Announcing Best and Worst in Governance

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by Raphael Bostic

I am continually struck by how little governance issues are discussed as governance issues. Sure, the scandal or problem of the moment is given lots of attention, but the focus never seems to make it to how good governance is achieved and how we can effectively apply the knowledge developed over decades of research and practice to current problems.

Elevating the issue of good governance is what is behind a new Bedrosian Center effort: The Best and Worst in Governance. Each month we will ask our Bedrosian community to survey the landscape of governance and call out candidates for the best and worst efforts. In subsequent weeks, we will discuss the nominations and the lessons (good or bad) to be learned from these examples.

This is decidedly non-scientific, we know. Our community isn’t small — it includes current students, alumni, faculty affiliates, our growing followers and our advisory board members, among others — so we will be presenting the collective wisdom of many, but this isn’t the Gallup Poll.

To kick things off, I offer my top candidates for the best and worst in governance for 2013. Each is a worthy candidate.

My Best in 2013

  • Harry Reid : What should you do when your organization devolves into gridlock through the overuse of a rule established for extraordinary circumstances that threatens operations? Lead.
  • Nelson Mandela : What Mandela accomplished in the building of today’s South Africa was nothing short of astounding. His leadership brought together disparate interests and drove progress. His management ensured functionality through very turbulent times. His on-going stately demeanor established credibility and laid the groundwork for his successors. Every leader, public or private, can learn from his example — every one.
  • Detroit : A city with the largest municipal bankruptcy in history takes an important step in a positive new direction by introducing district-level council representation to broaden participation and more fully embrace democratic ideals. See The Voting Rights rollback below.

My Worst in 2013

  • Obamacare rollout : Where to begin with this one? An implementation disaster at every level, from the staff at HHS who failed to alert leadership about the magnitude of the problems right on up to the President and his staff who clearly weren’t on top of this thing in the months prior to the website going live. Who in the White House had clear accountability for this program? What kind of on-going oversight protocols were established? Who was asking questions about project progress? Someone in the Administration had to know that people could be dropped from their current insurance plan under Obamacare rules? Who let him keep saying this publicly? Surely people knew the website was in trouble long before September. Why didn’t news of this rise to the White House level? How could the President be surprised at the lack of functionality? Ugh at every level.
  • The NSA/Edward Snowden affair : Regardless of what you think about the NSA’s secret program to collect and monitor the domestic and global communications of just about everyone to (in their view) protect American interests, you must admit the rich irony in there being apparently very little monitoring and control within the walls of the NSA itself. How else to explain the ability of a low-level contractor with limited clearances to stroll out of the building with an extensive cache of classified information? Or the apparent reality that nobody at the NSA really knows how much he actually took? Who was managing these workers? Who was responsible for systems development and protocols? Seems the answer is nobody. Stunning.
  • The Voting Rights rollback : In a democratic system, effective governance should be about implementing policies that reflect the interests, concerns, and voice of all of its citizens. The most direct way that people have an opportunity to express themselves is through voting. Without that voice, we cease to have a true democracy, leaving the American experiment curtailed. That is what makes the steps taken by nine states in the past 2 years to make it more difficult to vote, without even trying to demonstrate voting problems or fraud (of which there is virtually none, by the way) – so troubling. These efforts strike at the heart of good governance. See Detroit above.

My staff and students deliberated my nominations, and today we are pleased to announce the winners for Best and Worst in Governance 2013:

Best in Governance 2013

Nelson Mandela

When he walked out of the Robben Island prison in 1990, Mandela had a choice to make – revolution or reconciliation. Amazingly, he chose both and, through strong leadership and management, succeeded. Our inaugural Best in Governance goes to Nelson Mandela for his lifetime of public service.

Worst in Governance 2013

Obamacare rollout

An implementation disaster at every level, from the staff at HHS who failed to alert leadership about the magnitude of the problems right on up to the President and his staff who clearly weren’t on top of this thing in the months prior to the October 1 deadline for going live.

Onward to 2014! Let’s begin by getting your nominations for the Best and Worst in Governance for this January? (I’m thinking there might be a bridge involved somewhere.)