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Collaborative Networks: The Next Frontier in Data Driven Management

Julia Carboni, Catherine Annis, Nick Armstrong, Gilly Cantor, Mariana Escallon-Barrios, Zachary Gibson, Joshua-Paul Miles, Michelle Shumate, Karen Smilowitz

IBM Center for The Business of Government, June 2022

The need to improve the customer experience for those seeking assistance from the federal government has long been acknowledged.

The recent focus on customer experience is evident in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA), the Customer Experience Executive Order, and the earmark of $100 million in funding from the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) to support the modernization of systems that support the operations of the High Impact Service Providers (HISPs).

Support of the HISP service providers is welcome and will go far in helping agencies transform the way they deliver their individual client transactions. However, rarely does someone seek a singular service from one agency. Most often they request a portfolio of services from many providers to address multiple needs holistically. To make things even more complicated, people often need supplemental services delivered outside the organizational boundaries of federal, state, and local agencies—some services are commercial or quasi-commercial. Often, various service providers in the delivery chain have no formal relationship to each other, either organizationally or contractually.

The entire portfolio of services must be orchestrated on behalf of an individual client receiving services, to achieve a seamless and frictionless customer experience. If disparate entities within the delivery chain do not have an effective way of “handing off” their client to the next step, or if they don’t have a feedback mechanism to ensure that the client received satisfactory services, then the client may drop out without receiving the full set of needed supports. The public will benefit when organizations chain transactions together through a combination of governance, technology, and a coalition of willing participants.

In this report, Dr. Julia Carboni, the chair of Citizenship and Civic Engagement at the Syracuse University Maxwell School, and a team of her esteemed colleagues have completed a relevant study of this issue. The report proposes a series of targeted management interventions to improve efficiency, accountability, and effectiveness of network operations, with the “networks” in this case being the series of service providers needed to deliver needed outcomes to a client. The report also introduces the concept of network referral technology and shows how this technology can enable service providers to develop workflows within networks, improving organizational performance and client outcomes.

The insights in this report are supported by a case study of 11 AmericaServes networks. AmericaServes is the country’s first coordinated system of public, private, and nonprofit organizations that work together to serve veterans and transitioning service members and support their families within geographically defined communities.

This report builds on the IBM Center’s long-standing research into leveraging networks that facilitate service delivery by governments, including Managing the Next Crisis: Twelve Principles for Addressing Viral UncertaintySilo Busting: The Challenges and Successes of Intergovernmental Data Sharing, and Improving the Delivery of Services and Care for Veterans, by another team of authors from the Maxwell School.

We hope that this report provides guidance on how governments can work with each other and with partners to address complex, boundary-spanning problems such as poverty, homelessness, hunger, and climate change, by bringing together organizations to address complex client needs that could not be served by a single organization.