FirstGov touted as model for collaboration

The FirstGov portal is a model of successful public-private partnership, a New York research center said in a study released this week.

The study, 'New Models of Collaboration: A Guide for Managers' was conducted by the Center for Technology in Government. The center looked at 15 projects that involved government collaboration around the world, including international efforts in countries that speak different languages.

Agencies have found that they must collaborate with other organizations to complete their missions, said Sharon Dawes, director of the center. This way of working brings new demands on an agency.

'In all of the projects we looked at, organizations were coming together that tended to work in different ways,' Dawes said. The people involved 'have different ways of thinking, they have different vocabularies,' she said.

The center highlighted FirstGov as an example of a successful public-private partnership involving multiple agencies and the private sector.

'The development of FirstGov.gov introduced a number of changes in the way the federal government operates,' the report stated. Initially funded by a number of federal agencies and overseen by the General Services Administration, FirstGov has indexed more than 186 million government Web pages. The portal connects to services across all federal agencies.

Inktomi Corp. of Foster City, Calif., provided the first search engine for the site free of charge for three years.

Another factor that led to the portal's success has been the buy-in from the participating parties. They did not view the project as 'a typical government project, mired in procurement and acquisition regulations, and constrained by the federal budget,' the report said. 'It was much more like that of a start-up 'dot.com' fueled by the energy and engagement of its members, and their belief in the project.'

The center posted the result of the case studies, along with analysis, on the Online Management Guide.

The researchers concluded that the elements needed for successful collaboration are leadership, trust, risk management and communication.

Although communication is often touted as a key for successful collaboration, many people may not recognize what successful communication involves. Dawes said participants must think in terms of the perspectives of the other participants.

'It wasn't just a matter of being clear, but learning to see situations and goals from a different point of view,' Dawes said.

The State University of New York, University at Albany oversees the Center for Technology in Government. The National Science Foundation and the Centre Francophone d'Informatisation des Organisations, a Canadian research organization, funded the study.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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