The rise of the digital age has brought a new mindset that requires leaders who are committed to being agile and taking intelligent risks. As government agencies look to develop high potential individuals that can lead in this environment, a critical role to prepare for is one of an Ecosystem Integrator.
Today, the “ecosystem” of government is a dynamic, interconnected network that connects our public institutions, private corporations, and everyday communities. An Ecosystem Integrator’s primary role is to build connections and create the space for aligned action by others. In this role connecting the people and technology platforms in this ecosystem and giving room for decisionmakers to work in an integrated fashion will ultimately transform how government interacts with its stakeholders and improve business outcomes.
From a technology stand point, the way people and organizations interact with information has changed drastically, and likely permanently. The government has an imperative to respond accordingly by creating a “smarter” government that can harness the power of emerging technology to collect and integrate disparate sources of data to reinvent and overhaul core government services.
From a people stand point, innovative thinking will be required to navigate the divide between career officials and political appointees in today’s highly charged political environment. Bridging the gaps in trust and breaking down siloes in decision-making will be a necessary cornerstone to produce a well-functioning government.
To tackle these problems, Ecosystem Integrators will need to develop these core competencies:
- Aligning for a Common Purpose: Establish early on what strategic goals are important to all stakeholders and build the organization around that core vision. This includes ensuring technology modernization or enhancement efforts are aligned to a common goal as well as dialoguing, and sometimes negotiating, with political appointees without a career government background as to what are appropriate risks to take for the organization.
- Interpersonal Relationship Building: Cultivate and facilitate relationships internally and between public and private sector entities. Create a positive culture by encouraging and empowering others to form meaningful connections, and train career government officials ahead of a transition of how to communicate with new political appointees. Establishing these bonds will allow for greater trust, transparency, and consensus around roles and responsibilities across the organization.
- Systems Thinking: Lead or advise others in understanding the full scope of the organization’s work, including governing laws, policies and regulations as well as understanding the patterns, dependencies, and governance structure of multiple, interrelated complex IT systems. These insights should be used to articulate to leadership what areas of the organization are working well and which have gaps that need to be closed.
As an example of successful ecosystem integration, tackling prescription opioid abuse presented an opportunity for public sector officials to step up and facilitate the type of collaboration needed to combat this public health epidemic.
Case Study: Ecosystem Integrators in the Opioid Response
State governors and their administrations are increasingly serving as Ecosystem Integrators in the anti-opioid ecosystem. State commissions, such as the Commonwealth of Virginia Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Governor’s Opioid Working Group, and New York’s Heroin and Opioid Task Force, are helping to drive real action.
They achieve this through improved coordination and alignment of strategies focused on opioid abuse and heroin use prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery, and enforcement. Given the attention these commissions have received, and the resources their work has attracted, state leaders are orienting their bodies to drive ongoing implementation and innovation after they deliver their final reports. Through working sessions, implementation groups, and coordinated action plans at the governor’s level, various state governments are integrating the activities of executive agencies, community organizations, and health care providers, thus making the overall effort more effective.
This case study demonstrates the importance of Ecosystem Integrators in connecting the public and private sectors to improve the lives of everyday citizens. Given the wide-scale impact of the opioid crisis, Ecosystem Integrators must be able to bring private sector organizations like foundations or companies that focus on public health, economic development, or the welfare of children and families to the table. Once government brings these parties together it can more easily provide resources and create the space for these local organizations to better tailor efforts to the unique needs of a community or region.
Ultimately, government cannot address today’s complex challenges with outdated systems or legacy organizational roles. The way government operates through its work, its workforce, and its workplace is changing, and we need fresh thinking to address the issue of how the public sector delivers value. Ecosystem Integrators stand at the front line of this fresh thinking by aligning people and technology to common goals, bridging trust within the workforce and with private industry, and utilizing systems thinking to create a holistic understanding of how the organization’s infrastructure ties together. Ecosystem Integrators will play a critical role in creating a more unified and smarter government of the future.
About The Author
Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.
Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.
He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.