Government Reform: Insights for the Future of the Movement (Part 6)

 

Government Reform: Insights for the Future of the Movement (Part 6)

Monday, October 15th, 2012 - 12:16
Monday, October 15, 2012 - 12:10
World Bank seminars this past Spring surprised me when I learned that several developing countries seem to be on the cutting edge of the global performance movement. But the series offered some occasionally cautionary insights, as well, as to what may be next for the movement.

Some encouraging insights for the global performance management movement include:

  • Strong statutory and institutional structures and an investment in performance management systems seem to be more common in emerging countries.  For example, in Columbia this is embedded in their constitution and Kenya has created a department to lead the nation’s transformation efforts.  In more developed countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland, these efforts are more administratively-based, oftentimes at the discretion of the prime minister.
  • The use of multi-year national strategic plans is on the rise.  Again, this seems to be more common in emerging countries, such as Colombia’s National Development Plan, South Africa’s Vision 2015 plan, Malaysia’s Vision 2020, and Kenya’s Vision 2030 plan.  Even the U.S. last year committed to an annual governmentwide plan, beginning in 2014.
  • Countries are using a wide spectrum of tools and techniques to promote better performance and results.  The World Bank forum highlighted a wide range of approaches used around the globe to promote the development and use of performance information, including the use of scorecards, targets, national results frameworks, delivery units, public service agreements, etc.

However, there continue to be cautionary insights as well.  These include:

  • Concerns about the unintended consequences of the incentives created by measuring performance and setting performance targets seems to be of greater concern in more developed countries.  The examples given by speakers from New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Ireland are instructive, especially since they illustrated them with a number of examples.  Similar concern raised by some of the speakers from Africa also explains why the rate of adoption is slower than enthusiasts would want.  World Bank executive Nick Manning noted that if there isn’t gaming of performance measurement systems, then the system is probably ineffective.  The challenge isn’t avoiding gaming but rather managing it.
  • The political benefit of delivering on performance and results seems weak in developed countries.  This is particularly instructive for champions of performance management, since they cannot tell their political sponsors that improved performance necessarily translates into better reelection chances.  For example, the Blair and Brown governments seemed to have been penalized politically for their strong emphasis on performance targets.  One presenter, Gwyn Beven, noted that citizens’ personal experience in improved services doesn’t necessarily translate to political success.  You have to also engage the media if you want to change perceptions.
  • Reform fatigue” seems to be a common phenomenon across all countries.  For example, the presenter from Malaysia recounted 18 different waves of reform in recent years in his country, and a presenter from the UK said local governments are required to report regularly on 4,075 performance measures.

Nick Manning’s summary observations of emerging trends are probably a useful wrap up.  He noted that the World Bank itself is increasingly focusing on results achieved rather than dollars disbursed.  He says this is happening because there is greater recognition that the relationship between dollars and results is a lot more ambiguous than once believed.  And this is likely what will continue to power the performance movement in the future!

Graphic credit:  World Bank