Technology can provide highly effective tools to optimize operations with greater efficiency and transparency in mind.

However, tech alone will not break government away from a tendency to compartmentalize resources and operate in silos, which as we have too often seen can lead to barriers in the sharing of information and data and to delays in services. To make lasting changes in government, we also need to support and develop the people who contribute to its day-to-day culture.

The state of Hawaii employs more than 48,000 employees across executive agencies — all working in varying degrees to implement, administer and oversee programs, policies, and social services for Hawai‘i residents and businesses. With their help, billions of taxpayer dollars flow through to communities to positively make a difference in people’s lives.

With the great responsibility and impact of their work, public servants at the forefront of services also operate under equally significant barriers in their ecosystem. A multitude of factors — like bureaucracy, changing regulations, constricted budgets, limited staffing, as well as the added layer of public scrutiny – not only contribute to high burn-out and lowered staff morale, they also inadvertently produce an atmosphere that is not conducive to interagency teamwork and collaboration.

Navigating Hawaii’s toughest social issues, from homelessness to healthcare, will need even tighter coordination within and between agencies. One way state leadership can support our public sector employees is by investing in professional development opportunities geared to hone the higher level, non-technical interpersonal aspects like collaboration, trust and innovation to get the job done.

‘An Unplugged Approach’

One Shared Future is a local social impact business that provides professional development offerings to the public sector and, more recently, private-sector to serve local communities through ​collaboration and innovation.

Whereas other professional development opportunities focus on technical skills, One Shared Future’s Appreciating Change series is an unplugged approach that focuses on participants’ innovative potential by providing safe space for ideas, self-awareness, and team reflection.

A screen shot of the Wikiwiki Hire website, which the author says provides a faster way for applicants to be considered for some state job vacancies.

The program includes an intentional cycle of opening with mindfulness, introduction of new concepts and tools, experiential activities, guest speakers, time for reflection and home play that leads to collaborative projects and the building of professional connections that accelerate interagency, cross-sector innovations. Through eight full-day workshops over the course of four months, participating cohorts also work on and present “Springboard to Action” projects that address seemingly intractable issues in real-time.

“With the Appreciating Change series, we found that creating safe space for gathering and affirming strengths allows people the opportunity to get outside of their usual work environment in expansive ways,” said Rachael Wong, founder and strategic advisor for One Shared Future. “It gives them time to breathe, to not be in a reactionary mode, and receive new knowledge and new experiences…and do so collectively with other people.”

Wikiwiki Hire Pilot Project

One example of the impact of investing in professionals through the One Shared Future series is the Wikiwiki Hire Pilot Project, a collaboration of state participants from the Department of Human Resource Development and Department of Human Services to address the significant shortage of Child Welfare Services social workers on Hawaii Island.

The effort launched a specialized, expedited hiring portal called Wikiwiki Hire that is streamlined for active job applicants searching for child/adult protective services specialists, social workers as well as other social service positions.

Before Wikiwiki Hire, the hiring processes would take up to two months just to review requirements, sometimes longer. The project also reduced the time spent in the hiring process that followed from months to as few as 10 days. Moreover, in the four months after Wikiwiki Hire launched, 30 job-seekers were hired for the Department of Human Services positions.

The streamlined hiring process was a win for all parties involved, which includes fewer missed opportunities for hiring social workers due to delays or duplicate applications, and reduced time for job seekers from being unemployed to hired.

The result is an increase in the number of professions providing care for local children. Ultimately, the Wikiwiki Hire pilot is a result of public sector professionals working and innovating together to best serve communities in Hawaii.

Far-Reaching Value Of Interpersonal Skills

Knowledge gleaned from professional development experiences like One Shared Future’s Appreciating Change series has lasting effects on its participants as well as their circles of influence.

In post-program evaluations, One Shared Future found that graduates, including those who have expressed concerns about burnout, were more energized, resilient, and willing to collaborate to resolve challenges encountered from their work.

“Before Wikiwiki Hire, the hiring processes would take up to two months just to review requirements, sometimes longer.”

By honing collaborative skills and building trust amongst colleagues and different agencies, our state government can partner to create an environment that fosters innovative solution-seeking. While measuring return on investment on the value of trust, teamwork or safe spaces for innovation may be hard to measure in a world of tight budgets, the effects of empowering employees are very palpable to any organizational culture.

Continued professional development in these areas is necessary to navigate the changing landscape of government service. It can also serve as a starting point to shift government away from a siloed way of doing things. This benefits us all.

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