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Article Article September 27th, 2016

Learning the lessons of impact: introducing the Public Impact Observatory

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What links a computer-assisted learning project in India with an open government programme in Italy? Or an energy and health programme in New Zealand with Iceland's tourism industry? All are just a few of the stories of public impact which can be found in The Public Impact Observatory, a unique database of public policy case studies put together by the Centre for Public Impact.

The Observatory showcases hundreds of examples of public policy succeeding or failing, drawing out the key lessons for future policy work. These case studies cover different regions of the world and eight key themes: city/urban, economic/finance, education, energy/environment, health, infrastructure, justice, and technology. Each study outlines the challenge that a public body sought to address, along with its objectives, methodology and impact.

Taking aim

No government sets out to fail. Around the world, policies are designed to make a difference and achieve a positive impact. And yet, as our stories demonstrate, policymakers often struggle to turn what sounds like a good idea on paper, to real-life progress. Why is this the case?

Firstly, there is no magic bullet. Turning an idea into impact is something far easier to write, than to do. The sheer complexities of life in government - in both departmental headquarters and the frontline - means that there is no simple formula suitable for a cut and paste. During the course of our work, we have spoken to practitioners and academics, frontline workers and department heads, and a strong consensus quickly emerged that governments need to be able to adapt. Contexts, backgrounds, systems and cultures all differ - something that policymakers need to be able to recognise and respond to in order to achieve their objectives.

Secondly, there is no agreement about what exactly "success" is. This means different things to different people and different organisations. Similarly, the task facing policymakers is made harder due to mixed opinions about precisely what influences the impact of government initiatives, as well as what people mean by “public impact”.

This is where the Public Impact Fundamentals come in, a framework that sets out how governments can improve the results they achieve for citizens. We have found that three things are fundamental to improved public impact: Legitimacy, Policy and Action.

Legitimacy - the underlying support for a policy and the attempts to achieve it; Policy - the design quality of policies intended to achieve impact; and Action - translation of policies into real-world effect. Within each Fundamental are three elements, which collectively contribute to performance and lead to improved public impact. Each of the case studies in our Observatory are analysed and evaluated against the nine elements of the Public Impact Fundamentals. Each element is then given a rating on a four-point scale ranging from weak to strong.

Telling a story

We hope that the Observatory - free to use and available to all - will prove to be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the study of public impact and how governments can improve their performance.  In one place there are hundreds of stories of public impact, good and bad, excellent and disappointing.

A key aspect of our mission at the Centre for Public Impact is to exchange ideas and inspire governments to strengthen the public impact of their organisations. We want to highlight what has worked, where challenges require new approaches and draw out the experiences that lead to a greater understanding of how public impact can be achieved.

The Public Impact Observatory will help us achieve this end. Welcome, its doors are now open....



Written by:

Joel Tito Fellow, Centre for Public Impact
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