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Can Governments Actually Deliver Help To Their Citizens? (2016/10/17) ( Does it really improve the lives of citizens by enhancing government performance?)
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A South American government cut hospital waiting lists by 80%. An Asian country reduced street crime by 35% in a single year. Another Asian country increased tourism by 70%. These are all real-life examples of governments going beyond what might be called Delivery 1.0 (delivering outcomes) to Delivery 2.0 (delivering better, faster, cheaper outcomes, and being seen to do so). In each case, governments made progress from already well-designed and well-executed delivery programs.

Here are four lessons from our experience of these and other delivery programs.

I. DEFINE YOUR PRIORITIES

The key is to focus on the value actually delivered to the population. The best approach is to choose three to six priorities (no more) and then stick to them for two or three years. Avoid the temptation to add more and more goals; that only divides attention and increases the chance of failure. Choosing a small number of goals also goes a long way toward securing the support of senior civil servants, who often complain, with good reason, about having a never-ending list of priorities.

Next, establish numerical metrics for each priority. These must measure outcomes, not inputs. For example, don’t target higher technology spending or more police officers, but a specific decrease in crime or improvement in education. These targets should be published, as should progress against them, both in absolute and relative terms (in the form of rankings). The U.K. government has done this in the form of public-service agreements.

How ambitious should such targets be? They must be ambitious enough to represent real improvement and to force changes, yet modest enough to be achievable and build momentum. One approach is to create a portfolio of goals, at varying levels of aspiration.

II. INCREASE THE PRESSURE TO PERFORM

It’s a riche, but it’s true: what gets measured gets managed. Performance improves when it is managed. Internal performance management should begin by assigning accountability for outcomes to individuals. Once accountability is established, performance dialogues—regular conversations about each goal—are essential. One prime minister reviews the progress of six priorities every week; every six months, he holds a face-to-face performance dialogue with each minister.

Performance improves when it is managed.

These conversations must be based on standardized, clear management data (ideally available online) that can be reviewed and managed in real time. And the dialogues must be reinforced by rigorous evaluation and consequences (good and bad). Many governments are constrained in this regard; they may not be able to reward great performances with bonuses or condemn bad ones by firing the perpetrators. But they can publicly acknowledge outstanding people, promote highfliers faster, and move laggards to lower-profile roles.

III. ESTABLISH SMALL, HIGH-POWERED DELIVERY UNITS

Many governments are setting up delivery units to work through the relevant public-sector agencies. Some delivery units struggle. Others are very successful. Three things make the difference:

IV. ENSURE VISIBLE SPONSORSHIP FROM THE TOP

The head of government should play an active, visible role in setting aspirations, making decisions, and removing obstacles to success. That means setting aside a sizable amount of time—at least eight hours a month—to Delivery 2.0 initiatives.

Top-level sponsorship signals the importance of the program to the rest of the government. Ministers and civil-service leaders take notice. And this sponsorship should be sustained so that when the initial excitement of the launch fades, the work continues. One prime minister chaired a two-hour performance review of priority areas, involving all senior officials, every two weeks. This had an enormous effect on the success of the transformation program.

iV. ENGAGE STAKEHOLDERS

From the outset, a government must make its priorities clear to all stakeholders. It should begin with, and persist in, reinforcing a single narrative that includes the case for change and the projected benefits. This is only the beginning. Stakeholders need to be part of the action from beginning to end.

Soliciting early input can help them get involved and stay involved. One Southeast Asian government invited the media, the opposition, and the public to a series of "open days," in which the proposed targets were discussed. Twenty thousand people attended.

It’s important to acknowledge stakeholders—for example, by recognizing effective players or by hosting events with groups such as police officers or teachers to thank them for their work. Involving the public can also be effective. Initiatives such as volunteer policing can engage the public in the fight against crime.

Even in the best of times, making government work effectively is difficult. Objectives are not always clear, and they change with new leadership; different departments operate like silos; and it can be difficult to mobilize an entrenched civil service that may be focused more on policy than outcomes. But difficult is not the same thing as impossible. We have seen governments around the world use Delivery 2.0 to meet their challenges—even in times of crisis.