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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Men Have Trouble Speaking Up At Work, Too

Women are often told to develop a muscle for speaking up at work, especially to express dissent. It’s not comfortable when you’ve been socialized to be pleasant and agreeable your whole life, but do it anyway, we’re told.

That may be solid advice, but women are not the only group that need to hear it, at least according to a recent SurveyMonkey survey. In a new poll of a nationally representative group of working Americans, only 58% of women said they believe they can voice an unpopular opinion at work without negative consequences. But men didn’t feel that much more comfortable with the idea: Only 68% of male respondents expressed a similar fearlessness about causing friction.

SurveyMonkey conducted the poll for its new influencers campaign, in this case in conjunction with Draymond Green, an NBA player with the Golden State Warriors. Asked what question he’d like to pose to Americans about their workplace experiences, he was curious about who felt they had the power to speak freely, even when they held a minority opinion. Among all genders, a combined 63% of people said they did, which means more than a third of them don’t...

The Hidden Costs of Decades of Declining Civics Education

It’s widely known that young adults in the United States tend to vote at lower rates than older Americans, but it’s easy to gloss over just how stunning the numbers really are—especially at a time of such intense political polarization and divisiveness. Only half of eligible adults between the ages of 18 and 29voted in the 2016 presidential election that sent Donald Trump to the White House. During the 2014 midterm elections two years earlier, the youth-voter-turnout rate was just 20 percent, the lowest ever recorded in history, according to an analysis of Census data.

These troubling voting rates follow decades of declining civics education. Starting in the 1960s, robust civics instruction, which usually took place through three standard high-school courses, started to atrophy. It’s likely not a coincidence, then, given evidence suggesting a link between civics education and voter participation, that the 1960s coincided with a slump in the rate of young adults who cast ballots, too.

newly released survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation illustrates the sorry state of civics education today: Just one in three Americans would pass the U.S. citizenship test. It’s not a test known...

Why Diversity Is Vital For a Healthy Democracy

Democracy demands a robust contest of ideas to thrive, and diversity is the best way of protecting the democratic foundation of the American experiment, a new paper argues.

Diversity inspires new thoughts and ideas while discouraging stagnation and increasing the possibilities of finding better ways to address various issues.

But some scholarship points to ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity as contributing to today’s increasingly caustic political climate where a lack of civility brings confrontation at the expense of compromise.

This view approaches diversity as a problem for democracies to manage, but it’s diversity that saves democracies, says Ryan Muldoon, associate professor of philosophy at the University at Buffalo, an expert in social political philosophy, and author of the book Social Contract Theory for a Diverse World: Beyond Tolerance (Routledge, 2016) .

Segregation Vs. Disagreement

“Diversity is not the problem. The problem is segregation,” he says.

“We can’t just look at diversity. We have to consider the spatial arrangement of diversity. The question should not be ‘Is this a diverse city?’ but rather ‘Is this an integrated diverse city?’ The more segregated we become, the lower our social trust.”

For Muldoon, disagreement is an instrument of social progress.


The Urgency of Strengthening and Redefining HR

The new report from the National Academy of Public Administration, “No Time To Wait, Part 2: Building a Public Service for the 21st Century,” reinforces the importance of rebuilding the federal workforce, the theme of my recent column, “The Skills Shortage and Federal Compensation.” The problem, as summarized in the report’s Foreword by NAPA President Terry Gerton, is fundamental:

“Over time, the alignment between the government’s mission, strategy, and tactics on one hand, and the capacity of its workforce on the other, has fallen further out of sync. The result has been an accumulating series of program failures that have grown into a genuine national crisis.”

To call it a national crisis is not hyperbole. Human capital management leads the 2017 list of GAO’s high-risk areas and workforce management is integral to each of the areas on the list. GAO’s focus was limited to the skills gap. In its report, GAO concluded, “OPM and agencies have not yet demonstrated sustainable progress in closing skills gaps.” It's been on the high-risk list for 16 years.

The skills gap needs to be seen as the tip of the iceberg. Skills alone cannot produce improved performance. The Office...

Understanding Blockchain’s Promise for Government

Last week, Congress took a significant step forward in the technology space in the form of a resolution about the promise of blockchain. The resolution, authored by Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., on behalf of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, noted that “blockchain has incredible potential that must be nurtured through support for research and development and a thoughtful and innovation-friendly regulatory approach.”

Last week also marked the launch of a new report about blockchain released in consultation with the  Blockchain Caucus and MIT Connection Science through the IBM Center for The Business of Government: The Impact of Blockchain for Government: Insights on Identity, Payments, and Supply Chain, by Thomas Hardjono, who leads the MIT Trust: Data Consortium within MIT Connection Science.  

Understanding blockchain’s potential relies on recognition that business transactions such as orders, payments and account tracking take place every second. Often, participants to a transaction have their own ledgers—and, thus, their own individual versions of the facts. Having multiple ledgers can lead to error, fraud and inefficiencies—vulnerabilities that can be reduced by having a common view of a transaction end-to-end.

Blockchain technology enables a shared ledger to record the history of transactions with consistency and certainty. In...