Measuring success and reform challenge

By The Mandarin

Friday June 26, 2015

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Tom Burton: Historically, the public sector hasn’t been as strong as it should be around that. If you’re thinking about its data sets and how it measures all these, or how it actually gathers the intelligence to be able to make that insight, that says, gee we’re succeeding here, on that proposition?

Janine O’Flynn: I think everything from — there’s a great movement emerging now, coming out of the U.S. catching on around this idea of Moneyball for government, and those who saw the famous film—

Tom Burton: Yep, the Michael Lewis piece?

Janine O’Flynn: That’s right, or think about how we use data to make decisions. There’s a great sort of trend that’s emerged out of the U.S., particularly around that, but spreading, and different countries are adopting it in different ways. But it takes us back to that fundamental question — what are we trying to achieve? What are we measuring, and why are we measuring? What are we going to use that information for?

Without some clarity about that, you tend to generate some cynicism within the system about why the data is needed and what is being used for. When you can make a case that it can help drive performance improvements, that it can lead to better outcomes for citizens and clients, I think you get a much better buy-in in that environment.

Tom Burton: Yeah, and there’s something very powerful about very clear outcomes stated publicly, everyone’s bought in on it, there’s engagement around that, so it brings the pieces together. The piece I’m very interested in as well is, change is with us and change is happening almost sort of permanently. How do you build that, the innovation and reform piece, into this sort of thinking?

Janine O’Flynn: Some would say this is the hardest of all, of course, but part of the reason for that is it captures all the others. So, reform, change, innovation — all of these are about, on the innovation side, sometimes quite radical disruption, some say creative destruction of a system. And there’s big debates about how much appetite we have for that in government, whether government can innovate or not. I think most of those who are in the system would argue that of course they can and do, and part of that comes from working collaboratively, and in different ways with other sectors.

The reform piece is always the toughest, because sometimes that’s driven politically, not by managers and leaders in the system. They might be gifted a reform package to implement, which may or may not help to reach the strategic goals that have been set in another part of that system. But it really asks us to rethink, what are the goals? Do we reorganise to try to meet them? How do we redesign performance regimes, potentially, to help us do that? How do we think about those different types of boundary challenges?

So, for me, that one is in a sense the culmination of the others. Are our organising models working or not? Are the performance regimes helping us to try and really reach those goals and outcomes that we want, and if not, does that trigger reform? One of the big challenges we see in practice, of course, is multiple reform programs simultaneously operating, and sometimes [it’s] very difficult to ever get delivery of great outcomes on one because we’re constantly in reform mode.

Tom Burton: But I suppose you’ve got to stand back from it. That feels like a very dynamic environment, isn’t it? I think you’re really saying that you’re not just dealing with a nice static sort of academic model here. It’s just the real world of it.

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