Nicholas Gruen: why Australia needs an evaluator-general

PART TWO: Make evaluation a formal function of a new office, akin to the auditor-general, argues economist Nicholas Gruen. It furthers the principles of Westminster and restores credibility to evidence-based policymaking.

In the first part of this essay, I elaborated on evidence-based policymaking and service delivery, pointing to all manner of pathologies that must be dealt with to deliver something effective. The way in which KPIs distort reporting and can pervert incentives have been well known at least since Gosplan, though no doubt one could find examples of it in the ancient world.

But there are many more problems from the myriad practical challenges and compromises involved in measuring outputs and outcomes to pathologies of culture and delegation. Yet feedback between delivery of policy and services and measurement of outcomes is fundamental to building a high performing organisational capability. I also pointed to the grand, progressive project of the nineteenth century that saw all manner of institutional development.

Just as an aside, since I mentioned how antithetical academic culture is to evidence-based policy, I note that think tanks have evolved to fill that space but sadly they are mostly funded to push ideological barrows. The British have introduced ‘what works’ centres to fill the void. They’re focused on discovering and communicating information to practitioners in a way that is useful – whereas academics are engaged in an activity that (scandalously) many argue is largely indifferent to being useful or even right.

In any event, this post sets out the case for a new institution — the evaluator-general. The problems the institution must solve or, to speak more modestly, ameliorate, include:

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