Magazine article Government Finance Review

Tying a Sensible Knot: A Practical Guide to State-Local Information Systems

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Tying a Sensible Knot: A Practical Guide to State-Local Information Systems

Article excerpt

Editor's note: This article presents excerpts from Chapters 1 and 2 of a guidebook prepared under the auspices of the New York State Governor's Task Force on Information Resource Management, Local Government Subcommittee.

State-local information systems operate in an environment of almost stunning complexity. They must recognize and account for enormous diversity of community settings, organizational cultures, structures, and staff. To be successful, they must deal with mismatched fiscal years; a range of hierarchical, team, and matrix management styles; and program-driven versus process-driven versus customer-driven work environments. They need to be meshed into the fabric of ongoing business processes and working relationships and relate to other information systems at both the state and local levels. They are clearly not "business as usual."

This book was written to help state and local governments work more effectively in this challenging environment. It presents both principles and practices, based on documented experience, that can lead to successful state-local information systems. The material is drawn from a cooperative project sponsored by the New York State Governor's Task Force on Information Resource Management to identify and promote the practices that lead to effective state-local systems. The project involved more than 150 state and local officials engaged in eleven such projects. The participants helped document current issues, defined the characteristics of ideal systems, and, through surveys and interviews, shared their good and bad experiences.

The State-Local Environment

Three trends are reshaping the nature of intergovernmental relations: public demand for services that make sense and operate at reasonable cost, the shift of authority away from the federal government to the states and localities, and movement away from mandated programs to optional ones.

Public demands for sensible, cost-effective services. Increasingly, citizens and businesses demand that government programs make sense, work predictably and efficiently, and show a consistent, intelligent face to the public. They expect one-stop, same-day, customized services instead of the fragmented, duplicative, and lengthy processes that have often characterized government operations. Often, separate programs serve the same people, but without regard for the fact that they require the same information, or impose conflicting requirements, or result in costly duplication of effort. Programs that meet public demands for quality and effectiveness often require coordination, collaboration, and integration among multiple units of state and local government as well as private industry and non-profit service providers.

Devolution of authority. Recent political history has seen a dramatic shift of focus away from Washington toward state capitals in such critical public programs as Medicaid and Welfare Reform. These are the largest program devolutions in a line of actions stemming from Model Cities and Revenue Sharing in the 1960s and 70s to the block grants of the 1980s. The shift of authority for programs and services toward states in many cases means a shift of responsibility to localities. As states redesign their welfare programs, for example, they often give local governments a number of local program options. This is an attempt to customize programs to local conditions at either the state or local level or both. One effect is more local control. Another is even greater complexity due to local variations in statewide programs.

Mandates vs. voluntary local participation. As states take up the responsibility of newly "devolved" programs, they are mindful of traditional and growing local opposition to unfunded mandates. It is now common for local participation in state initiatives to be voluntary in whole or in part. This philosophy has positive effects on the localities and encourages the state to be more creative and responsive to local conditions in order to attract local participation. …

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