Governments face increasingly serious, seemingly intractable public management challenges that go to the core of effective governance and leadership, testing the very form, structure, and capacity required to meet and overcome such challenges. Many problems facing public sector leaders are wickedly complex, do not respect bureaucratic boundaries, and are nonlinear and fluid in nature, “where very small effects may produce disproportionate impacts.” In many ways, traditional government approaches seem obsolete and incapable of meeting evolving complexity. Prescriptions abound on how best to address these issues, coalescing around calls for whole of government, enterprise, and networked approaches.

Moreover, government leaders continue to face the unforgiving realities of disruption and uncertainty. Agency officials increasingly indicate that what were previously viewed as Black Swan events are now becoming more frequent— and more destabilizing. The vulnerability of social and economic well-being is magnified by reliance on both connectivity and distributed value chains subject to disruption on multiple fronts. Risks have grown due to complex variables such as geopolitical conflicts, multiple public health emergencies, and natural disasters (e.g., wildfires, hurricanes, drought). Addressing risks has placed renewed emphasis on the importance of being resilient. The combination of perpetual uncertainty and an ever-evolving risk environment continuously overtakes current planning models.

Given this new reality, government leaders need practical, actionable insights on how best to manage and lead through uncertain and disruptive periods. For 25 years, the IBM Center for The Business of Government has sought to inform government leaders and stakeholders by supporting independent research from recognized public management experts, with the overarching goal of improving public sector management and operations. The Center’s collaboration with scholars, thought leaders, and government executives intends to spark the imagination—identifying emerging trends, original ideas, and best practices, and providing decision makers with knowledge about the benefits and challenges of transformation. The Center delivers on this mission by publishing first-class research that provides lessons learned and insights to better address mission and management challenges in an increasingly uncertain world.

From Mission and Management Challenges to Preparing for Uncertainty

The IBM Center released its latest research agenda to meet current mission and management challenges facing frontline government executives. The Center has also dedicated time and resources to explore how best government agencies can prepare, address, and overcome the disruptive inevitabilities of “future shocks”—those increasingly common and severe events that have effects within and across nations.

Partnering with the National Academy of Public Administration (Academy) and the IBM Institute for Business Value, as well as other U.S. and global partners, the Center launched a “Future Shocks” initiative in 2022 to help government leaders further identify core capabilities critical to building resilience, building on lessons learned from pandemic response efforts. Governments, around the world have navigated and responded to the impacts of the pandemic, and have captured valuable lessons and gained an understanding of critical areas of focus. The Future Shocks initiative sparked a series of international roundtable discussions with global leaders from across the public, private, academic, and nonprofit sectors to capture lessons learned, share insights, and offer guidance in several core areas:

  • Emergency preparedness and response
  • Cybersecurity
  • Supply chain
  • Sustainability
  • Workforce

In each of these areas, insights from these roundtables were documented in a series of published reports that offer strategies and actions to help governments address challenges that lie ahead. These roundtables and reports leveraged previous work that build on past experiences, such as a series of IBM Center reports on pandemic response, along with IBV studies and the Academy’s Grand Challenges effort. Insights derived from the Future Shocks series and reports inform the first six chapters of this book.

Leveraging Innovation and Performance to Drive Government Forward

To commemorate our 25th anniversary and identify innovative ideas that help government move forward in the face of inevitable uncertainty, the Center conducted a Challenge grant competition. This competition solicited essays from academics and thought leaders describing a future of government that can help inform agency readiness—identifying strategic actions for innovation and performance to drive agency missions forward. These essays pointed to new ways of understanding and framing problems; new processes to solve problems; and new implementation solutions. The essays, featured in the second half of this book, focus on a handful of specific topics:

  • Intelligent automation (IA), including artificial intelligence (AI), is revolutionizing how governments derive value and insights from data to achieve key goals and objectives. An effective automation program can greatly enhance the ability of the public sector to improve services. The challenge going forward is to design and implement IA and AI programs with critical elements to successfully enable mission delivery and citizen services.
  • Data and evidence can help government executives and managers to do more of what works to deliver better outcomes. This challenges leaders to collect accurate and timely data, conduct more informed analysis, make better decisions, and take smarter actions. Governments must also seek high-quality data to derive insights for improved delivery.
  • Shared services in the federal government have focused primarily on “back office” functions of financial management, human resources, acquisition, and technology related functions. More recently, grants and cybersecurity services have been added to human resource and finance as the focus of dedicated Quality Service Management Offices (QSMOs). Shared platforms across open ecosystems can enable agencies to leverage innovative and cost-effective services, both to modernize the scope of existing services and develop new ones.
  • Customer experience is now a key strategic priority across federal agencies. Focusing on customer experience (CX) enables agencies to improve service and build trust. By delivering a great experience for customers, agencies can provide great value for the people they serve. CX thus becomes a strategic imperative in mission delivery, and a foundational element for trust in government. Optimizing new technologies can enhance the user experience and incentivize innovators to modernize how government does business and delivers services.

Nine essays—encompassing such topics as AI, quantum computing, data and evidence, oversight, shared services, and customer experience— comprise Part III, chapters 7-15 of this book.

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Book Chapters


PART I: Roadmaps to Government Resiliency

PART II: Building Resilience: Preparation and Response

PART III: On Future Readiness: Insights from Experts