Frances Berry Discusses Government Innovation in Fall 2022 Deil S. Wright Lecture

In 2002, the UNC MPA Alumni Association honored Professor Deil Wright for his 34 years of teaching MPA students by creating the Deil S. Wright Lecture in Public Administration. Each year, a distinguished professional from the field of public administration enriches the educational experience of students, alumni, faculty, and interested members of the community through this event.

UNC MPA faculty, staff, and alumni gathered at the School of Government on October 6, 2022, to hear Frances Berry virtually deliver the Deil S. Wright Lecture.

Berry’s address explored how public officials can best manage “Innovation in Local and State Government.” The Reubin O’D. Askew Eminent Scholar and the Frank Sherwood Professor of Public Administration in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University, Berry has expertise in policy innovation, diffusion, and change; program evaluation; strategic and performance management; and public policy.

Speaking of Wright as a “giant” of public administration, Berry opened her address by expressing gratitude to speak on behalf of an event celebrating the legacy of her former colleague and friend.

“It’s a tremendous honor to speak as part of this annual symposium,” she said. “Professor Wright was well-known internationally as a giant in terms of all the people who knew him and respected him.”

Speaking on managing innovation strategically in the workplace and how to contend with the challenges of an intergovernmental and global workplace, Berry opened her discussion with an explanation of how true change within such structures begins.

For diffusion to succeed within the workplace, Berry said, it must fulfill certain characteristics. Public officials must innovate through values that are:

  • Popular
  • Consistent with cultural values of society
  • Easy to understand
  • Actionable
  • Clearly advantageous to current practices
  • Compatible with daily practices and behaviors

Innovation within government does not necessarily need to start at the top, Berry expressed. She cited through research that the demographic groups most likely to drive innovation, in fact, were middle managers and frontline staff.

Closing her lecture, Berry imparted public managers with key directives most associated with successful innovation and diffusion within state and local government:

  • Encourage employee specialization and professionalization
  • Foster interaction of agency bureaus or with outside partners
  • Provide flexible work structures and practices
  • Decentralize decision making
  • Promote innovation and open cultures
  • Allocate abundant resources for pilot projects and strategic investments
  • Increase communication and attention to performance management

Berry has enjoyed success in both applied and academic settings, including service as the director of research and executive development for the Council of State Governments. She is a Fellow in the National Academy of Public Administration, a Fulbright Scholar, and served as president of the Public Management Research Association and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. In 2022, she was honored with the John Gaus Award for lifetime achievement from the American Political Science Association.

See a recording of the lecture here.