NZ initiative to lift policy performance in the public service

By The Mandarin

Wednesday August 31, 2016

The Policy Project launch in the Grand Hall at Parliament. Photo by Mark Coote.

An initiative expected to lift the quality and consistency of public policy-making in New Zealand will benefit the lives of all New Zealanders, according to one of its chief supporters, the Prime Minister.

Speaking at a special launch in Wellington last week, Prime Minister John Key said NZ’s public service was well respected globally. But there was always room for improvement and the project to improve policy quality across government, known as the Policy Project, was designed to deliver on that.

“New Zealand is fortunate in the calibre of people who are attracted into the public service. They have helped successive administrations steer our country through difficult problems, seize opportunities and position us as a confident, outward looking, open and optimistic country.”

Key said any good organisation had an eye to the future — maintaining and building capability to continuously improve its offering to its clients and customers.

Three frameworks to help policymakers

The three frameworks developed by the Policy Project in collaboration with the NZ policy community focus on the policy shop, policy people, and policy advice.

Together, the frameworks, and the tools that have been developed to sit under them, provide an infrastructure for improving policy quality, skills and capability.

  1. The Policy Quality Framework – it sets out what great policy advice looks like and what enables it. Good advice engages decision makers and helps them take a decision, it is clear about the problem/opportunity, is informed by evidence, it balances what is desirable, possible and cost-effective, and it is savvy.
  2. The Policy Skills Framework – it sets out what great policy advisors looks like – what knowledge they have, what skills they need to have, and what behaviour we expect of them. It is designed for use by individuals building their own skills profile and for managers building high performing policy teams.
  3. The Policy Capability Framework – it sets out what makes for a high performing policy shop – with lines of inquiry to assess factors like stewardship (investing in capability for the future), systems and processes for delivering quality advice, and being customer-centric.

Key said free and frank advice to ministers was vital for good decision-making.

“It’s one of the strengths of our constitutional tradition of an independently appointed public service. Officials should actively poke holes in things in the interests of getting a better decision … ministers need to listen carefully and respectfully too”.

Key referred to amendments to the State Sector Act to make stewardship a formal responsibility of public service chief executive.

“To be able to fulfil this responsibility, public service chief executives will need to be able to advise their ministers on future risks and opportunities in their portfolio areas. They will also need to be thinking about what priorities a future government may have. I expect ministers to engage constructively with their chief executives in making space for longer term thinking”.

A united policy community

Andrew Kibblewhite, head of the policy profession and chief executive of the NZ Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, said he wanted to ensure the business of providing advice in New Zealand continues to be world-leading.

In outlining his vision for success, he said: “Our advice is based on the best available evidence and user insights — an understanding of the real lives of real people — we know what works and we keep striving for new and better ways of doing things. We can identify the ‘big issues’ (whether future, looming or cross-cutting) and can mobilise to collectively find solutions that improve the lives of New Zealanders.

Kibblewhite said the Policy frameworks were designed by and for the NZ policy community.

“I’m proud of the frameworks the policy community has built for itself. People from across a broad range of policy perspectives, including analysts, managers, academics and HR people, have been involved every step of the way.”

The frameworks can be used individually — or as a package. As a package they provide a mutually reinforcing infrastructure for improving policy quality and capability. Kibblewhite called on policy leaders to adopt and use the frameworks in their departments.

“We now need to embed these frameworks in our thinking and our behaviour. This is about us thinking system and not just agency — one policy community that supports the government of the day in the service of the people of New Zealand,” Kibblewhite said.

Continue reading: Kibblewhite’s full speech from the launch.

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