Practitioners’ perspective: voices on the Public Impact Fundamentals

The Public Impact Fundamentals are a systematic attempt to understand what makes a successful policy outcome and describe what can be done to maximise the chances of achieving public impact.

Naturally, achieving public impact is complicated, and the reality of being involved in the delivery of frontline services is not capable of reduction to simple formula. The practitioners we talk to agree on one thing: there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Governments must adapt processes to different contexts, institutional backgrounds and cultures if they are to achieve targets and positive outcomes.

The context

Annise Parker, former three-term mayor of Houston

“Too often, public policy is a process of simply lurching forward from crisis to crisis. It is extremely difficult particularly when you’re at the higher levels of government. I’m doing crisis management every day and it is very difficult to get up into a position where I can survey the entire battlefield, because I tend to be down in the trenches fighting. From a management perspective you have to be able to get above it and see the big picture.”

Lord Gus, O’Donnell, former UK cabinet secretary

“Policymaking is rarely a neat process and seldom systematic. Whitehall tends to be buffeted by events and the next thing on the political agenda, whether that is dealing with an unexpected emergency, planning for an upcoming announcement or preparing for Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. It’s an environment that unfortunately leaves scant time for pausing to evaluate how well new initiatives are working or whether there might have been a better way to roll out a particular policy.”

Matthew Mendelsohn, head of Canada’s results and delivery direcorate

“Day to day in government, the ability to distinguish between a programme that is having a hugely positive impact and one that is having a moderate impact is difficult. The way governments are set up means we don’t usually have the capacity to do this very well.”

Professor Gary Banks, chief executive and dean of Australia and New Zealand School of Government

“Good policy – policy that achieves desired ends in cost effective ways – is rarely technically easy and can sometimes be politically challenging. If a policy is to be effective and seen to be so, thus garnering broad support, a case must be made that is both well founded and based on engagement with stakeholders. This is not rocket science, but it is often neglected. The three factors that constitute The Public Impact Fundamentals, and their nine constituent elements in particular, provide a ready checklist of wide applicability for policy makers. Finding a way of institutionalising these, akin to Regulation Impact Assessment requirements, could prove a useful safeguard against poor policy decisions.”


Mark Moore, Hauser Professor of Nonprofit Organizations, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School

“Unlike many other frameworks developed in the private sector for application to the public sector, the Public Impact Fundamentals rightly give proper emphasis to building legitimacy among citizens and elected representatives. This emphasis is justified practically by the fact government activities are financed through taxes raised and assigned through democratic processes, and philosophically by the idea that any use of public authority or public dollars has to find favor with citizens, taxpayers, and their elected representatives as well as satisfy direct beneficiaries of government action. The processes of building legitimacy through consultation and policy making, and of using the mandates that emerge from these processes as a framework of accountability that can define, animate, and guide the creation of public value is as important a managerial task as using administrative tools to control the deployment of the assets in achieving desired results.”

Maryantonett Flumian is President of the Institute on Governance

“In many citizens’ minds, government has faded away their day-to-day lives. It’s no longer seen as relevant.. This means people no longer see evidence of government as a force for something positive or good. They don’t see it; they don’t feel its relevance; and therefore government loses its legitimacy. It is therefore fundamentally important for governments to re-connect with citizens in order to regain social license by affirming and directly linking evidence, impact and legitimacy – which is where stakeholder engagement comes in. Government needs to use engagement with stakeholder groups to communicate and reiterate its positive role in creating a strong society and economy. A stronger relationship between government and society will then follow.”


Melanie Walker, director of the President’s Delivery Unit and senior advisor to President to President Jim Yong Kim at the World Bank Group

“When it comes to shaping sustainable solutions, some of that relates to finances but there’s more to the story. If you don’t have clear targets, or a sense for ‘better’ you might lose track of your goals. And it really is true that if you can’t measure something, you will struggle to manage it.”

John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado

“Government is always going to be underfunded and there are always going to be distractions or emergencies. But by having the appropriate vision around your initiatives you can keep focused even as you have to deal with different things. You have to deal with them well but you also have to keep everyone focused on the longer-term goals that you’re trying to achieve.”

Sir Michael Barber, former head of the UK Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit

“Political leaders struggling to deliver on their promises is nothing new – a look through the history books showcases stories of kings and emperors, presidents and prime ministers, seeking to improve the lives of their citizens and very often coming up short. Although huge government departments should – in theory at least – enable these leaders to deliver positive outcomes for citizens, they frequently become barriers to implementation. Overcoming these hurdles requires not only the setting of priorities and ambition – both key ingredients for transformation – but also defining what outcome is actually intended. Although the setting of targets can leave one open to charges of “control freakery” or “top-down command and control”, if the definition of success is not clear then the direction of travel will likely veer off course.”

David Halpern, chief executive of the UK’s Behavioural Sciences Team

“One of the biggest legacies of the introduction of behavioural sciences into government is that it has made credible the experimental approach. To incorporate experimental methods deeply into policymaking is a fundamental game-changer. We’re kind of in the dark ages on most policy and professional practices, and apart from a tiny percentage we don’t really know if things are truly effective, and we certainly don’t know if a small variation would make things more effective.”


Joel Klein, former commissioner of schools, New York City

“Government is now in the deliverology business. How long is the waiting time at a hospital? How long before emergency services show up at someone’s house or at a fire? All these things are quantifiable and you manage against them. Unfortunately most people in government grew up thinking they should manage against politics, and not against performance.”

Paula Acosta, director of strategic delivery for President Santos of Colombia

“It is far simpler to coordinate policies in the abstract than actually implement them in our territories – they are all different. This means we have to really focus on our alignment.”

The Public Impact Fundamentals