Who Is Driving The Bus?


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In Who Is Driving the Bus, Diana Urban leads readers on her journey to Results-Based Accountability (RBA), sharing lessons learned along the way.



Who Is Driving The Bus? – One Legislator’s Road to Accountability

Connecticut State Representative Diana Urban refuses to accept the status quo of incremental budgeting and short-sighted horse-trading. In Who Is Driving The Bus?, Urban leads readers on her journey to Results-Based Accountability (RBA), sharing lessons learned along the way. As Rep. Urban explains, the titular question “encapsulates the attributes—including leadership, purpose and trustworthiness—to which our elected officials should aspire. Just as bus drivers are expected to, at a minimum, deliver us to our destinations safely, it seems reasonable that we should expect as much from our elected representatives.”

This book is a refreshing vehicle for distilling pragmatic advice gained from real political experience, while remaining true to core values. Budget oversight, bill markups and appropriations deliberations can be dry, technical, almost academic topics. But in her straight-shooting, colloquial, and at times irreverent tone, Urban presents an engaging narrative for current and aspiring legislators that is interwoven with clear and valuable lessons that they can apply to their own budgeting strategies. She eschews the textbook format typically reserved for books about budget and policy, and instead embraces a personal case study approach that proves remarkably effective as a pedagogical tool. This is not merely a “how to” manual. It’s a companion guide for legislators in which Representative Urban shares some of the personal and professional struggles of adopting RBA in Connecticut’s legislative process.

In each chapter of Who Is Driving The Bus, Urban recounts a different phase of her journey—from freshman legislator to co-Chair of the state’s Committee on Children. Her anecdotes paint a picture that most legislators will recognize: forgetting to check on the progress of programs for which she had secured funding in the previous budget cycle; dealing with the bureaucrats at state agencies determined to wait out any new ideas she proposed; encouraging officials from underperforming programs to admit deficiencies without fear of blame.

These are some of the difficult challenges that legislators must confront. The path of least resistance is to pass the same budget as one’s predecessors, deliver speeches full of rhetoric, and try not to make waves before the next campaign. But the path to accountability requires that we do better.

Skeptics should note that Urban is a credible spokeswoman for both RBA and children’s issues. As co-Chair of the Committee on Children, Representative Urban used RBA methodologies to establish the Connecticut Children’s Report Card—a scorecard that requires every children’s program in the state to report how its funding yields measurable results. The project is still a work in progress, but the public can track its development online at http://www.ctkidsreportcard.org.

Using the Children’s Report Card as an example, Urban explains that if state legislators want to achieve their policy goals and budget priorities, they need to be able to answer three fundamental questions of RBA: How much are you doing? How well are you doing it? Is anyone better off? And although she acknowledges that RBA is no panacea, she makes a forceful argument for using the tool to identify programs that deliver results for constituents. The ultimate goal is to employ limited resources more efficiently to achieve measurable improvements that reflect our values and priorities.

This book is a great resource and should be read carefully by freshman and senior legislators across the country. As state and local budget constraints have become tighter, we need more elected officials driving down the path to accountability rather than staying on the path of least resistance.

[blockquote author=”Denise Merrill – Connecticut Secretary of State”] “Thank you to Diana Urban for telling the true story of trying to move a bureaucracy to Results-Based Accountability. You will laugh, you will cry, but if you have ever been in these shoes, you will totally relate. So much to learn from this book for anyone who cares about trying to bring accountability to public policy.”[/blockquote]

Additional information

Weight .3625 lbs
Dimensions 8.5 x 5.5 x .26 in

1 review for Who Is Driving The Bus?

  1. Rated 4 out of 5

    David Burnby

    This book is US State Legislator Diana S Urban’s account of her mission to introduce transparent and outcome based budgeting practice to the State of Connecticut over the five terms since she was first elected in 2000. I found it a stimulating read and feel it will give hope for anyone who’s trying to lead organisational culture change in a large public sector agency. The book is punctuated with delightful illustrations by Susan Scala featuring Diana’s omnipresent dog (Indiana Jones) who makes a great co-star.

    Diana is a keen advocate for the Results Based Accountability™ (RBA) framework developed by Mark Friedman (who writes the Foreword) and described in his book “Trying Hard is Not Good Enough”. As important as it is to understand the basics of the RBA approach however, Diana’s account makes it clear that this is not the primary challenge. It turns out that long before Diana started on her crusade, there was already a Bill in place mandating the State to adopt performance budgeting. In practice, this meant allocating resources to contribute towards outcomes with clear reporting and accountability. Connecticut was out of compliance with its own statute. So it seems understanding the RBA framework and agreeing to adopt it is the easy bit. Making it happen is something else.

    Diana describes the context beautifully in her opening chapter:

    “I’ll let you in on a poorly-kept secret: our federal, state, and local governments are broken (in fact, broke)… …There are plenty of reasons things are the way they are (too many to bore you with here) and lots of reasons why changing those conditions can be damn near impossible (ditto). But the fact that our governments are often supremely screwed up, or that you’re going to catch hell for challenging the establishment, is hardly an excuse to accept the status quo. At least it’s not for me.

    Rather than pursue colleagues for lack of compliance with the existing statute, Diana chose to campaign to win over the State Legislature by promoting a new Bill; deciding to “Drive the Bus” rather than just being a passenger. This is a case study in effective leadership and partnership working. It’s refreshing to read about a politician who gives so much credit to her collaborators and partners including the legislative staff who schooled her as a new state legislator in the finer points of budgeting and from whose years of experience she benefited.

    Diana quickly understood that simply learning the RBA tools and techniques was in itself unlikely to bring about significant change. She talks about shifting the organisational culture and winning people over. It’s about politics in the wider sense and how large organisations can have screwed down resistance to change and deep aversion to new thinking.
    Diana Urban’s grasp of economics (honed from teaching the subject for 20 years) is in evidence as she makes the case for using the RBA thinking process to link spending to results. She is scathing about “bridge to nowhere” vanity projects and the practice of funding programmes with no evidence of whether they’re making a difference or not. Diana pulls no punches and is as brutally scathing about the intellectual calibre of some of her fellow legislators as she is full of credit for those who encouraged and supported her.
    This is an account of how one person with vision overcomes entrenched attitudes and practices and makes a difference. It demonstrates that effective change management is not a ‘big bang’ event, but a process of gradual and incremental change. It should give heart to those people out there frustrated by the realisation that transparency and accountability isn’t built in a day. By her own definition, Diana’s intention was to produce a text to inspire and motivate change rather than a “How To” manual, and I feel she has met that objective. This is not an academic analysis or evaluation exercise, but a story told in the first person of what it’s like at the sharp end of organisational change. The book concludes with a series of appendices which provides a helpful summary of Results Based Accountability™ principles and useful examples of actual Connecticut score cards (though you will need excellent eye sight to read the reduced text size).

    In her book, Diana is strong on ideology but also pragmatic on action and distils her experience well in summarising the key lessons learned. The result is an essay featuring solid down to earth advice that should inspire not only politicians, but other community activists who are tired of always doing the same things and predictably getting the same results.

    (David Burnby is a freelance Results Based Accountability trainer and practitioner based in the UK. )

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