Academic journal article Public Administration Review

An Information Infrastructure for Innovative Management of Government

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

An Information Infrastructure for Innovative Management of Government

Article excerpt

Many management trends are currently sweeping the public and private sectors. One popular approach, called total quality management (TQM), focuses on improving the quality of services or products in die private sector through total organizational commitment, worker participation, and rigorous attention to inputs, outputs, and processes (Walters, 1992; Milakovich, 1991; Carr and Littman, 1990). Many TQM ideas have been adapted to the public sector, under the label entrepreneurial government, in a book that has been widely acclaimed by public administration practitioners, elected officials, and other knowledgeable observers of government (Osborne and Gaebler, 1992). Examples of other approaches are process innovation (Davenport, 1993) and managing behavior results (Brumback, 1993). Although each innovative management approach emphasizes different methods, they all advocate activities such as planning, analysis and monitoring, informed decision making, and identifying missions and objectives as well as improving products and services. Furthermore, underlying all approaches is an unwritten assumption that the information infrastructure necessary to perform key activities is present. This study presents a framework for such an infrastructure in the public sector that integrates the information requirements of innovative management (IM), methods of program assessment and monitoring, and the structure of information systems.

If IM is to achieve its objective, information must be available about its operations and environment that is accurate, timely, accessible, comprehensive, and continuous. This, in turn, requires an integrated and coordinated information system for collecting, organizing, and storing data. It also requires a system that creates meaningful information from the data and then presents that information in useful ways. Developing such a system - which is much more than computers, databases, and the personnel who handle them - is a tall order for any organization.

The private sector, however, has a distinct advantage over the public sector in this area. First, the private sector's experience with and knowledge of information systems is much more advanced. There is a vast and well-developed literature, both theoretical and applied, on information systems in private organizations; and business schools graduate thousands of specialists in this area each year. Second, the design and development of information systems in the private sector is simpler and more straightforward. Although some may argue that the differences between business and government are blurring, in general, government processes, structures, functions, and products vary greatly in comparison to business. Moreover, the objectives of government are less dear, clients and stakeholders are more diverse and numerous, and concepts such as quality are more complex (e.g., accountability). Despite these hurdles, if IM is to be implemented successfully in government, a great deal more attention must be paid by practitioners and scholars to developing good information systems in government.

One manifestation of the well-developed literature in business is that numerous frameworks for information systems exist in private sector organizations that link the systems to organization and managerial functions, information attributes, decisions, and technical characteristics (Blumenthal, 1969; Gorry and Scott Morton, 1971; Lucas, 1973; Nolan and Wetherbe, 1980; Sprague, 1980). However, the differences between government and business imply that these frameworks will not automatically translate to government. The framework presented here recognizes these differences. It is based on the assumption that there are two inextricably related components of an information infrastructure within government: (1) assessment and monitoring and (2) information systems. On a basic level, assessment and monitoring (which comprise program evaluation) specify what information about government products and services is important; and they provide plans for obtaining that information. …

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