The GC Process

For the first 20 years of the twenty-first century, the United States has been in a state of near constant change.  As new challenges have arisen and demands on government have increased, however, the public sector has often been in a reactive mode—struggling to adapt to a rapidly evolving international, economic, social, technological, and cultural environment.  And, over the next decade, it will be even more important for governments at all levels to improve their operations so that they can tackle new problems in new ways and earn the public’s trust. 

In 2017, the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy) hosted a series of interactive summits across the country focused on “Governing Across the Divide.”  A year later, we launched the Grand Challenges in Public Administration campaign to identify the biggest challenges that government will face during the 2020s.  This document conveys the results of this year-long effort.  It is no secret that trust in government has declined significantly over the past several decades.  By addressing these challenges, governments at all levels have the opportunity to rebuild trust in their operations and capabilities.  During the next ten years, we look forward to working with stakeholders from across the public administration community to begin taking actions to address these issues.      

What Does It Mean to Be a Grand Challenge?

For the public administration field, these are the biggest issues that government must address over the next decade, both from a programmatic and an operational standpoint:

  • Grand Challenges are large in scope (inter-agency, inter-sectoral, intergovernmental, and multi-disciplinary).
  • They require significant innovation and long-term commitment (a decade or more).
  • They seek to achieve worthwhile, ambitious goals that we know will be difficult to successfully address for a variety of reasons, including their complexity and interconnectedness. 
  • They require paradigm shifts in thinking and/or significant change in government functioning. 
  • They have significant individual, governmental, and societal impacts.

How Did We Identify the Grand Challenges in Public Administration?

To lead this effort, we formed a Steering Committee of 14 members who represented the diversity of the public administration field.  The Steering Committee received research support from our professional staff.  Soon after launching this effort, we sought and received a wide array of invaluable public input on two key questions: 

  • What Must Government Do?  Over the next decade, what is a grand challenge that government (federal, state, and/or local) must address in order for American society to reach its full potential? 
  • How Government Should Do It?  Over the next decade, what must the field of public administration do to ensure that government has the managerial, operational, and leadership capacity required to deal with the most important challenges facing the United States?

Over the past year, our Steering Committee held multiple facilitated sessions to both analyze the public input and to bring their own expertise to bear in identifying Grand Challenges.  Our professional staff conducted considerable independent research on a broad range of potential topics.  Our Board was actively engaged in vetting ideas, offering its expertise, and making final decisions on the Grand Challenges list. 

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