again, describing the current state did not lead to one isolated challenge or foundational root cause, but challenges and opportunities across multiple sectors and with varied perspectives regarding how to best proceed.
And sometimes the square one problem to solve for originates almost in the town square itself. Our current engagement with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service is reviewing the challenges and opportunities in effectively addressing racial equity within the fire and rescue service. This is an example of public service individuals engaging directly with their customers, the County residents as well as with one another to deliver critical services.
These funded studies draw on the Academy’s Grand Challenges of Public Administration as well as the Center for Intergovernmental Partnerships to be able identify the problem and describe the current state, starting from square one to develop action-oriented recommendations to improve the delivery of services to the American public, focusing on justice, fairness, inclusion and performance.