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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

'Find a Mentor' is Great Career Advice. Why is it So Hard to Do?

Highly successful people often point to one person who gave them help of a kind no one else could: Their mentor. From the worlds of business to adventure sports, having that person—wise, encouraging, further down the line, and, crucially, supportive of your dreams—certainly sounds attractive; invaluable, even.

But as anyone who has attempted it knows, trying to “get a mentor” is problematic from the start. So how do you make it happen?

Back when I was making a switch to journalism from an earlier career in theater, I was already sold on the value of mentoring—and on the belief that I’d be a friendly, driven, mentee. I identified journalists whose careers I admired, and reached out to them, proposing I become their protégé. In some cases, shooting for warm and personal, I hand-wrote the letters, accepting the risk that this might make the recipients less likely to reply. And they didn’t reply—because what could they have said, these busy people who had never met me and had no reason to invest themselves in my career or my narrative? Mentoring, I now realize, rarely if ever happens that way.

So many people have been...

How to Build Better State and Local Partnerships

For many federal agencies, working with state and local stakeholders is a must. They simply can’t achieve their mission without state and local collaboration and participation. While building those partnerships is important, it certainly isn’t easy. Given the federal nature of our government, there are a few key issues you need to overcome to build a truly productive partnership. State and local stakeholders:

Are geographically dispersed and that can inhibit your ability to collaborate, build relationships, and create momentum. Unfortunately funding for travel at the state and locals levels is tight or nonexistent. In many cases, federal programs can fund state and local government officials travel or you can go to meet them on their home turf. Do what you can to get out and meet people face to face, but there are ways to keep collaboration going without the costs of travel. Low-cost technologies like wikis can allow stakeholders to interact and provide input without being physically present. We’ve successfully used wikis across multiple clients to gather input on the stakeholders’ own time while dramatically reducing travel costs.

Operate under their own set of rules. Don’t forget that state and local employees have administrations, legislatures...

Making Innovation Labs Work

Organizations are increasingly embracing innovation labs to leverage new ideas in a practical, actionable way and as a means for moving government forward.

The White House recently released its final iteration of the Strategy for American Innovation – a set of policies and initiatives aiming to drive innovation and economic growth. Among the suggested initiatives, innovation labs are slated to receive additional funding in the 2016 budget. While innovation labs have the potential to create significant improvements for government, they have also received criticism for not meeting their goals. Fortunately, as more agencies are encouraged to create their own innovation labs, much is to be learned from those already in operation.

It is worth asking, though: Why should agencies even invest in an innovation lab? Public and social innovation researcher Sophie Reynolds writes: “Governments worldwide are facing increasingly complex challenges – with aging populations, tightened budgetary constraints, and increasing expectations from citizens – to name but a few. The complexity of these challenges are often at odds with the siloed, departmentalized approaches of traditional policymaking.” Innovation labs present the opportunity to bring together stakeholders from across the organization, community and industry in an environment that makes it possible to effectively solve those complex...

Why Does Progress on Women's Wages Seem to Be Stalling?

For decades, women have been—slowly—catching up with men, in terms of how much they earn. But this year, that trajectory seems to have stopped or even reversed. According to an analysis of Americans’ weekly median earnings by TheWall Street Journalmen’s earnings are growing quite a bit faster than women’s this year. In the first three quarters of 2015, the increase in men’s earnings was double that of women’s. Compared with 2014, where the gap was the narrowest on record, this has raised some eyebrows.

What is going on here? Heidi Shierholz, chief economist at the Labor Department, says it’s important to look at the longer-term trends rather than just a year. “Men’s wages have been stagnant or falling since the 1970s,” said Shierholz. “Women’s wages, on the other hand, made substantial improvements from the 1970s up until the early 2000s.”

The gains in women’s wages in that 30-year period can be attributed to greater educational attainment, increasing female employment, and more women staying in the workforce after having children—which together led to higher wages and occupational upgrading (which means women upgraded to higher paying jobs that...

Does Pay for Success Work? Define 'Success'

An experiment in performance-based financing for government services, called pay for success, has raised questions about what should count as success after mixed results were announced at two demonstration sites in July and October.

The sites — one in Rikers Island, New York, and the other in Salt Lake County, Utah — are part of a growing bipartisan effort to tie social services funding to proven results. Legislation in the House and Senate that would expand the concept, also called social impact bonds, has drawn support from Democrats and Republicans, including President Obama and the new speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

The idea has also drawn criticism from public sector unions and others who question their reliance on third-party financing and payments to private investors, including private foundations and commercial firms like Goldman Sachs. Supporters counter that such financing makes the projects possible and that when they are successful they often save taxpayers money.

So far, the earliest results have generated differing views about whether they were successful. The first project, the results of which were announced in July, focused on reducing recidivism among youth at a city jail on Rikers Island in New York City. Seemingly a failure, it was...