Finally, the part you’ve been building up to: Implementation. It’s time for action! This is your chance to prove your program design and achieve your goals. If successful, you may positively influence the way your government works and, in the process, improve the lives of your fellow citizens.
Yet there are still many potential pitfalls in your path. Coordinating between multiple agencies; balancing the dynamics between government insiders and outsiders; executing a program that is likely a new experiment; these and other factors will create challenges unique to each implementation. Detailing all of these is far outside the scope of this manual, and may well be impossible. That is why this manual focuses on the planning and design process, to help you set up the structure needed to navigate the unexpected circumstances that inevitably arise during implementation. It is impossible to plan for everything, which is where your flexibility and energy as an innovator will serve you well.
However, there are a number of key principles that are important to remember during implementation. These can be applied to almost any stage of the process, from concept to evaluation, but are included here because they are especially relevant in the challenging (and rewarding) road to successful execution.
You are at this phase if:
You have a program design and a complete implementation plan
Your staff team and program participants are committed and in place
You are in compliance with all the relevant legal and bureaucratic frameworks
Your budget has been secured and the funds are “in hand”
Be an engaged, ambitious manager.
Open government programs often attract independent-minded, innovative individuals. You may have the impulse to avoid structured management out of concern for participants’ autonomy, but this will only create uncertainty. Pilot programs can feel risky for even the boldest innovators and entrepreneurs. Proactive program management and high expectations are not a burden, but rather rallying points that inspire confidence and signal leadership.
Many of your participants are reformers by nature, a disposition that may be isolating when they are working within a team, unit, or ministry. Your role is to provide high-touch program management, which will nurture their ambitions and provide the motivation to continue. Frequent communication builds trust and credibility. Finally, remember that communication flows in both directions. Listen carefully, as program participants’ feedback will be valuable as you weigh difficult implementation decisions.
Protect and credit your participants.
You will have many opportunities to share updates about the program and its participants, and it is likely that your unique political position provides an opportunity to credit them in high-profile ways. Use these moments to emphasize the takeaways and unique experiences of the participants, which will motivate them and support quick wins. Also, do not be afraid to intervene on their behalf. Take advantage of the political shortcuts available to you to help lift the burden of navigating the bureaucracy for program participants.
Create a positive participant experience
This is related to achieving the goals above, but is also an end in itself. Program participants are key spokespeople for any program, and will speak based on their personal experiences. For many government staff, participation in an open government program entails professional risk, so it is crucial to ensure that individual participants feel that the experience of the program was worth it. Even if program outcomes fall short of their ambitious goals, a positive participant experience creates a halo effect and colors subsequent discourse around your program.
Trust your own program design.
When the going gets tough, remember the work and effort you have put into your plan. Implementation will get messy. Although you will have to make choices and changes through implementation, be wary of changing course too quickly. There will likely be times when you must prioritize some components and potentially scale back others. Refer back to your Theory of Change. Focus on achieving what you set out to do, strengthening the existing linkages between activities that will deliver the impact you seek.
So, do you still want to be an open government innovator? A global community is hoping that you do. As the guidance and candid stories shared in these pages demonstrate, government innovation is no easy task. Even though efforts are proliferating worldwide, there are still not nearly enough. Your country, state, or city needs your work to make government more transparent, participatory, and accountable, and to do it in creative new ways. This manual is meant to provide support and inspiration to make the efforts of reformers and future reformers like you more effective and impactful.
We developed this manual through deep research on one government’s experience, and we know that there are more lessons out there to be learned. We hope that it sparks conversation among you and your fellow government innovators and reformers, whether you agree, disagree, or haven’t yet decided what you think of what it says!