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Advancing the Health of Our Health Organizations: A People-Centered Moonshot

What does it take to solve new problems at the complex intersections of medicine, technology and science? I initially joined the government to help figure this out. At the time, I joined then-Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot. Our significant charge was to solve problems twice as fast and accelerate advances in more equitable cancer prevention, diagnosis and personalized treatment.

A vast network of stakeholders, each from their neat corner of subject matter expertise, posed questions like, “How can we design more inclusive and effective clinical trials?” “What role does data play in creating tools to help match patients with personalized treatments, faster?” “How might we modernize our IT so that we can regulate the industry, faster?”

Despite the number of big questions being asked at the time, I knew there was still more to uncover. Where are the people? Are the problems we’re seeing medical problems? Technology problems? Science problems?

I recently attended the National Association of Medicaid Directors Fall Conference. During this event, I heard a state health department leader say the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “needs to be doing the work to identify the most vulnerable [people] and prioritize social needs.”

This comment underscores a universal question that impacts the healthcare industry across the world: What role does an agency like CMS — and the federal government in general —  play in advancing an ever-changing, people-centered health movement? What does it look like when a government can acknowledge that people’s voices — whether that of patients, members, beneficiaries, caregivers, or the many kinds of people who work in the health ecosystems — are not static? What does it look like for our government to adopt equitable listening? That is, what does it look like when agencies capture, understand and respond to the ongoing flow of information in a fair, impartial and representative way of those served?

What if we, as a nation, were to agree to a new “People Moonshot,” of always putting people first? What is the path toward improving the health of our health organizations? I propose that our journey moving forward is twofold.

First, I predict that problems could be solved faster if leaders from different backgrounds came together more often. That is, the key to solving seemingly unbeatable problems comes down to becoming better — becoming experts — at collaborating.

Why foster a battleground, debating the intricacies of data, tech, funding and science outside of their relationship to real live humans? We could foster more common ground when we rally around the voice of our people. We’ll deliver better results when we shift from a mindset of solving problems for people to solving problems with people.

Leaders who focus on building collaborative work experiences across silos for healthcare excellence will see greater success over time. Connecting the dots, building relationships, translating across technical subject matter areas, and forging participatory experiences are all growing in importance as core leadership competencies. We have the tools to measure this work to ensure accountability and alignment to ongoing modernization efforts in complex health organizations.

Second, we’re going to see a big shift in our way of thinking. As another state public health leader said at the recent Medicaid conference I attended, “You can’t fix what you can’t measure, and you can’t fix what you can’t acknowledge.” What we’re talking about here with a “People Moonshot” is culture change. Yes, culture and change are daunting. Culture transformation becomes more actionable and less scary, however, when we acknowledge that culture is an aggregation of somewhat simple, discrete elements that people experience daily. This approach is gaining traction with our Federal Chief Information Officer, too, as Clare Mortorana has recently promoted a moonshot-like approach to work more collaboratively in people-centered ways.

I’m a card-carrying member of the choir of people-first — undoubtedly many of you reading this are, too. How might we help others understand what is needed to practice new ways of working within our organizational culture? When we can work as one nation, one team, we will be able to realize goals laid before us in any moonshot. We will solve problems twice as fast, more equitably, and accelerate advances in disease prevention, diagnosis and personalized treatment to save more lives.

Where to go from here? We have guidance that can help us transform our organizational cultures and improve health organizations’ health. Organizational culture is made up of habitual elements that combine to form work experience. We can use the Customer Experience Measures from OMB Circular A-11 to transform our workforce experiences. Just like public-facing experiences, the ways our “internal customers” or federal employees work are, as A-11 states, “not transactions but engagements and relationships.”

A monumental Executive Order from the White House also underscores the importance of experience in the government’s journey to earn the public’s trust.

The global pandemic has pushed us to put a laser focus on the culture of how our publicly funded health organizations work. As you look forward, consider the A-11 framework a customizable recipe for inclusive and equitable culture change.

Join the movement — awareness is growing. In a recent webinar on the Biden-Harris White House’s President’s Management Agenda, Office of Management and Budget leaders proselytized that, “The strength of every organization rests on the strength of our people. … The people are at the center of everything we do. We begin with people and put values and the federal workforce first. We are unwavering in our commitment to the federal workforce and the people they serve (CX).”

Nina Bianchi focuses on transformative culture experiences. She served as Chief of People and Culture at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and with the General Services Administration’s (GSA) IT Modernization Centers of Excellence (COE). As a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF) with the Biden Cancer Moonshot at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), she led collaborative work experiences to drive personalized patient experiences. Before serving in government, Nina led a social innovation consulting firm with a network of high-impact public-private partnerships. Her teams designed transformation solutions for city governments across the globe, philanthropy, nonprofits, Fortune 500 companies and institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected] And to read more from our summer/fall 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort and a link to their stories.

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