.LRN provided a huge head start toward what we wanted, plus support for things we didn't originally anticipate.
[Jerry Mechling, Harvard University]

Harvard University E-Government Executive Education Project


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The E-Government Executive Education (3E) Project at the John F. Kennedy School of Government identifies, evaluates, and disseminates best practices for information technology issues in the public sector.  Founded and led since 1983 by Dr. Jerry Mechling, the Project has reached thousands of senior public-sector executives around the world. In particular, its 2001 publication series, Eight Imperatives for Leaders in a Networked World, is widely recognized as a seminal work for identifying and disseminating best practices in the field.  Jerry's position at the hub of the e-government community was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of State CIOs in May 2005.

Faculty and practitioners involved in 3E programs reflect the 3E Project's influence, including in recent months such leaders as Canadian MP and Treasury Board President Reg Alcock, US CIO Mark Forman, former Presidential advisor David Gergen, former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, US DHS CIO Steve Kelman, US EPA CIO Kim Nelson, former IRS Commissioner Charles Rissotti, Michigan CIO Teri Takai, and US GSA Administrator Marty Wagner.

Executive Education Project Start Page
Harvard E-Gov Executive Education Start Page

The 3E Project conducts three executive education programs annually for senior public-sector executives, with about 60 participants per session, at the Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 3E also Develops and conduct tailored executive education programs for both public- and private-sector organizations (including recent programs in Georgia, Florida, Mexico, Singapore, and Dubai).

In addition, 3E organizes and facilitates analysis and publications of the Harvard Policy Group on Network-Enabled Services and Government (HPG), an advisory body of acknowledged public-sector leaders. Through HPG, 3E defines and executes a pragmatically-focused research agenda . Current research and teaching are focused on the “cross-boundary” challenge: how can public leaders work across traditional boundaries separating programs, departments, jurisdictions, branches of government, and sectors of the economy - to properly respond to the enormous opportunities and challenges being opened up by information technologies.

Executive Education Project Blog
Harvard E-Gov Executive Education Blog

For several years, Jerry Mechling has seen an opportunity to enhance 3E's reach and the value of its executive education programs by extending live interactions online before, during, and after the programs themselves through a web application called the Compass. Sharing this vision, 3E Charter Sponsor IBM stepped up in 2004 to a six-figure multi-year funding commitment to help realize it. Specifically, Jerry and Janet Caldow, who heads IBM's Institute for Electronic Government, had the following capabilities in mind:

  • first, a pre-conference diagnostic through which participants could benchmark themselves anonymously in real time against peers, to identify areas on which to focus their learning and networking efforts;
  • second, an online library of carefully screened resources on vital issues in electronic government;
  • third, the ability to generate personalized reading lists that match respondents' answers in the diagnostic to resources in the library;
  • fourth, an online gallery of multimedia interviews with leading practitioners to further inform learning;
  • fifth, the ability to automatically generate personalized reports which participants could then edit and add to, to make it easier to “report back” to colleagues and sponsors “back at the ranch” in order to maximize the impact of what's learned at 3E programs;
  • sixth, the ability to sustain online the relationships and interactions begun offline, and use these interactions to inform future programs and the Project's research in general.
Executive Education Survey
Harvard E-Gov Executive Education Survey

With these ideas in mind, Jerry cast a broad net for technology options and partners that would provide the best combination of flexibility, enterprise-class foundations, strong user base, and cost-effectiveness. Commercial e-learning platforms were dismissed as insufficiently flexible and too expensive. IBM and 3E looked at a widely-publicized J2EE framework for e-learning, but concluded it was insufficiently mature and that a Java-based development approach imposed too much overhead for its needs. IBM and 3E also looked at a variety of popular low-end open-source toolkits, and even at custom development. In the end, .LRN proved the best choice by a wide margin along the dimensions considered. Sealing the deal was the presence of a 10,000-user .LRN deployment two T stops away at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

3E's required customizations were delivered and deployed for production in two months and at a direct cost for programming of just over $30,000, plus user interface design assistance from IBM. Since initial deployment in December in an executive education program, the Compass has been used to support programs in the US and Dubai, and will approach supporting 1,000 users by the end of 2005. Says Jerry, “.LRN provided a huge head start toward what we wanted, plus support for things we didn't originally anticipate. It feels like a big house we're still moving into, and we're discovering all sorts of useful spaces even as we get comfortable in the main living quarters.” Janet Caldow comments, “as a 3E Charter Sponsor, we made a big bet, and .LRN has paid off for realizing the Compass vision. We got what we wanted on time and on budget, it's scaling nicely, and we're proud to have IBM's name on it.”

Harvard E-Gov Executive Education Project Reports
Executive Education Project Reports