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

Are Smartphones Making Us Less Productive?

Are we so constantly distracted by our smartphones that it’s making us less productive? This is not an idle thought, but a serious question recently posed by the Bank of England.

In a post on the central bank’s blog, Dan Nixon, who works in the bank’s content and strategy department, highlights some of the evidence that suggests our attachment to the gadgets is part of a “crisis of attention” that could be making it harder to work efficiently, possibly to the extent that it is holding back the economy at large.

Low productivity is a problem across many advanced economies, including the US and (especially) the UK. Globally, productivity growth is still nowhere near the rate recorded before the 2008 financial crisis. Economists and policymakers have struggled to explain why.

Nixon notices a correlation: In the past decade, productivity growth has slowed while global shipments of smartphones have risen.

Even if we interact with our phones on average 2,617 times a day, there’s still little evidence to connect these potential attention-sapping effects to productivity in the wider economy. Therefore, Nixon doesn’t try to offer a definitive answer to the question but rather a way...

Study: Three Or Four Cups Of Coffee A Day Does You More Good Than Harm

Drinking moderate amounts of coffee – about three or four cups a day – is more likely to benefit our health than harm it, our latest research shows. This is important to know because around the world over two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day.

Earlier studies have suggested beneficial links between coffee drinking and liver disease. Our research group has an interest in liver conditions. As such, we had previously conducted two meta-analyses, one looking for links between coffee drinking and cirrhosis and another at coffee drinking and cancer of the liver. We found that there was a lower risk of both conditions in people who drank more coffee.

Most of the evidence, however, is from observational studies, which can only find probable associations but can’t prove cause and effect. To overcome these limitations, we plan to conduct a randomised controlled trial in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to see if coffee works as a treatment to reduce the risk of the disease progressing.

But before we can start giving coffee to patients, we needed to know whether coffee drinking had any recognised harms, so we decided to conduct an umbrella review to capture as much important...

Federal Managers Should Learn From Denver’s ‘Peak Performance’ Program

It should not have been surprising when the House unanimously passed the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (H.R. 4174) earlier this month. The goal, as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., noted in remarks aimed at encouraging the Senate to pass the bill, is “to make sure federal policies are driven by data, based on evidence.” The use of data and analytics has been “elevated to the status of motherhood and apple pie,” to borrow a line from Linda Springer in a recent column.

To achieve the goal, however, agencies will need to do more than just develop an analytics plan and designate someone for a newly-created position of Chief Evaluation Officer, steps required by the bill. This is not the first time a special position has been proposed to improve performance. A decade ago, the answer was the Performance Improvement Officer. When you compare the two jobs and the goals at their creation, there is a high level of deja vu.  

Government’s repeated efforts to improve agency performance go back over three decades but the evidence shows each iteration has been disappointing. Realizing success with the evidence-based policy goals could be even more difficult. Predictive analytics can be a...

The First Rule Of Public Speaking, According To an Expert On Eloquence

So you’ve been asked to speak publicly. Feel free to sweat profusely, rifle through some $10 vocab words, pick out what you’ll wear, sweat some more. But first: Ask how much time you have to speak.

“Organizers usually have an answer,” says linguist David Crystal in his 2016 book, The Gift of the Gab, which explores the mechanics of eloquence. “They know, from bitter experience, how much their audience can take before they start to fidget and look at their watches. Distrust any organizer who replies with, ‘Oh, as long as you like.'”

That goes for any form of public speaking, whether it’s a wedding toast or a work presentation.

Fans of extemporaneous speaking or the hour-long Winston Churchill speech may sniff at the idea of the well-timed talk, but the truth is that natural-sounding speeches that sound like they were made up on the spot can be some of the most well-rehearsed. Knowing the time limit is key, because it’s the only way to create at least a loose structure that helps you hit your mark.

And crucially, in an environment with so many available distractions, time limits show respect for the listener. As Crystal...

OPM Can Lead the Transformation of Government

The Office of Personnel Management has a rare opportunity to lead government transformation. For those who would argue that OPM has been overly focused on the transactional elements of traditional human resources management, consider the potential that comes with a new administration focused on reform, soon to be coupled with a new, experienced director. In addition, OPM is responsible for the policy and strategy surrounding people; the people not only plan, perform, make decisions, manage, and achieve, they uphold ethics, values, wisdom, and trust with the American people. These circumstances place OPM at the center of efforts to make government more efficient, effective, and accountable to citizens.

In this context, there are four things OPM should focus on to prepare itself to maximize government’s efficiency and effectiveness through its human capital.

  1. Build trust through accountability, transparency and collaboration. This is the first step in a process of OPM’s own transformation. The agency has a reputation for being insular, protective, lacking innovation, and for not communicating openly with leaders and agencies. True or not, begin today transforming the culture to one of openness, accuracy, quality, and completeness. Remove internal stovepipes, a propensity for obfuscation, and function as one OPM...