Public sector catch-up: experimental regulators, data standards, job losses

By Harley Dennett

Wednesday April 15, 2015

Experimental regulators

Ross Gittens explains how regulators can use behavioural economics to improve their efforts for better outcomes (hat tip to the Public Sector Innovation Toolkit). Gittens cites the Australian Securities and Investments Commission commissioning research from the Queensland University of Technology Business School to understand what attracts investors to hybrid securities, and found a link to overconfidence or “suffering from the illusion of control”:

“With better information about what it is that attracts some investors to buy hybrids, the commission should be able craft more effective warnings to people who need to think a lot more carefully before they leap in.

“Of course, it also helps to know how to word your warnings. A growing number of government regulatory bodies around the word have found that different ways of writing a letter can have a surprising effect on the way people respond to it – whether they ignore it or act on it.

“The commission asked the Queensland behavioural economics group to suggest ways of improving its letters to the directors of companies in liquidation, reminding them of their legal duty to co-operate with the liquidator in handing over the company’s books and providing any other information.

“Again the group conducted a laboratory experiment. Such experiments, using uni students, have their disadvantages, but they also have the advantage of giving researchers greater ability to control the many factors that could influence the decisions you’re studying.

“The experimenters recommended that the commission proceed to a randomised controlled trial where some directors were sent the present letter, while others were sent one of four different letters: one where the order of the points was reverse to make them easier to remember, one including a “social norm” noting that about 75 per cent of directors comply, one that allows directors to make active decisions that involve them in the process, and one that appeals to the good intentions most directors have.

“At least some of those changes are likely to significantly improve directors’ compliance. Practical regulators are getting much more useful advice from the behavioural brand of economists.”


Data standards

The UK civil service recently appointed its first chief data officer Mike Bracken. The need for such a job title is interim, he explained to Tech Republic‘s Alex Howard, rather than one that governments like Australia will also need to adopt. Bracken, previously the UK Government Digital Service’s chief information office, made some interesting comments about the wisdom and government data standards:

“I work with many people in their fifties and sixties. They’re wise in the ways of government. We have exported governance around the world, but it has been rooted in the analog age, not rooted in the situational awareness of today. Data won’t necessarily make people wise, but can change how wisdom in our system is used.

“We are widely acknowledged to have great administrators. I suspect our system of public administration is not modern enough and informed enough, however, for them to show their wisdom.

“We’ve lost touch with our users. That’s why we’ve approached digital services as we have, with constant feedback. We have lost touch with technology. That’s why we put in GDS. We have got to start rich data flows and make them two-way, because they are broken today. That’s not because we don’t have wise administrators: The systems are not configured for data.

“In the absence of standards, we have allowed a growing number of competing registers of data. There are literally multiple lists of the same things. We haven’t settled on canonical register of business data, for instance…”


Public sector job losses

Two more government bodies have confirmed imminent job cuts. The Department of Defence, which has a sizable reshape ahead of it, still has another 86 IT workers that it needs to shed according to an Estimates question on notice response(number 56). So far 42 workers have taken voluntary redundancies, of a planned 128 in total. The workers are being let go as part of outsourcing of centralised processing to Lockheed Martin.

In Western Australia, the government’s Water Corporation has ended uncertainty over the future of 300 full-time equivalent positions. According to the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association, staff were emailed the first official notification today. Redundancies will commence within weeks.


Social progress index

Australia has scored poor-to-mixed results on the latest scorecard from the Social Progress Imperative when compared to countries of similar GDP per capita: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States. However Australia scored above its peers in areas such as health, freedom of speech, tolerance of immigrants, and access to tertiary education.


Upcoming ANAO audits

The Australian National Audit Office has published its list of upcoming audits for the next few months:

  • Management of Interpreting Services
  • Funding and Management of the Nimmie-Caira System Enhanced Environmental Water Delivery Project
  • Administration of the Fair Entitlement Guarantee
  • Administration of the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements
    Materiel Sustainment Agreements
  • Administration of the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program
  • Promoting Organ and Tissue Donation
  • Delivery of the Petrol Sniffing Strategy in Remote Indigenous Communities
  • Administration of the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme
  • Management of Smart Centre’s Centrelink Telephone Services
  • The Award of Funding Under the Safer Streets Programme
  • Promoting Compliance with Superannuation Guarantee Obligations
  • ASIC’s Administration of Enforceable Undertakings
  • Verifying Identity in the Citizenship Program
  • Administration of the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register
  • Australian Government Security Vetting Agency
  • Management of Aid to Vanuatu
  • Administration of Capital Gains Tax for Individual and Small Business Taxpayers
  • Land 121 Phase 3B – Acquisition of Medium and Heavy Vehicles for the ADF
  • Administration of the Imported Food Inspection Scheme
  • Procurement Initiatives to Support Opportunities for Indigenous Australians
  • Administration of the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme
  • Early Intervention Services for Children with Disability
  • Entities Use of Limited Tendering
  • Administration of the Repatriation Transport Scheme
  • Administration of Travel Entitlements Provided to Parliamentarians
  • Qualifying for the Disability Support Pension
  • Regulation of Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Permits and Approvals

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