Delivery dynamics: voices from around the world

Kate Josephs

Executive Director, Performance Improvement Council, USA

The challenging (and exciting) thing about the delivery of complex outcomes and public services is that there is no single approach, no ‘science’ you can apply universally that will guarantee results. But, at a very high level, there are certain things that any one charged with delivery in government or public sector organisations can pay attention to in order to create the right conditions. I would highlight three in particular.

First, have a framework. This can be seen as bureaucratic but it is very important. Without a clearly articulated sense of the priorities of the day it becomes very hard to implement the routines, rhythms and relentless follow-up that are so important in driving delivery.

Second, you need to be clear about the political authority you have and use it to the best effect. One of our jobs as public servants is to equip political leaders with the tools that enable them to make best use of the results data that is becoming increasingly available. This includes things as simple as asking the sorts of questions that demonstrate a clear and unflinching focus on implementation.

And third, something I have come increasingly to realise during the course of my career in the UK and the US – capability-building is critical if you want your efforts to be sustainable. Getting to a point where you have a performance culture, where public servants can be advocates, champions and coaches in their own organisations for the sorts of practices that drive better delivery – that requires investing in building capabilities. Sometimes it comes down to demystifying what this all is all about. A scary amount of all this is just common sense.

We also need to think about it in terms of the future of public services. Being able to deliver effectively in fast-changing and more complicated systems requires a different way of thinking about the kind of skill sets that really matter. We need to supplement traditional assumptions about what it takes to be a strong public servant – yes, we need the ability to write an incisive brief or conduct a rigorous policy analysis – but we also need increased emphasis on enterprise-wide thinking and how to operate across boundaries, cope with ambiguity and inspire collaboration. These are the skills that are increasingly necessary for driving delivery – both now and into the future.

Kathy Hall

Deputy Head, Implementation Unit, UK

Much of government delivery actually comes down to basic common sense. When people step away from their day job, it becomes clearer that this is how governments should be run, it’s just that sometimes things get in the way.

Simple things are important. A good example is agreeing what the goal is and how it can be achieved. Good planning is also critical – identifying who it is you are seeking to influence and how to go about it. And then policymakers need to focus on the actual impact by asking what is happening on the frontline and how can I find out? They also need to understand what is working and what isn’t.

In the implementation unit this is one of our raisons d’être. For us, it means identifying the priorities, as well as getting excellent data from the department but also from other sources like the private sector. We also continually get out to the frontline and make sure we’re not just speaking to the chief executives but also to the people on the ground and the work they do – seeing good and bad examples.

We then have to bring this back and present the findings truthfully and honestly. A big priority for us is “speaking truth unto power” and doing it in impactful ways so that they really get the message. And it’s not just about presenting findings and leaving them to it – you have to support people and departments as they seek to implement the proposed changes, returning time after time to make sure that change is sustainable.

Aizaz Akhtar

Head of Special Monitoring Unit, Chief Minister’s Office, Punjab, Pakistan

I have spent the last year setting up the Speecial Monitoring Unit (SMU) in Punjab, Pakistan. The main objective was to create a central coordinating and problem solving body to ensure the government of Punjab achieves its goals for the citizens.

Today, SMU is working as a government delivery unit for the chief minister, where the use of Sir Michael Barber’s delivery approach is central to bringing change. We monitor and assure delivery of the chief minister’s top priorities by providing technical assistance and any external help needed by the departments. In the process, the unit acts as a central repository and engine room of data which drives analysis, performance monitoring and visualisation of all roadmaps and implementation plans.

We use stocktakes with the chief minister to drive delivery and with the current leadership in place it has proved to be a highly effective way to achieve fast results. In just over a year, we have started to see tangible results in primary and secondary health care, for example. Three more roadmaps on water, sanitation and tax reforms are about to be launched and we are making great progress on introducing public private partnerships in health and education. To make this progress, developing an organisational ethos of leadership, professional development and mentoring has been essential. With this culture in place we have now started to attract top foreign and local graduates to contribute to Government of Punjab.

The delivery unit in Punjab is now a reality and is well accepted by top officials as a unit which brings to the table thought leadership, pragmatism and a culture of success. Building the right relationships in the government has been extremely important and achieving tangible results has further strengthened these ties. This top down approach to bringing change works but now I am even more focused on ensuring that the changes we are introducing are irreversible. For this, instilling this culture of delivery into the line management is extremely important.

To do this I have engaged officials for a capacity building exercise where we will go through major principles of “deliverology” and as we build implementation plans, capacity constraints and required skills will be identified. To bridge these gaps, on-job trainings on delivery and short courses on building core skills will be introduced for officials who would be part of the capacity building program. This new kind of “guiding coalition” will potentially give birth to delivery officials and leaders who shall continue to drive change for years to come, so that people of Punjab can benefit.

Dustin Brown

Deputy Assistant Director for Management, Office of Management and Budget, USA

For me, government delivery comes down to finding a way to develop a performance framework which helps incentivise leaders to spend time focusing on results or implementation amidst the challenges that come up during the course of their daily activities. Ensuring that leaders have some time to focus on implementation at the leadership level – regardless of issues like the latest media story or legislative crisis – has been one of the most important aspects that we have tried to build into our system.

This framework needs to be helpful to leaders but also helpful to the organisation they oversee. It should create a clear alignment from the top all the way down to frontline delivery on what we are trying to achieve, and unblocking the barriers that prevent us from making a difference to people’s lives.

When ministers have less time to focus on delivery, it underlines the importance of getting these systems built up and entrenched into the organisation, making sure that they are useful, and genuinely helping staff to work through delivery challenges systematically – wherever they may be. There is never going to be a simple rule or answer that is going to solve this, but if the organisational culture is such that you can talk about problems or what’s not going well openly and transparently then delivery will move forward. Similarly, it’s also important to search for successes that help identify what is working – the best organisations do this very well. It’s our job at the Office of Management and Budget to help more organisations adopt this approach.

A good example is the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They had a very clear focus on achieving measurable goals which would make a real difference to the lives of those people, like homeless veterans and others, who need housing assistance. They built partnerships with other agencies that were critical in actually bringing about frontline delivery.

Alberto Leyton

Lead Public Sector Management Specialist, Governance Practice, World Bank

The World Bank is seeing increased demand from governments to focus more on delivery and implementation. In response, the Bank has adjusted its approach in order to better understand the country’s problems and bring solutions from other parts of the world – including best practices – in order to help them implement this agenda. This is all linked to our overall goals of boosting shared prosperity and ending extreme poverty within a generation.

The concept of delivery is at the centre of what we do and the support we provided to governments across the globe. This is because whatever you try and do, and whatever programme you try to implement, there are always obstacles in the way. It’s always easier to focus on policy design and strategy because we have that experience and the Bank has always done this. By contrast, the process of implementation is harder. It’s good, though, that the majority of staff at the Bank are familiar with the use of data and evidence – which facilitates the delivery process. What we are trying to do now is link evidence into the frontline of implementation.

There are lots of good examples of how to do this. Let me share one example in Romania, where the Bank is currently supporting the establishment of a delivery unit. One of the big challenges they are trying to address is to increase individuals’ tax compliance. Through proper analysis, we’ve found that difficulties in paying taxes could be overcome by simple adjustments in the online platforms they have and by better taxpayer services. Through experimentation, we’ve seen tremendous impact in raising compliance rates just by simplifying the online procedure and reducing the cost of filing online. Now that it has been tested, the challenges remain in massively expanding this solution. This shows how a small change can make a big difference, and it is this type of delivery success that can be replicated in other countries.

Mariano Lafuente

Senior Public Management Specialist, Inter-American Development Bank

Delivery is a new way of governing. I lead a regional project on this topic for Latin America and the Caribbean, where we have seen over the last few years a trend to strengthen the centre of government – traditionally strong from a political basis but less so from a technical basis. Finance ministries have previously led the management of governments mostly through the budget in ways that have not always led directly to results.

However, inspired by the delivery movement, we’re now seeing more countries step up efforts to establish clear planning and clear targets for their policy priorities, as well as strengthening monitoring and coordination across agencies. These are functions we think will lead to stronger results – both for the government and for the citizen.

This shift is due to two main reasons. Thanks to Latin America’s strong economic boom over the past decade, the more fiscal view of public management has given way to governments can actually focusing on the policy results they want to achieve. At the same time, citizens are demanding more and better services and government is under more pressure to deliver.

As happens in most developing countries, governments in Latin America and the Caribbean often lack capability at the centre of government in order to focus fully on achieving delivery results. At the Inter-American Development Bank, we work on this topic largely through two main channels: (1) we generate knowledge, by documenting case studies, proposing a new methodological framework and a self-assessment tool, and (2) we provide technical assistance to governments with the support of current and former practitioners in their efforts to move towards this new way of governing.

Ismail Akhalwaya

Head of Operation Phakisa (Big, Fast, Results), Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, South Africa

In South Africa, central leadership is particularly important – both at the ministerial level and within each department. The political leader needs to create the space, and the bureaucracy needs to seize that opportunity, to drive a process of delivery. What is emerging for us, very importantly, is the increasing use of data and of evidence, as these can be used to target interventions and then make corrections as you go along.

Since 2009 we have oriented government towards focusing on outcomes – moving it from being input and activity based. It’s a big mindset shift and one that has been heavily influenced by South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP). This is a 20-year vision – fully supported by all the political parties – which sets out where we want to go and covers the whole government. It helps us produce strategic five-year targets and spotlight the outcomes we want to achieve.

Departments can look at the vision and then craft their strategic plans to meet these goals. This also translates to annual plans and budgets. It means that in this financial year we have line of sight, because we have this anchor of the NDP and it shows where the budgets are going and how they are aligned with the overall strategic proposals. Without this longer-term vision you run the risk of short-term politically driven programmes and outputs that sometimes do not meet the long-term ambitions.

We are also now embarking on a programme of identifying where we have implementation challenges and bringing in stakeholders from across the public and private sectors to work through these problems and agree how to put them right – using Malaysia’s experiences as a model. We use six-week planning exercises to come up with detailed implementation plans that everyone buys into. Then you can monitor implementation and intervene where necessary.

Nowook Park

Director, Center for Performance Evaluation and Management, South Korea

Our government delivery system is tightly linked to budget allocation and consists of comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of government spending programmes. In this process, we give ratings to each programme – identifying which are effective and which are less so. This then guides decisions around budget cuts. Budget increases are unusual but if the programmes are effective then we do our best to honour their requests. If the programmes are ineffective we recommend that they consider at least a 10% budget cut. This all sends a very strong signal to the line ministries that they need to be effective.

We have been using this approach for the past 10 years – ever since the Asian financial crisis. Even though we recovered within three years, the crisis raised some long-term questions about our fiscal sustainability due to things like projected social security spending. So, we had to take some pre-emptive measures, rooted in public financial management.

The system is now very well established and has been used by both liberal and conservative governments – and it’s thanks to our track record. A good example is our impact on welfare to work programmes. Hundreds of local centres previously gave out fixed amounts of money every year to provide social security support – without any performance implications. When we examined the programme we asked the ministry how many recipients became economically independent as a result of this programme, but this data wasn’t available. For the ministry, success was based on how many participated and whether or not other social indicators were under control.

That was one way of looking at the programme but, for the finance ministry, money talks – and so we looked into it and found only about 2% became economically independent. We started a pilot programme to measure a new design, and now about 40% of participants have become employed for more than six months: a big move forwards that has resulted in the programme being rolled out nationwide.