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  • NINE TIPS FOR IMPROVING MEETINGS

    Over more than 30 years of covering state and local government, we can’t recall ever talking to a public sector manager who loved going to meetings. They may occasionally enjoy them, and they know that they need them. But, on the whole, the complaint that we hear most frequently goes something like this: “I’m spending so much time in meetings that I can’t get my work done.”   Even in the day of remote work, when many participants can attend meetings virtually, there’s a multiplier factor here. Let’s say that a manager calls a meeting with seven supervisors for a two-hour session. That’s eight people, including the manager, times two hours or a total of sixteen hours — or two full days of work for one person. That doesn’t even count the amount of time people should be taking to prepare for the gathering, and the snarky texts that follow along complaining about the waste of time.   The following, based on a number of conversations we’ve had over the years (as well as a certain amount of personal experience), are nine ideas for making meetings more productive, and possibly cutting down on resentment at their very existence. 1.     Whoever is running the meeting should be there exactly when the meeting is supposed to start. In the old days (not so long ago, really), this was a syndrome of meetings where everyone gathered around a conference table. But it’s got a new wrinkle for virtual meetings, when online participants can sit around awaiting the person who can let them into the virtual meeting room.   2.     Somebody should be taking really good notes, and — without taking too much time — distributing them to the men and women who were in attendance afterwards, who can then share them with others who would benefit by knowing what went on. With the advent of electronic transcription technology, this needn’t be a burden. 3.     If you set a meeting for an hour, and it doesn’t need an hour, don’t wait for the Red Sea to part. Just let those people go. 4.     If you set a meeting for an hour, every effort should be taken to have it end at the hours end. This may require cutting off people who want to join in the discussion in a way that can be very wordy. 5.     If you ask the participants in a meeting to identify themselves, ask them to do so in 30 seconds or less. 6.     Meetings should end with some time to discuss “next steps,” so that attendees will feel like this session led someplace except to the graveyard of hours they’ll never see again. 7.     Make sure the people in the room all get an agenda in advance. And by in advance, we don’t mean an e-mail that pops up 10 minutes before the gathering begins. 8.     Don’t fall into the trap of believing that there’s infinite time for the meeting during the first third, moving along at a decent pace in the second third, and then rushing in the last third — which often is when the group is trying to come to some conclusions. 9.     Finally, in hybrid meetings, make certain that the virtual participants are included as thoroughly as the people in the room.   #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #StateandLocalGovernmentPerformance #StateLocalPerformanceManagement #StateandLocalHumanResources #StateandLocalBudgeting #CityandCountyManagement #StateGovernmentMeetingManagement #CityGovernmentMeetingManagement #CountyGovernmentMeetingManagement #StateandLocalTimeManagement #StateandLocalLeadership #StateandLocalWorkforce #GoverrnmentSupervisorTraining #B&GReport #BarrettandGreene

  • OUR RESPONSE TO RESPONSE TIMES

    When it comes to many vital public services, including police, fire and EMS, one of the primary – and sometimes the only – performance measurement that people use is response time. On the surface this makes a lot of sense. For emergency services, particularly, every moment can spell the difference between a minor incident and a tragedy. To the general public, fast response times are real tangible evidence that they are getting good service. Just ask anyone who has waited for an emergency vehicle when a relative or friend might be undergoing a heart attack. All that said, however, response times are often misunderstood. Sometimes, when they are overemphasized, they can actually lead to emergencies themselves. It’s our guess that most people who read about response times aren’t aware that they can be measured very differently by first responders. According to Lexipol,  which provides information and tech solutions to help public safety organizations, there are three different ways that response times are generally measured. They are:   ·         “Turnout time  – the elapsed time from when a unit is dispatched until that unit changes their status to ‘responding.’” “Call processing time  – the elapsed time from the call being received at the (public safety answering point) to the dispatching of the first unit.” “Travel time  – the elapsed time from when a unit begins to respond until its arrival on the scene.” There’s a huge difference between the three – particularly from the point of view of the person who is urgently in need of help. With a shortage of EMS vehicles in many parts of the country, for example, after the 911 call is finished it can take the dispatcher valuable minutes to actually get an ambulance company to respond to the call. Once that happens, the ambulance still needs to arrive at the scene. From the perspective of the person who made the call, the response time might be 23 minutes (from call to help) not eight minutes (for the emergency vehicle to make the trip). If response times are truly to be used as helpful performance measures, we’d argue, that what really matters is the amount of time it takes from hanging up with 911 until help comes knocking on the door (or kicking it down in extreme instances). Other measures don’t really reflect the customer experience. Yet another issue with response times is that they don’t take into account the specific situation – and that can jeopardize safety for others, including the responder. If someone thinks they’ve broken an arm, for example, and calls 911 it probably doesn’t matter much if an ambulance arrives in ten minutes or twenty minutes. But if the call is for a fire or a heart attack then every minute counts. Yet these different scenarios are comingled in publishing response times. And that means that when emergency vehicles are summoned, responders who are being held accountable for their response times are responding to the scene as quickly as is possible – traveling far faster than the speed limit, going through stop signs and so on. No surprise that in 2021 according to the National Safety Council , 198 people “died in crashes involving emergency vehicles. The majority of these deaths were occupants of non-emergency vehicles.” Our recommendation is that response times, wherever possible, should be disaggregated in such a way as to differentiate between life and death emergencies and those that are far less serious in nature. This would not only make the response time measures more useful – it might save other innocent lives along the way.   #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #StateandLocalPerformanceMeasurement #ResponseTime #PoliceResponseTimeManagemen #FireResponseTimeManagement #EMSResponseTime #ResponseTimeManagement #PoliceManagement #PoliceData #FireManagement #FireDepartmentData #EmergencyManagementResponseTime #EMSResponseTime #StateandLocalDataGovernance #NationalSafetyCouncil #ResponseTimePerformanceMeasures #Lexipol #PerformanceMeasurement #PerformanceManagement #B&GReport

  • THE GRAVEYARD OF GOOD IDEAS

    A couple of weeks ago, we wrote a B&G report titled “Is Speedy Government Good Government?” in which we made the case that the pressure for states and localities to solve problems overnight can often lead to failed efforts. “Jumping into new initiatives. without the time for adequate preparation, may be great for elected officials anxious to make quick headlines,” we wrote “But glitter often tarnishes as time passes and efforts go through a rational progression of brainstorming, bringing in stakeholders, finding revenue streams, building a talent base, and forging through a political process that can sometimes favor inertia over momentum.” That column seemed to strike a responsive chord among many of our readers, one of whom, Barry Van Lare, a very active fellow with the National Academy of Public Administration, commented on a related issue that we think is worthy of note.  "While inadequately staffed and hasty implementation can, and often does, lead to failure,” he wrote, “there is also a problem with the frequency of change. All too often potentially successful initiatives are abandoned well before they can reasonably be expected to produce results." In our experience that’s absolutely true and it’s a pity. Over the years, we’ve seen many efforts that seem to have great promise fall by the wayside before they have the opportunity to prove their value. We’ve seen this happen repeatedly in the realm of education where new programs are put into effect, which in the real world will take four or five years to show progress, but then a new superintendent comes in is confronted by a school board impatient for results and tries something new (but not necessarily better, or maybe not as good). Even the best programs often take time to have any impact, even when they’ve been carefully thought out beforehand. New staff sometimes must be hired, and existing personnel have to be trained (and sometimes there’s no money to do so, but that’s a different story). Progress rarely can accrue on the back of a good idea until the people charged with implementation are up to speed. What’s more, sometimes terrific new programs have a whole host of little flaws that must be detected and dealt with before they begin to show their worth. Getting to visible solutions often requires an iterative process, with tweaks and changes necessary before results show improvement. Delay in gathering, analyzing and disseminating data can also lead people to believe that state or local governments aren’t making things better for them. When an evaluation or performance measurement data comes out a year after a new program has been inaugurated, it’s generally based on the most recent data available, which frequently comes from before the effort was even begun. Administrators are likely to understand that this is just a timing issue, but when the local press picks up on the report, it’s all too easy to ignore the existence of the initiative and that, in turn, can make residents clamor for yet more change. Lurching from one initiative to another, without sufficient evidence of whether the first one worked or didn’t, isn’t a productive approach. Yet an impatient populace, who are increasingly losing trust in government, can push their leaders to forfeit the advances that might have been made, if they’d only had the time. #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #StateandLocalPerformanceManagement #StateandLocalPerformanceMeasurement #StateandLocalProgramEvaluation #StateandLocalGovernmentData #StateLocalPolicyImplementation #GovernmentProgramGraveyard #CityGovernmentManagement #CityGovernmentPerformance #StateandLocalHumanResources #HastyProgramImplementation #LaggingData #TrustinGovernment #StateandLocalWorkforce #StateandLocalProgramFailure #BarrettandGreeneInc #DedicatedtoStateandLocalGovernment

  • THE TWELVE BIG LIES ABOUT STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT

    There are all kinds of variations on the theme of the three big lies that people tell in the normal course of day-to-day life. One of our favorite sets consists of: 1)    This is for your own good. 2)    It’ll be done by 3:00 3)    It must be true; I heard it on the news. In the old days there was another one that was exceedingly popular. It was “The check is in the mail,” but nowadays nobody much sends checks in the mail, so we’d offer a replacement for that one: “The check is being processed.” Those deceits, of course, are generic in nature. But over the years we’ve been collecting a series of mantras about the alleged reality of state and local government that don’t necessarily work in the real world. We’ve heard them from people at all levels of government, sometimes from established authorities and sometimes from people who just pretend they understand the way government works.  Here are our top twelve. We’d be interested in hearing additional ones from readers of this B&G Report. Of course, some of the dozen items that follow are valid sometimes.  But we’ve heard them repeatedly when ample evidence demonstrates that they’re wide of the mark. By the way, we hesitate to use the word “lies,” here. As that word seems to have become widely open to interpretation these days; and it’s frequently used just to describe something with which the accuser disagrees.  So, just to be specific, what follows are explanations about the way things work that are frequently NOT the way things work. And the list is based on both our own experience, and the understanding of states and localities we’ve accumulated over the last thirty years. 1.      “We know we are in financially sound shape because we have to pass a balanced budget.” 2.     “It’s impossible to fire a public sector employee.” 3.     “We’ll solve this problem by setting up a commission. Or a study group.” 4.     “Our transparency website means our government is transparent.” 5.     “Buying new technology will be the key.” 6.     “Merit pay is pay based on merit.” 7.     “The key reason we have a huge unfunded liability in our pensions, is that our benefits are too rich.” 8.     “You should just look at the general fund in order to analyze our city or state’s financial condition.” 9.     “You can always trust our data.” 10.    “Government can be run like a business.” 11.    “Everything we need to know is on the Internet.” 12.    "Once a piece of legislation is passed that means that something is really going to happen.” #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #StateandLocalHumanResources #StateandLocalBudgeting #StateandLocalGovernmentPerformance #StateandLocalGovernmentTransparency #StateandLocalGovernmentWorkforce #StateandLocalPension #StateandLocalGovernmentTechnology

  • IS SPEEDY GOVERNMENT GOOD GOVERNMENT?

    Not to be overly blunt, but we’ve grown sick and tired of hearing people complaining about how long it takes state and local governments to make dramatic improvements in the lives of their residents. Anyone who has been reading this website, or any of our other writing, will know that we’re firm believers that a band of dedicated people working in government can make important changes for the better. But they rarely happen overnight. Take for example, an article we recently wrote for Route Fifty that focused on a handful of states which are taking important steps forward to create accommodations for potential workers who deal with a variety of “non-apparent” issues including autism. Since these kinds of issues had been ignored in the past, we thought that this was splendid news to share. But one of our readers wrote to us to say that she was “wondering why certain states are more anxious than others to begin these programs.” We understand the importance of quick action, but also know the complexity of culture, policy and organizational change and understand that it can take a fair amount of time for any initiative – no matter how important – to get traction more widely. Jumping into new initiatives. without the time for adequate preparation, may be great for elected officials anxious to make quick headlines. But glitter often tarnishes as time passes and efforts go through a rational progression of brainstorming, bringing in stakeholders, finding revenue streams, building a talent base, and forging through a political process that can sometimes favor inertia over momentum. Carrying this thought a step further, we’ve seen lots of instances when legislation actually moves too quickly to yield a successful outcome. Elected and appointed officials need to take the time and effort necessary to consider how the policy is going to be implemented. As a PWC study titled, “Are public projects doomed to failure from the start?” stated, “Political decision-makers and senior civil servants often have misconceptions about the capabilities and boundaries of project management. Project deadlines are often set on the basis of political debate rather than a realistic planning effort.” There’s an unfortunate phenomenon at work here. The more people insist that their leaders make changes overnight, the more likely it is that the new initiatives will not succeed. And the more failures accrue, the greater the pressures to get something new and exciting out the door – especially as election day approaches. There’s an anonymous quote we like that sums up our case: “Democracy is a slow process of stumbling to the right decision instead of going straight forward to the wrong one.” #StateandLocalHumanResources #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #StateandLocalCultureChange #StateandLocalGovernmentPerformanceManagement #StateandLocalWorkforce #DeliberativeDecisionMaking #StateandLocalPolicyImplementation #PolicyImplementation

  • EMPLOYEE SURVEYS' TWO-EDGED SWORD

    Employee surveys can provide extremely valuable information for supervisors, managers and HR officials in cities, counties, and states when they reveal both the negative and positive sentiments that employees have about their workforce. They have the potential to lead to decisions that will improve workforce satisfaction and retention of valued employees. But when employee surveys are viewed as nothing more than another form to fill out and there’s no feedback or sense that the surveys were ever seen by anyone who cares, then they can have the opposite effect. “When you do a survey, you are implicitly making a commitment to employees that you are going to share the results and do something about it,” says Bob Lavigna, senior fellow-public sector for UKG, a firm that provides workforce and human resource management technology. “And if you don’t follow through on that commitment you are going to damage trust.” We called Warren Kagarise digital engagement manager for King County, Washington to ask him about this issue and his advice was simple: “Once the survey ends, close the loop with respondents — even if the result is not flattering to the agency.” He went on to say that “if you’re not able to close the loop and give the acknowledgment that we heard from you and this is the next step in the process, people assume that you were never listening in the first place.” Of course, simply making the results of surveys available is only half the equation. It’s equally important to let the people who filled it out know what the organization intends to do about the problems that have surfaced. Furthermore, even if there’s nothing much that can be done, it will serve an entity well to explain why that would be the case. “If for example there are complaints about compensation and there aren’t enough resources to raise pay, then it can be worthwhile educating employees about the value of the benefits to their total compensation,” advises Lavigna, “as benefits like health care or pensions can add on another 30 percent or more to that total.” At a time when many state and local governments are concerned about their turnover rates, employee surveys can help keep a satisfied workforce in place. But if those surveys are perceived as a sham exercise, everyone would be better off if they weren’t used at all. #StateandLocalHumanResourceManagement #StateandLocalHumanResources #StateandLocalPerformanceManagement #StateandLocalEmployeeSurvey #EmployeeSurveyFollowUp #StateLocalTotalCompensation #EmployeeSurveyImpact #PublicSectorWorkplace #LaborManagementRelations #RobertLavigna #UKG #KingCountyDigitalEngagement #StateEmployeeSurveyFeedback #CityEmployeeSurveyFeedback #StateLocalEmployeeRetention

  • REBRANDING LOCAL GOVERNMENT

    Over the years, we’ve chatted with high school and college students about the potential of careers working for state and local governments. All too often their responses are something like “Yeah, I suppose so,” in tones that make us believe that they’re not supposing anything at all, except that the whole thing sounds like a crashing bore. This is particularly dismaying for the two of us who have devoted our careers to this corner of the world. We are pretty sure that for the most part they have little or no idea what kinds of jobs local government can offer aside from the obvious ones like police, fire, and sanitation. Over the last several years, as the workforce shortage has afflicted many governments, we’ve reported about all kinds of outreach efforts that attempt to show the life of a government employee as a secure one with potential for advancement and the opportunity to benefit the world. These efforts are paying off in some places, but we think that many cities, counties and states are missing out on a potentially more persuasive approach. Instead of trying to sell jobs in local government as though that had much meaning, do a better job at showing potential candidates all the genuinely exciting missions that local government leads to. In a recent conversation with John Bartle, President-Elect of the American Society for Public Administration and Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he expounded on precisely what we’re thinking. “My children are 25 and 23,” he told us. “And they and their friends are not excited to work for the government. However, they are excited to advance many of the goals that require government and the nonprofit sector: peace-making, disaster response, improving racial and gender equity in programs, fair taxation, labor rights, and child protection.” According to the National Center for Education Statistics the following are the most common majors for aspiring students to earn a baccalaureate diploma: business, health professions and related programs; social sciences and history; biology and biomedical scientists; psychology and engineering. All of these fields offer a plethora of jobs in government. And that doesn’t even count the “helping jobs,” like social work that are appealing to many. Okay, we admit that maybe the big dreams of many teens – to be professional athletes, movie stars or rock musicians – aren’t on the roster of job titles in government. But we do believe that outside of fantasy-land job plans, there are plenty of young people who aspire to help other people. Better educating them in the many opportunities that exist in the realm of government is a way to sell the brands of jobs that cities, counties and states can offer. #StateandLocalHumanResources #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #StateandLocalHiring #LocalGovernmentHiring #RecruitingNewGovernmentEmployees #RecruitingYoungPublicSectorEmployees #StateandLocalRecruitment #CityRecruitmentStrategy #CountyRecruitmentStrategy #StateRecruitmentStrategy #MarketingLocalGovernmentJobs #StateandLocalWorkforceShortage #WorkforceShortage #AmericanSocietyForPublicAdministration #ASPA #JohnBartle #UniversityOfNebraskaOmaha #AttractingYoungPeopleToGovernment

  • THE ACADEMIC-GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS GAP

    We spend a lot of time talking with government practitioners and a lot of time talking with academic researchers. We’ve often wondered about the barriers that keep them from talking with one another as much as they should. That’s why we’ve been particularly charmed by the Office of Strategic Partnerships in North Carolina, which we wrote about in an April 16 column for Route Fifty. The effort there has been to close the gap that often exists between the multiple academic researchers in a state and the government officials who are often addressing the same topics – just in different ways. Here’s what Jenni Owen, the director of North Carolina’s Office of Strategic Partnership, told us last month. “People in academia who say they want to have an impact on policy really mean it. And people in government who say they want evidence and data to inform their decisions also really mean it. But the way they each go about doing that is often clunky.” Witness her experience in a recent meeting with about 100 faculty members and doctoral students. “How many of you are pursuing or have something on your research agenda that you think has implications for public policy?” she asked. Everybody raised their hand. Next question: “How many of you have talked to anybody in government ever about the topic you’re pursuing or thinking about pursuing from a research perspective?” And one person raised a hand. Cautiously. The problem is not one-sided. Government officials often have little time to seek out good research themselves and no easy way to know what’s going on in the multiple institutions of higher learning within the borders of their state or beyond. North Carolina has set up formal ways for government departments to communicate their research needs to universities across the state. But there were also ways that Owen, who has vast experience in both academia and government, and others cited in our conversations about how the relationship could be improved in relatively simple ways. 1.     While state and local governments can certainly do a better job communicating the different initiatives that they’re working on, researchers can also do more to actively learn about their own governments. Owen and OSP often advise researchers, to watch the press releases from an agency, for example; pay attention to interim committee study groups; learn about organizational structure; look at departmental goal-setting, strategic plans and areas of cross-department collaboration. 2.    Advice also focuses on Initiating communications at the beginning of a research project, not when it’s finished. This requires knowing about new or ongoing government initiatives that might connect with research and touching base at an early stage with a couple of sentences about the relevance of the research to the initiative. 3.     That means that before communicating, it's important to understand areas of jurisdiction, a bit about departmental organizational structure and some basics about operations. If the research is about county jails, it’s likely an error to focus attention on the State Department of Corrections, which may have limited responsibility in that area. Likewise, it sends a bad signal to inquire as to whether someone is likely to be re-elected when they’re actually appointed to their position. A few other tips for researchers who want to see their work having impact: Don’t wait until a journal article is published to send it to a government official and hope that they read it, without explanation as to why it would interest them. Make sure that the journal article is relevant to the work the official is doing and include a sentence as to why you’re sending it to them. Understand who the players are below the top level. Communications don’t have to go to the Cabinet Secretary or the Commissioner. As Owen told us, “Don’t assume that the leader is where you need to start.” Consider ways to collaborate. University research may overlap with a government’s own specific research needs. See if the research you’re doing can also address a government’s own specific needs in an overlapping area. Says Owen: “I dream about the day when a researcher says to a government entity, ‘I’m going to go interview new parents in rural areas. Is there even just one question you’d like me to ask?’ “There are not just small gestures of partnership, but they are also substantive. It shows that researchers are thinking about policies and programs and applications of research learning for government decision-making. This can be a game-changer for the partners.” One more thing: The gap between professions; the difficulty in communicating and the caution with which each side approaches the other is something we run into all the time.  Our book, “The Little Guide to Writing for Impact” was published last month. It was written in collaboration with Donald F. Kettl and motivated by our mutual sense of a pervasive frustration among academics, editors and publishers that different styles of writing and communication were often standing in the way of getting important research findings across to the practitioners who could put them into action. #AcademicGovernmentCommunicationsGap #NorthCarolinaOfficeOfStrategicPartnerships #JenniOwen #StateandLocalGovernmentResearch #StateGovernment&UniversityResearchLink #GovernmentAcademicCommunication #TipsforAcademicResearchers #StateandLocalGovernmentManagement #University&StateGovernmentRelations #OptimizingUniversityResearchforGovernmentDecisionMaking #UniversityGovernmentCollaboration #ImprovingResearchPartnerships #OptimizingGovernmentResearchNeeds #StateGovernmentResearchNeeds #ApplyingUniversityResearchToPolicy #UniversityGovernmentResearchGap #LinkingAcademicResearch&StateGovernment #B&GReport #RouteFifty #LittleGuidetoWritingforImpact #DonaldFKettl

  • THE PERILS AND PRICE OF SPEEDY COMMUNICATIONS

    We remember the exciting day when we bought our first IBM PC and a printer for $7,500 back in 1981. (Yes. You read that number right.)  Our exciting new computer had no hard drive and its operating systems existed on a floppy disc. Years later, after a few computer upgrades, we heard about this thing called a gigabyte. That seemed like an unimaginable amount of space – probably enough to store all the information in our world.  It wasn’t so much later that we had scores and then hundreds of gigabytes on our desks. These days we’re all hot and bothered about the ways we can use AI. So, before we say anything more about the various problems that come along with advances in communications technologies, let it be clear that we’re thoroughly captivated by technology and hope we always will be. But when it comes to communicating with one another we are frustrated by the losses we’ve suffered each time something new comes along. Back in the days when fax machines were the brave new world, lots of time was saved by sending letters instantaneously all around the world.   But soon afterwards, every organization had a fax machine, with the numbers on their business cards (those were the days when people still used business cards) and all kinds of hitches began to appear. For example, mass mailings (A free trip to the Bahamas!) started to clog up fax machines. Faxes often didn’t come through. They got ignored as they piled up in a central spot awaiting someone to bring them to their rightful recipient. But that was only the beginning of a downward spiral. E-mails are another example. Soon after we adjusted to communications arriving this way, we began to miss the old-fashioned mail system. Even more, we began to miss the old-fashioned telephone, which allowed you decipher, through the tone of someone’s voice, whether they were sincere or sarcastic. Of course, e-mails have made the world a speedier place. People can exchange information and documents quickly – a major plus for us as researchers.  But the negatives have mounted up. For one thing, e-mails have led to an unhealthily 24/7 world. E-mails pop up in the middle of the night and they know no such thing as weekends. For a while, we worked with someone who would send out e-mails on Sunday afternoons beginning by saying “Hope you’ve had a nice weekend,” under the assumption that recipients must be ready to get back to work on Sunday. Then there’s the lack of thought that many people put into what they send by e-mail. People in a rush can sound terse and even rude in an e-mail, even when that wasn’t their desire. Most people have learned that the use of all capital letters comes across like yelling, but that’s a lesson that bears repeating. It’s surprising how little care is taken in getting names spelled properly. Or even using the right names in the first place. Our little company is called “Barrett and Greene, Inc.” You might be surprised to know how many notes we get (and these aren’t mass mailings either) addressed to “Dear Barrett.” Of real frustration is the desire to move so quickly through seemingly endless stacks of e-mail that people never read the entirety of notes they receive, necessitating a long exchange that would have been avoided with five minutes on the phone.  Following is the kind of thing we (and we suspect you) go through regularly: Us: “Thank you for your willingness to work with us. Can we talk on March 31, and if so, what time would be good with you? Them: “Yes, the 31st will work.” Us: “Terrific. Just let us know what time will work for you and the best way to reach you.” Them: “How’s 3:30?” Us: “That will work fine. But did you mean Central Time or Eastern Time? And how should we reach you?” Them: “Sorry, I should have been clearer. I meant Central Time.” Us: That’ll work well. But could you please send us the best way to reach you?’ Then we wait for two days and write again asking for the best way to reach the other party, only to get an automatic reply saying they’re out of the office for the rest of the week. Worse yet, from the point of view of style and tone, is the growing number of people who are relying on texts, which often include acronyms that require us searching on the internet for their meaning. We got used to LOL a long time ago. And we picked up on IMHO, too. But the acronyms keep coming. Not long ago we got a three-letter text that just said “NVM.” Turned out it meant “nevermind,” which pertained to a prior text. And if style and tone can be lost in emails they entirely disappear in texts. As far back ago as 1546, writer John Heywood wrote “Hasteth maketh wasteth.” Some things never change. #ChangingCommunications #ChangingTimes #EmailFrustration #EmailMiscommunication #TextingFrustration #B&GReport

  • WANT TO WRITE SO THAT OTHERS CAN USE WHAT YOU’VE WRITTEN? HERE’s YOUR CHANCE!

    In 1799 when Napoleon was bearing down on Egypt a stone slab was discovered that came to be called the Rosetta Stone. It bore text in three forms, including Egyptian hieroglyphics which hadn’t been understood since before the fall of the Roman Empire. The written wisdom of the ancient world had been lost for centuries, but the stone made it decipherable. We want to be the modern-day equivalent of the Rosetta Stone (a peculiar aspiration perhaps for people instead of rocks). Only instead of making ancient script comprehensible in the modern age, we want to unlock the mysteries of the kind of writing done by people trained in academese for the rest of the world. Toward that end, in collaboration with one of the smartest men we know, Donald F. Kettl, author of 25 books and professor emeritus and former dean of the Maryland School of Public Policy, we’ve written a new book titled “The Little Guide to Writing for Impact” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2024). The book presents a series of guidelines that will enable readers to successfully frame a policy argument; pitch it to editors; organize the work so that the ideas have real impact; support it with data and stories; find the right publisher; and follow up after publication to ensure that the argument has enduring impact. It’s aimed for people who want to write everything from short blog posts through op-eds, commentaries and policy briefs, dissertations, articles for both the popular press and academic journals, and books. Truth in Advertising: The major point of this B&G Report is to persuade you to: ·        Tell others about the book if you think they can make use of it. ·        Buy the book yourself. ·        Use the book in your classes if you’re teaching. In short, this is the most self-serving B&G Report we’ve ever written. But we’re just vain enough to believe that it can be of genuine use to you, your colleagues, your students, and your friends. Here are some comments we’ve received about the book: Donna Shalala, Interim President of The New School, and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services commented that the book is “A little book that will have a big impact on policy. Imagine a whole generation who can clearly communicate great ideas!" Katherine Willoughby, editor-in-chief of Public Administration Review and Golembiewski Professor of Public Administration at the University of Georgia, said that “If you want to author a classic book, have your research published in a premier academic journal, complete an award-winning dissertation, or simply write better, consult The Little Guide to Writing for Impact. This quick read is chock-full of golden nuggets that, if engaged, will boost your influence on people and policy through your writing.” Chris Morrill, the Executive Director of the Government Finance Officers Association, commented that “With notes of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, Barrett, Greene, and Kettl have gifted us a highly practical guide for communicating in a hyper-distracted world. Even with an array of new digital tools and artificial intelligence, at core communicating involves crafting a clear, concise, and compelling message. Barrett, Greene, and Kettl gives us the tools to do so.” Finally (actually there are more, but we’re running out of space, Trevor Brown, dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University wrote that "If you read it carefully and take its lessons to heart, this little book can have a big impact on the quality of your writing. Useful, readable, and above all sensible, it's pitched to scholars and policy wonks who want to reach a broad audience, but it will be helpful to anyone who puts words on paper and wants them to be read, understood, and to matter." There are two ways for you to purchase this book: Go right to Amazon.com where you’ll find it by clicking here. Alternatively, for readers of our website, we're providing a 30% discount on the book. To take advantage of this offer, click here and after registering to make a purchase, enter the code: WF130. #LittleGuidetoWritingforImpact #StateandLocalManagement #StateandLocalGovernment #WritingforGovernmentImpact #WritingforPolicyImpact #AcademicImpactonPolicy #CommunicatingAcademicResearch #AcademicImpactonStateGovernment #AcademicImpactonLocalGovernment #WritingforImpact #KatherineBarrett #RichardGreene #DonaldFKettl #Rowman&Littlefield #AcademicWriting #CommunicatingWithPolicyMakers #WritingGuide #Barrett&Greene #B&GReport #NewBarrettGreeneKettlWritingGuide #UniversityofMarylandSchoolofPublicPolicy

  • TRANSPARENCY AND TRUST

    As we recently reported in the second of a two-part series about Trust In Government for Route Fifty, about 45% of Americans have a less than favorable view of the trustworthiness of local governments, according to data from Polco. That’s somewhat up from 40% in 2017. And while it’s better than the federal government it’s still a very sorry state of affairs. In that series, we recommended several ways that states and localities can help engender greater confidence in their efforts to serve residents; the one that was probably nearest and dearest to our hearts was the use of performance management. Of course, simply measuring everything in sight isn’t going to grab the public’s attention. In fact, it’s repeatedly dismayed us that governments that have robust means of measuring quality are often skeptical about sharing their findings with the public. Some seem to believe that they’ll only be hit over the head with a statistical stick when efforts don't pay off. As Marc Holzer, a well-known academic and author of Rethinking Public Administration, says, “We have a lot of data out there and a lot of performance measures. But most citizens don’t have access to that because it’s not communicated to them. And in many cases, it’s deliberately hidden by management because they don’t want to put themselves in the line of fire.” That’s a big mistake. People mistrust what they don’t understand. They’re more inclined to have faith in an institution that is candid, even if it’s open about mistakes or “performance is proven to be poor,” says Michael Pagano, dean emeritus of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “If voters trust that the government is providing accurate information, they will continue to trust.” There’s little question that there’s a strong journalistic urge to put bad news on the front page, while better news winds up someplace on page seven.  As The Guardian reported some years back, “people’s interest in news is much more intense when there is a perceived threat to their way of life. They care much less about what happens around them when they enjoy relative peace and/or relative prosperity.” But as true as that may be, we’d like to make the argument that if bad news trumps good news, transparency can help cultivate trust even in times when the news may not be good. This is particularly true at the local level, where people tend to know what’s happening around them. They know when the roads are falling apart. They know when there are homeless people wrapped in newspapers on the streets. They know when their children pretend to be sick rather than attending a dangerous school. Hiding the truth doesn’t help. Rather it’s telling the truth – good or bad – and telling the public what’s being done to make it better. #TrustInGovernment #StateandlocalTransparency #PublicSectorTransparency #StateandLocalManagement #StateandLocalPerformanceManagement #RouteFifty #POLCO #RethinkingPublicAdministration #MarcHolzer #MichaelPagano #ReportingStateandLocalPerformance #StateandLocalMedia #StateandLocalCommunications

  • WHY MANY STATE AND CITY RANKINGS DEFY REALITY

    Back some years ago, when we first started to evaluate management capacity in states, counties, and cities for the now defunct Financial World magazine we were forced by the editors and publisher to rank the entities we were evaluating from best to worst. We hated that for many reasons. As far as we could see the difference between number 29 and number 30 wasn’t even marginally significant and yet these comparisons were often picked up by the local press. That made the publisher happy as he loved to get lots of attention, but it never ceased to bother us. Subsequently, when we began our work on the Government Performance Project, we took great care to make it clear that while we were evaluating and even grading the states, we weren’t ranking them. We carefully avoided ever using that word preferring to refer to our “evaluations”. Perhaps the GPP, which utilized the skills of many highly regarded academics and a team of journalists didn’t stir up the same kind of media frenzy than the far-far-far less-rigorous Financial World work (which was entirely done by the two of us), but the leadership at Pew and Governing were more interested in contributing solid useful information to the world of public sector management than they were in creating a stir. In the years that have passed, it seems to us that there must be some kind of gold mine in the field of publishing 1-50 rankings of the states and similar lists of best and worst cities. And we cringe when we see many of them, for a variety of reasons. Forbes (which seems addicted to these kinds of lists) went so far about a year ago as to publish a 50-state ranking titled “States With The Most Devoted Dog Owners.”  According to the article, the ranking was based on a survey of 10,000 dog owners (200 per state) and compared them across seven metrics, including “the percentage of dog owners who broke up with a significant other who didn’t like their dog.” Apparently, “6.78% of dog owners broke up with a significant other who didn’t like their dog.” Woof. Beyond the dubious nature of this kind of metric, and the value of such a list in the first place, the idea that you can get a solid sampling by asking 200 people from every state, regardless of its size, has zero merit. California dog owners were represented by about .0005% of its population. We don’t want to get distracted by criticizing this kind of foolishness, though. That’s like shooting fish in a barrel. We’re far more concerned about rankings that are taken somewhat more seriously. For example, though we won’t be the first or the last to complain about the value of the U.S. News rankings of universities, they’re worth mentioning here. For starters, these rankings always seem like a dangerous exercise to us, as we see families making decisions about college selections based on these rankings instead of the value of the program to which the high school senior is applying. Beyond that, there have been plenty of criticisms of the methodology used to make these lists. Beyond the specifics, there have been lots of complaints about the ever-shifting methodology which makes for significant changes in the rankings themselves. As Daniel Diermeier, chancellor of Vanderbilt University wrote in Inside Higher Ed,  “Does this mean those of us who’ve fallen in the rankings are objectively worse than we were a year ago? Does it mean a university that shot up the list is suddenly orders of magnitude better? Of course not. The shifts in rankings are largely due to the changes in methodology.” This raises two questions: Was the last year’s methodology wrong and that’s why there was a change? Or is it in the interests of the publication to see changes from year to year in order to make the horse race more exciting? If all this wasn’t cause for concern about the validity of these rankings then consider the  January New York Times article that pointed out that “U.S. News sells ‘badges’ to colleges so they can promote their rankings – whether they are 1st, 10th or much much lower.” While the college rankings are probably the best known, there are also a plethora of lists of “best places to work.” We can’t begin to enumerate all the potential flaws in these lists, but the degree to which they vary from ranking to ranking isn’t a very good signal that they should be regarded as valid. For example, one list of “the best and worst states for work-life balance,” indicated that New Hampshire was the best of the lot. But then there was another ranking that claimed to demonstrate that New Hampshire was the worst state to be a teacher. Don’t teachers care about work-life balance? We’ll bet they do. Let’s say for the sake of argument – and we don’t believe a word of it – that both lists were accurate, teachers reading the first one could be heading as fast as they can to New Hampshire only to find out that in their profession they’d be better off anyplace else. Finally, let’s think a bit about the “best places to live list.” Best for whom? These are almost always blunt instruments for coming up with a very complicated answer. Some lists use the level of home ownership as a measure of a good place to live. But that would mean that Manhattan is probably not the place for you, where high costs mean that only about 24 percent of the population own their own place. But there are clearly other reasons some people love living in Manhattan. We did for over 35 years and cherished every minute of it. All while paying rent. One more: Let’s say that in your opinion low taxes are a wonderful way to pick your home state. Lots of lists rank the states by that criteria and you’d be led to believe you should head for Florida, which is famous for its exceedingly low tax burden. But d0 you have children in schools? Then it may be important that your teachers are well paid, and on that measure, Florida could hardly do any worse. Take things a step further and assume that you only care about low taxes and have no interest in the children of the state – but you happen to be a member of the LGBTQ community – well we don’t need to say any more about that. #StateandLocalManagement #StateandLocalManagementRanking #FlawedStateRanking #FlawedCityRanking #FlawedBestPlacesToLiveRanking #FlawedUniversityRanking #USNews&WorldReportCollegeRanking #ForbesRanking #GovernmentPerformanceProject #FinancialWorldStateRanking #FinancialWolrdCityRanking #FinancialWorldGovernmentRanking #GoverningGradingtheStates #InsideHigherEducation #SillyStateComparisons #StateRanking #CityRanking #BestPlacestoLiveRanking #CollegeRanking #B&GReport

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