Nine pieces of advice for successful policymaking

In an increasingly complex and uncertain governing environment, the need to learn from others is becoming increasingly important. This is why we at the Centre for Public Impact have set out to gain key insights on how others have created successful policies and to promote and share learnings from policy interventions from across the globe. 

This month we’ve released over 20 new case studies through our Public Impact Observatory assessing policy impact using the Public Impact Fundamentals. They’ve been developed with two great partners: the authors of the new book, Great Policy Successes, and Engage Britain who is leading the charge in bringing citizens together across the UK who are Tackling Challenges Together.

All these great new examples of successful policies and initiatives made us a bit nostalgic about those great conversations we’ve had along the way in our quest to build the world’s largest collection of public policy case studies. In our policymaker interview series over the past few years, we’ve spoken to people from government, the private and the third sectors involved in policies worldwide in order to understand how they have gone about achieving positive change.  

From South Africa to New Zealand, Abu Dhabi to the UK, we have picked out nine reflections on successful policymaking that we couldn’t help but share:

Don’t forget about action

Belinda Wood, Manager, Western Cape Government’s Delivery Support Unit 

“What makes policy effective for me – and for a delivery unit –  is when as much time, as much thought, as much priority, as much budget is given to the implementation of the policy as was given to the development of the policy. Ensuring [firstly], that the strategic framework is sound in the policy, but then crucially also ensuring that you give as much attention to making sure that the policy is implemented effectively.”

Minimise the distance between government and people

Joy Bonaguro, Chief Data Officer, City and County of San Francisco

“Almost everyone on my team has a design background. We indoctrinate everyone into design thinking, which is about empathy and being centred on the user and where they are at. We very much try to understand what their priorities and their issues are. And then we meet those before we expose them to new ways of doing or thinking. […] So I think there’s a humbleness in approach where you minimise the change and minimise the difference between you and the people you’re working with.”

Share the vision

Josep Pique,  Executive President of La Salle Technova Barcelona 

“You have to co-create and share the vision of your city with all the agents. Involve universities, companies, government policy-makers and society (the quadruple helix). If you agree with them on the vision, you can share and agree with them on the strategy, and you can agree and share the actions – combining the actions of everybody to work towards achieving the vision of the future.”

Don’t just focus on efficiency

Lim Siong Guan, former Head of the Singapore Civil Service 

“A focus on efficiency simply says that look, the organization is the most important thing. [But] delivering service to the public is the most important thing. We need to address people’s hearts and minds, address the civil servant themselves, saying “we understand the pressures that you are under. We want to be helpful to you. We want to give you the opportunity to do a great job and if you do a great job all that credit belongs to you. […] The reason everything is better is because of you and we give you the credit and we give you the honours.”

Be curious

Maria Robertson, Deputy Chief Executive, Service Delivery and Operations, New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs 

“We all need to start from a position of “I don’t know”. Don’t come thinking you have the answers. Come with the notion of “I don’t know what is next. I don’t know how we will do this.” And then set about being curious and involve the public, involve the people that we serve, and involve them really early. Go and ask people what they want from their government. What are the things that are going to make their lives better? How would access to public services be easier for them?”

Understand real needs of people you are serving

Maria Robertson, Deputy Chief Executive, Service Delivery and Operations, New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs 

“[We wanted to] design a service that really reflected the needs of the person that it was designed for, to get it right. […] If we don’t think about the need, and we don’t understand the need, or if we’re just stabbing in the dark and trying to guess what that looks like, we’re not going to get it right. [So] my team goes out and talks to the people.”

Stick to one idea at a time

Daniel Sjoberg, Operations Developer, The Swedish Companies Registration Office

“In order to improve the efficiency of policy within government, you should stick to one idea. Deliver on [that one idea] instead of reinventing it all the time. You should reinvent at some point, but when you do it before you have delivered, you cannot really know if your first idea was any good or not.”

Learn and iterate

Matthew Klein, Executive Director, NYC Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity 

“[Within a public project], there is a range of perspective and skillsets required; project management, data analysis, being able to understand evidence, being able to engage with stakeholders… The most important thing is for policymakers to develop the capacity to learn and iterate.”

Be honest about the challenges

Simon Rowell, Senior Director, Strategy and Market Development, Big Society Capital 

“I think it’s really hard for people to really give [government] proper advice unless they know what government is thinking – at least at the outset. I think there’s a real scope for government to be more open and actually align initial positions and views about the current situation. Not saying “this is our position”, but actually being upfront about the particular challenge government is trying to address, what they are wrestling with.”