The Future of Agile in Public Service Organizations: Macro, Meso and Micro Perspectives
Oliver Neumann, Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Carina Schott, Utrecht University School of Governance, The Netherlands
Over the last twenty years, Agile management methods have become standard practice in software design and IT companies. The ‘Agile manifesto’ (Beck, 2001) was an important starting point for this development, as it addressed the shortcomings of the previously dominant “waterfall” approach. The ‘waterfall’ approach encompassed planning, standardized processes, and relied on the assumption that service requirements would not change during the phases of planning and development (Simonofski et al., 2018). However, in reality, the political, societal and economic environment evolves, meaning that requirements also change over time, leading to software products that are already outdated by the time they are released and used. Consequently, this can lead to catastrophic project failures, dysfunctional processes and economic waste (Mergel et al., 2021). Agile, in contrast, adopts a more flexible approach and uses: less detailed planning; reflective learning; shorter development cycles; intensive collaboration; and continuous testing with clients that allows for fixes to be implemented before software is released (Beck, 2001; Mergel, 2016). In other words, “While waterfall is slow and plan based, agile is fast and light. Agile invests in initial planning but assumes that those plans will change as experience with working software provides new information about what users need” (Mergel et al., 2021, p. 2).
Importantly, the notion of ‘Agile Government’ goes beyond software design and IT, meaning that Agile practices can also be used in project management, process redesign, and to solve other complex challenges (Mergel et al., 2018). This is also reflected in the increasing number of government organizations that have begun to adopt principles, practices, and tools subsumed under the term ‘agile’. For instance, government agencies in the US, UK, Canada, and Estonia have been experimenting with Agile practices, and governments at various levels, such as the German Federal one, are following their lead. On an abstract level, Agile Government means “responding to changing public needs in an efficient way” (Mergel et al., 2021) thereby providing a promising ‘tool’ for many public organizations in times of rising citizen expectations and problem complexity. Moreover, in studies from the private sector, empirical evidence found that Agile practices can lead to a variety of positive outcomes for both individual employees and organizations, such as increased job satisfaction (Tripp et al., 2016), project success (Serrador & Pinto, 2015), and higher performance (Tripp & Armstrong, 2018).
Whether Agile can also produce positive outcomes in public services remains unclear, as there is a lack of research, especially empirical research, on Agile Government in practice. Additionally, as Mergel et al. (2021) point out, there are several challenges in adopting Agile practices that are specific for public organizations: experimentation and cross-functional teams are antithetical to how many bureaucratic organizations work; traditional types of leadership need to evolve into less hierarchical modes (e.g., servant leadership, shared or empowering leadership) emphasizing delegated responsibility and trust; and, contracting and procurement practices may need significant changes if they are to be effective. Thus, ‘agile’ is first and foremost a cultural change that requires concerted efforts by many actors to be implemented successfully. Moreover, there may be unintended negative side effects when introducing agile in public services – possible dark sides at the individual and/or organizational level – that are so far unknown. For instance, employees may feel overwhelmed, incompetent or insecure as a consequence of this new approach to working, and transparency or accountability issues may arise at an organizational level.
This special issue of Information Polity is therefore specifically interested in developing and strengthening original research on the emerging concept of Agile Government. It seeks contributions in the areas of public management, project management, governance, public administration, public sector innovation, and citizen-orientated services, in connection with adjacent fields such as information systems, public policy, and public law.
Scope of the Special Issue
This special issue adopts an interdisciplinary perspective and will explore the topic of Agile practices in core government and other (semi-) public sector organizations and services. We invite researchers to submit abstracts for theoretical and/or empirical research applying rigorous qualitative and/or quantitative methods. Published articles are expected to be approximately 8,000 words in length.
Topics covered by the special issue may include, but are not limited to:
- State-of-the-art academic thinking about the implications of Agile Government for traditional hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations, the politico-administrative context, and for key theories in the field of Public Administration/Management;
- Conceptual scholarship that contributes to increased conceptual clarity, better definitions of Agile Government, and clearer distinctions from other related concepts;
- Historical and comparative accounts of the development of Agile Government;
- Theoretical and practical considerations regarding the diffusion of Agile practices among and inside public service organizations, including collaborations between Agile and non-Agile units;
- Case studies of the drivers, barriers, and adoption mechanisms of Agile practices in public service organizations;
- Theoretical and empirical analyses of legal issues that may affect the adoption of Agile practices, including recommendations on how to overcome them; and
- Theoretical and empirical analyses on both the positive outcomes and the possible dark sides of agile government at the macro, meso and micro levels.
Important dates for the publication of this special issue are as follows:
Call for abstracts: February 1st 2023
Deadline abstract submission: June 10th 2023
Invitation to submit full paper (= accepted abstracts): June 20th 2023
Deadline submission full manuscript: October 10th 2023
Review process: November ’23-January ‘24
Final decision on manuscripts: February 2024
Anticipated publication: Summer 2024
Abstracts should initially be sent to Oliver Neumann (firstname.lastname@example.org). Abstracts should be up to 750 words and include the names of all authors and their institutional affiliations.
Abstracts will be reviewed by the Guest Editors of the Special Issue. This review will focus on the fit with the special issue theme, feasibility and potential contribution to knowledge. The authors of accepted abstracts will be invited to submit full manuscripts. Full manuscripts will be double-blind peer reviewed. Please note that initial acceptance of an abstract does not guarantee acceptance and publication of the final manuscript.
Final manuscripts have to be submitted directly through Information Polity’s submission system and needs to adhere to the journals submission guidelines: www.informationpolity.com/guidelines
Special Issue Editors
Oliver Neumann, Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration, University of Lausanne, Switzerland (email@example.com)
Dr. Oliver Neumann is an assistant professor at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). His research focuses on artificial intelligence in public organizations, open government data, citizen-sourcing, behavioral public administration, and agile practices.
Carina Schott, Utrecht University School of Governance, The Netherlands (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr. Carina Schott is an assistant professor at the Utrecht School of Governance (The Netherlands). She conducts research at the interface of Public Management and HRM in the public sector Specifically, her research focuses on employee motivation, professionalism, and leadership in various public sectors.
Instructions for authors for manuscript format and citation requirements can be found at:
Beck, K. (2001). The Agile Manifesto. http://agilemanifesto.org/
Mergel, I. (2016). Agile innovation management in government: A research agenda. Government Information Quarterly, 33(3), 516–523. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2016.07.004
Mergel, I., Ganapati, S., & Whitford, A. B. (2021). Agile: A New Way of Governing. Public Administration Review, 81(1), 161–165. https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.13202
Mergel, I., Gong, Y., & Bertot, J. (2018). Agile government: Systematic literature review and future research. Government Information Quarterly, 35(2), 291–298. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2018.04.003
Serrador, P., & Pinto, J. K. (2015). Does Agile work? — A quantitative analysis of agile project success. International Journal of Project Management, 33(5), 1040–1051. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijproman.2015.01.006
Simonofski, A., Ayed, H., Vanderose, B., & Snoeck, M. (2018). From Traditional to Agile E-Government Service Development: Starting from Practitioners’ Challenges. Agile E-Government Service Development, 10.
Tripp, J., & Armstrong, D. J. (2018). Agile Methodologies: Organizational Adoption Motives, Tailoring, and Performance. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 58(2), 170–179. https://doi.org/10.1080/08874417.2016.1220240
Tripp, J., Riemenschneider, C., & Thatcher, J. (2016). Job Satisfaction in Agile Development Teams: Agile Development as Work Redesign. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 17(4). https://doi.org/10.17705/1jais.00426