Business in Government Initiative

Welcome to the Business in Government (BIG) Initiative: a nonpartisan, faculty-led collaborative intended to generate cutting-edge insights about the relevance of “business thinking” for government. Please explore our website and engage in our work.

What is the Business in Government (BIG) Initiative?

The BIG Initiative is a nonpartisan, faculty-led collaborative intended to generate cutting-edge insights about the relevance of “business thinking” for government.

Which aspects of business thinking translate to government and how?

Despite the intense public focus on the relationship between business and government, particularly after the 2016 presidential election, the academic literature is surprisingly silent on this topic.

By conducting research with government, on government, and on basic processes and problems that frequently emerge within government, we aim to fill this critical gap. The knowledge generated in the process may help government leaders instill the most relevant forms of business thinking in their organizations and policies.

And scholars focusing on the role of business thinking in government may gain insight from government leaders’ knowledge and experience.

Ultimately, we seek to elevate the popular discourse on business and government, which often emphasizes extreme viewpoints like “government should operate like a business” or “government is nothing like business.”

What is the BIG Initiative's mission?

To generate, disseminate, and apply new knowledge concerning the relevance of “business thinking” for all aspects and levels of government.

What type of research falls under the BIG initiative?

Members of BIG Initiative conduct research:

With government: in collaboration with government. For example, Roman Galperin and Colleen Stuart are working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to study knowledge acquisition processes among examiners, which may influence the patenting process. 

On government: focused on particular government organizations or policies. For example, Tinglong Dai is studying the impact of organ donation policies on social welfare, and Jian Ni studies the implications of the recent deposit-insurance coverage expansion for banks and depositors.

On basic processes and problems that emerge within government: emphasizing basic science principles likely to transfer to government because they are not specific to any particular type of organization. For example, Christopher Myers studies vicarious learning processes grounded in basic psychology that could inform government learning and training programs.

In terms of topics, the BIG Initiative casts an intentionally wide net. We seek to apply the full diversity of business processes and policies examined in a business school to a government context. For example, our research considers the following topics as applied to government:

  • Organizational strategy and structure
  • Operations (particularly in health care)
  • Organizational culture and change
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Governance
  • Finance and budgeting
  • Digital marketing
  • Innovation
  • Risk management
  • Real estate (including public-private partnerships)
  • Policy evaluation
  • Leadership
  • Communications and public relations
  • Group and team effectiveness
  • Negotiations
  • Effective decision-making
  • Conflict management

On which types of government does the BIG initiative focus?

The BIG Initiative encompasses local, state, and federal government, with a focus on the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, and the federal government organizations in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

What impact has the BIG initiative had to date? 

The faculty affiliated with the BIG Initiative have impacted government thinking, policy, and organizational structures and procedures in numerous ways over the last several years.

Some brief examples, organized by the faculty member:
  • Assisted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Maryland Department of Environment in evaluating the effectiveness of traditional and innovative enforcement and compliance strategies and tools, particularly those associated with “Next Generation Compliance.”
  • Helped EPA design and test an intervention aimed at small water supply systems that are out of compliance with Clean Drinking Water Act standards.
  • Trained U.S. Department of Agriculture employees to apply insights from the behavioral sciences to improve conservation programs, and experimental designs to measure the impact of program innovations.
  • Connected academics with program managers who have an interest in evaluating their programs or testing new innovations, through “matchmaking portal” associated with EPIC (Environmental Program Innovations Collaborative) center.
  • Work cited in World Bank’s Development Report 2015.
  • Contributed to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s efforts to refine internal data collection, gain insights into examination productivity and quality, and make more and better data publicly available.
  • Conducted research in collaboration with Walter Reed Army Institute of Research that informed U.S. Army leadership training on sleep.
  • Testimony at two Congressional staff briefings cited as contributing to defeat of Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) proposed regulation banning compensation for blood-forming stem cell donors.
  • Influenced health care policy in Nigeria by evaluating health care management intervention conducted in 48 primary health care facilities in 6 Nigerian states (together with Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, the World Bank, and the Gates Foundation).
  • Testimony before the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission empaneled by the Maryland State Legislature influenced thinking of state policymakers.
  • Organized Symposium on Free-Market Solutions to Urban Grand Challenges.
  • Served on a team advising Saudi Arabian government regarding policies on women and driving.
  • Advised International Monetary Fund as member of Advisory Committee on Housing and Housing Finance.
  • Work widely cited on influential economics portal
  • Co-author testified on joint work before U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
  • Research cited in Swedish Parliament report and used to inform United Nations policy in Thailand.
  • Work on high-reliability organizing has been instrumental in informing programs to improve quality across government organizations that provide health care and/or shape health care policy (e.g., U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Army, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).
  • Appointed by National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine to a research panel to study workforce resilience in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • Invited to speak at and/or train multiple audiences of government leaders (e.g., Veterans Affairs National Center for Patient Safety, Air Force Medical Service Senior Leadership Conference, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality HRO Consensus Conference).
  • Provided expert testimony on leadership and safety culture that was used by Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
  • Research has been instrumental in informing federal agencies’ thinking on meeting their management and labor needs.

What differentiates the BIG initiative?

Five factors differentiate the BIG Initiative from other efforts elsewhere:

Business Thinking: We explicitly focus on “business thinking,” defined as all of the theoretical and practical knowledge generated and disseminated in a business school and typically applied to business organizations—and generally concerned with how individuals, teams, organizations, and economies thrive and grow. This differentiates us from schools of public administration, public policy, and government, which do not tend to focus on cutting-edge business theories, principles, and methodologies (e.g., lean, nudging, data analytics, operations research, experiments, design thinking). As an example of the unique methodologies applied to the government context, consider Paul Ferraro’s pioneering Center for Behavioral & Experimental Agri-Environmental Research (CBEAR) focused on behavioral science insights that can inform agricultural and environmental policy.

Translation: We explicitly focus on translating findings developed in a business context to government. This differentiates us from other business schools, which do not tend to systematically explore the ways that key findings might translate to government.

Intellectually unbiased: We have no particular ideological or commercial interests. We simply aim to advance knowledge on the relevance of business thinking for government. This differentiates us from a variety of political and business organizations that make claims about the relationship between business and government on the basis of a particular agenda.

Evidence-based: We draw from and contribute to evidence-based knowledge. In other words, and across all topics, our research is based on well-grounded theories and empirical research. To the extent we make recommendations relevant for government, they are firmly grounded in scientific data and analysis.

Collaborative: We collaborate to produce new knowledge—within the Carey Business School, across the Johns Hopkins University, and with government at all levels. This means that the people who contribute to the BIG Initiative share a genuine passion for issues at the interface of business and government, as well as an eagerness to solve complex problems that cross intellectual boundaries. It also means that the Initiative draws from an extensive knowledge base.

What, specifically, does the BIG initiative do?

Our affiliated scholars systematically conduct research with government, on government, and on basic processes and problems that frequently emerge within government.

We seek to study the relevance of business thinking to the government context, broadly construed, then publish our results in top-tier academic journals.

But we also seek to make our findings accessible to government leaders and others through dissemination and outreach activities like targeted executive education programs for government. 

Why is Carey equipped to do this?

Carey is uniquely entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary, with a faculty focused on identifying and seeking solutions to complex problems, whatever their disciplinary origin. We are also part of a preeminent research university, with world-leading scholars in numerous areas of inquiry.

Finally, Carey is ideally located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, affording our faculty, students, and alumni many direct connections to government.

Does the BIG initiative collaborate across Johns Hopkins?

Yes. We have connections across Johns Hopkins University, including with the School of Medicine, School of Public Health, and School of Advanced International Studies.

How do I get involved?

Want to get involved? We’d love to hear from you.

If you work in the government, we’d be pleased to explore collaborative research and/or executive education opportunities.

If you work in a university, we’d love to talk about how you might get involved in our research.

And if you work in business, we’d appreciate the chance to consider how your knowledge and experience might enrich the Initiative. Any other ideas are welcome!

For more information, please contact Brian Gunia at