'Room for improvement' on government impact, Australia told

By David Donaldson

June 15, 2015

Only 1% of Australian public servants believe government is “highly effective” at achieving impact, according to the Centre for Public Impact.

The survey of 174 Australian public officials found while only 1% agreed with the option that government was “highly effective — little room for improvement”, 55% of respondents stated they believed government was “effective” with “some room for improvement”. 39% answered that government was “somewhat ineffective” with “considerable room for improvement”, and only 5% chose “highly ineffective — improvement possible in almost every respect”.

CPI, which is funded by Boston Consulting Group but operating as an independent not-for-profit organisation, surveyed 1102 public officials across 25 countries. On a global level, 7% answered that government was “highly effective”, 47% “effective”, 37% “somewhat ineffective” and 8% “highly ineffective”.

Globally, public servants in non-policy roles were less likely to answer that government was highly effective or effective than their counterparts in policy positions. Those in more senior jobs were more likely to see government as being effective, with those in lower positions most likely to choose the options somewhat or highly ineffective.

government impact

Poor coordination was the most frequently cited barrier to achieving government impact, followed by lack of funding, lack of leadership, balancing political considerations, lack of clear implementation planning and lack of clarity about goals.

Only 21% of respondents said they used agreed impact metrics across all projects over the past three years, with 54% saying they had used this on some projects and 25% responding that it wasn’t done on any projects. 21% said they had clear overall ownership and accountability on all projects, and 21% said all projects had an explicit theory of changes linking actions to impact.

government impact reasons

Speaking to an online dialogue for the CPI ahead of its launch in London on Tuesday, June 16, Governor of Maryland and United States presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley explained the importance of government impact:

“All of us around the world are trying to address that yearning people have to see their government actually working. So this is not only about getting things done, it’s also about restoring public trust.”

Speaking at the dialogue about designing policy in context, Jocelyne Bourgon, President of Public Governance International and President Emeritus of the Canada School of Public Service, said:

“Generally it’s a very good idea to think about opening up the process of framing a policy response with those who will be directly affected, with those who have special expertise, with those who have special tools and instruments that could be brought to bear to be part of the solution.

“… Then you will start crafting your implementation strategy. Implementation is not separate from the design, is not separate from the policy decision. As you do implement, guess what? You’re going to learn a lot.

“… You need to be smart enough to collect the information to redesign. So if you think of policy response not as a definitive answer because we’re supposed to know it all, but we change the mindset that makes it possible to engage, involve, encourage participation, a different sharing of responsibility, corporate action in some cases, and adaptation, so that we continue to evolve as circumstances change, we will have better impact and greater likelihood of success.”

The survey also inadvertently highlights the limits of such opinion surveys, and cross-country comparisons in particular: while only 1% of Australian public servants saw government as being highly effective, in China that number was 22%.

The Germans, on the other hand, were even more pessimistic. While 44% of Australians and only 24% of Chinese answered that government was somewhat or highly ineffective, this figure for the 76 Germans questioned was 91%.

Unless government in Germany really is far less effective than in Australia or China, these data show that expectations and culture also play a significant role in perceptions of government.

government impact comparison

The centre’s executive director Adrian Brown highlighted the need for governments to focus more on delivery. He said in a statement:

“Recent findings from the OECD suggest that only 40% of citizens trust their government. Our global Impact Imperative survey provides key insights on why this might be, by highlighting the serious obstacles that governments face when attempting to deliver meaningful and measurable impact for their citizens.

“More than nine out of every ten public officials worldwide think governments could do more to achieve impact for their citizens. This needs to change, and that is why the Centre for Public Impact was created.”

Sir Michael Barber, Co-Chair of the Centre for Public Impact, said:

“The results of the Impact Imperative survey show that governments all over the world need to act now to put delivery at the top of the agenda. This is one of the greatest challenges they will face in the 21st century.”

The CPI is overseen by a board of trustees co-chaired by Sir Michael Barber, the former head of the UK Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, and Hans-Paul Buerkner, the Chairman of BCG.

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