As a practice, ‘agility’ has fundamentally changed core aspects of project management, business processes and software design. This agile approach also has the potential to change government and public administration.
A forthcoming paper - Agile: a new way of governing - in Public Administration Review looks at agility and how it can benefit public managers. It explores the challenges managers face when they are expected to make their organisations more flexible and responsive.
Agile government is inspired by agile software development. This essentially means responding efficiently to changing public needs.
When redesigning and digitising public services, agile methods are used in the initial requirements analysis. Service designers use ethnographic methods to understand the needs of users when accessing public services. This reveals pain points and also what works well. These insights reveal how public services can be better designed from a user perspective.
Service designers then compare these informal requirements with the formal requirements and hand over a prototype to the software developers. In these design steps, inclusiveness and transparency are essential.
Unlike complex project plan-based approaches which can be slow, agile is quick and simple. It invests in initial planning but anticipates these plans will change as new information emerges about user needs.
The architects of agile developed 12 key principles when creating and implementing projects:
The core assumption of agility is that innovation is not linear. Organisations, cultures and needs are intertwined when it comes to driving innovation.
Agile can contribute to more effective and efficient public administration in the following ways:
There are key challenges in introducing agility into traditional bureaucracies:
There are key challenges in introducing agility into traditional bureaucracies. At its core, agile requires a change in rigid bureaucratic cultures that are top down with zero tolerance for failure. Changing organisational culture can be difficult, especially if there are no incentives to change.
An agile culture turns traditional organisational principles of bureaucracy upside down. Agile values individual team members and teams. It requires responsible discretion and flexibility in organisational procedures and principles. Many organisations have seen remarkable changes through the application of agile principles. The same is possible in the public sector if managers embrace its benefits and are aware of its challenges.
Understanding the prospects for agility in the public sector is just beginning. Areas that are ripe for theoretical and empirical contributions include emergency management and public health responses.
Agile: a new way of governing – Ines Mergel, Andrew Whitford and Sukumar Ganapati, Public Administration Review (forthcoming).
This Research Brief is written by Maria Katsonis as part of ANZSOG’s new research translation series, The Bridge. This project is designed to bridge the gap between the research work of academics and the policy work of public managers by providing access to visible and accessible high-quality research. The Bridge is emailed fortnightly to thousands of engaged readers and centers around a Research Brief which distills academic research into an easy-to-read format.
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