Business in Government Initiative

What is the Business in Government (BIG) Initiative?

The Business in Government (BIG) Initiative is an innovative effort to translate between business and government organizations on the topic of organizational performance (see figure below). In short, we bring business research insights to bear on the unique challenges of leading in government, helping government organizations excel and producing new insights that can also benefit business.

Business schools are not the same as businesses. Business schools research businesses, distinguishing the business practices that work from those that don’t—and discovering when and why they work. Knowing the when and why of business practices, in turn, tells us which practices will and won’t translate outside of the business world. The BIG Initiative builds from the premise that this knowledge gives us a unique and thoughtful perspective on the relevance of business to government. Thus, one goal of the Initiative is to translate the best and most relevant business practices into training that can help government leaders meet some of their most pressing challenges: replenishing retiring talent, managing a contractual workforce, and bridging the political versus career divide, for example.

Just as important, we start from the premise that government can be relevant to business—and that business schools can help to translate in that direction too. Thus, the BIG Initiative seeks to learn from government organizations by studying them. Working hand-in-hand with government organizations, we research targeted, performance-relevant issues, providing these organizations with valuable feedback and generating new knowledge about organizational performance that can ultimately help business organizations excel.

Finally, the BIG Initiative starts from the premise that business schools can provide “neutral territory” for business and government organizations to productively engage. Having no particular interest other than the creation and translation of knowledge, we provide a safe environment for mutually- beneficial discussions (e.g., conferences, roundtables) that can universally improve performance.  

Overall, the BIG Initiative brokers between business and government organizations to help optimize the performance of both.  

What is the impetus for the BIG Initiative?

National government organizations face an immense challenge: to solve our most pressing social problems. As noted by preeminent political scientist James Q. Wilson, the extent to which they succeed can often depend on a deceptively-simple factor: how they are organized. In other words, these organizations can only solve our society’s biggest challenges when they are maximally effective as organizations. The BIG Initiative is prefaced on the principle that we in a business school can help provide access to the evidence-based principles that make any organization effective.

Yet, the Initiative is also prefaced on the recognition that we in a business school have much to learn. Although our evidence-based knowledge comes from a wide variety of sources, including studies of government organizations, a great deal of highly-beneficial research on national government organizations, as organizations, undoubtedly remains possible.

In short, we believe that we at Carey could benefit national organizations but also benefit ourselves by learning from them. Thus, the BIG Initiative strives to bridge the gulf that currently divides business schools from national governments.

How is the BIG Initiative different?

Though a gulf divides business schools and national governments, we actively recognize efforts to bridge related gulfs between academia and government, as well as business and government. We distinguish ourselves from these efforts in five, fundamental ways:

Fundamentally, BIG is: About improving the functioning of government organizations
Fundamentally, BIG is not: About analyzing or developing policies
Fundamentally, BIG is: Business school-to-government and government-to-business school
Fundamentally, BIG is not: Business-to-government
Fundamentally, BIG is: Focused on understanding and improving performance of government organizations
Fundamentally, BIG is not: Focused on making governments into businesses, or reliant on businesses
Fundamentally, BIG is: Academic and nonpartisan
Fundamentally, BIG is not: Ideological and partisan
Fundamentally, BIG is: Potentially inclusive of all national government organizations, and the organizations that influence national governments, around the world
Fundamentally, BIG is not: Exclusive to U.S. government agencies

Overall, when compared with other efforts, BIG has a different purpose (promoting organizational performance, not policy), perspective (evidence-based, not experiential), and audience (any large organization that shapes national policy in any nation).

What does the BIG Initiative do?

In keeping with our recognition that we have much to learn, the Initiative starts with discussion. We actively listen to the members of national government organizations to understand their needs and experiences, how we might help, and what we still need to learn.

Based on this discussion, we then seek ways to translate research by putting it into formats that are useful for national government organizations. For example, we conduct innovative training sessions. We speak at government meetings and conferences. We advise government organizations based on organizational research. We write op-eds, host webinars, and participating in interviews. These are just a few examples of the many ways we strive to translate organizational research.

At the same time that we translate research, we seek ways to conduct research on the operation of national government organizations. This involves collaborating with these organizations to investigate targeted issues or questions, which, when answered, would provide insights to both the organization and our general stock of knowledge on organizational performance. Collaboratively, we investigate issues of importance to the organization that would also answer important theoretical issues and ultimately help organizations of any type, including businesses.

What are some examples of past activities?

Founded in fall 2013, the BIG Initiative has already engaged in a wide variety of activities. Here are some examples:

  • Taught negotiation and conflict management courses at several large government agencies, and to the members of a foreign country’s national assembly
  • Created teaching partnerships with several large executive agencies, focused on topics like communications, strategy, knowledge management, decision-making, and marketing
  • Developed training courses in collaboration with GovLoop
  • Created research partnerships with several large executive agencies, focused on topics like telework, office space, technology transfer, leadership, and organizational culture
  • Conducted research on government-sponsored healthcare organizations in an African country
  • Wrote op-eds and conducted radio interviews on the fiscal cliff and government shutdown.
  • Invited several speakers, including the U.S. Patent Commissioner, to Carey
  • Testified before Congress

Why Carey?

The Carey Business School is ideally positioned to tackle these challenges. We strive to develop “tri-sector leaders” who can solve problems at the intersection of the business, government, and social sectors. We are located in and around Washington, DC, and also within a world-renowned research university containing thought leaders in almost every functional area. We are a new school with a boundless entrepreneurial spirit and the flexibility to think BIG.  

Who is involved?

At Carey, the BIG Initiative involves numerous faculty, staff, and students. Outside of Carey but inside Johns Hopkins, we have formal connections with the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, and the Applied Physics Laboratory—and informal connections to thought leaders throughout the university.        

What topics are involved?

The BIG Initiative encompasses a variety of intra-organizational topics related to the unique challenges of leading in government. For example:

  • Organizational strategy and structure
  • Organizational design and efficiency
  • Operations
  • Organizational culture
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Governance
  • Finance and budgeting
  • Digital marketing
  • Innovation
  • Risk management
  • Project management
  • Knowledge management
  • Leadership
  • Communications and public relations
  • Leading groups and teams
  • Leading change and renewal
  • Negotiations
  • Conflict management

How can I learn more?

For more information, please contact the faculty leader of the Initiative, Brian Gunia at brian.gunia@jhu.edu