Monday, February 15, 2016

How can we benchmark and judge whether government decision-making is improving, or getting worse?

I've had an interesting day today, with a number of meetings with different businesses to discuss various projects and activities they're undertaking that are affected to a significant extent by government decisions.

In three of those meetings business people, from vastly different businesses, told me about recent decisions by government agencies that had made their work more expensive and difficult - in all cases without any consultation as to the business impacts and from a public sector perspective that appeared to lack any understanding of commercial requirements.

From my perspective, as someone who often champions the public sector as hard working, diligent and committed to good public outcomes, it was disappointing to hear a similar story echoed by three different businesses in different economic sectors, dealing with different agencies in different circumstances, but with one common theme.

A lack of consultation.

In all three cases the businesses were financially out-of-pocket due to poorly considered government decisions adding unnecessary red tape, stress and repetition over systems that had been working relatively well.

In all three cases the imposition of new requirements was made at a public service level by senior bureaucrats without commercial experience who did not seek to consult with potentially affected businesses to assay the impact of the changes they implemented.

I've spoken previously about how in my former role leading Delib Australia we found that, compared to Canada, the US and the UK, red tape in Australia added about 40% to the operating costs of our business - this is excluding business costs such as wages, products, systems and marketing.

I've previously spoken with business people who have found that Australian governments impose poorly considered, even contradictory, requirements on their operations, making their work unnecessarily complex.

However to have three businesses in one day, all 20-year veterans in their industries, detail to me exactly why the decisions by agencies in their sectors were flawed, how they hurt the end consumers of products and services, how they added cost and complexity to businesses and how they actually hurt the government's own ability to access the best talent and services, was a new low for me.

I believe that a key metric in government over time should be that the decisions made at both political and public service levels should lead to improved outcomes for citizens, less overhead via red tape on businesses and more cost-effective sourcing of services for governments.

This of course must take into account the competing values and needs and maintain a safety net underneath individuals to ensure they are able to bounce back as productive members of society after unpredictable calamities or inappropriate conduct by others.

To measure this metric governments need to benchmark what people think of the decisions that affect them now and then be both regularly consulted as to whether actual and proposed changes will improve outcomes rather than stifling innovation, employment and growth.

This starts and ends with consultation - finding out what people think now about a particular regulatory or legislative regime, inviting their views into any discussion as to changes and asking them after a change is implemented to verify that it has had the intended impact.

From my conversations today the impression I had was that government was simply a black box, spitting out red tape and changing its rules and approaches whenever someone internal felt the need. No consultation was being undertaken with the companies or end consumers (citizens) affected, and these decisions were based on blind assumptions made by career public servants - assumptions that could have been rapidly tested and verified or dismissed.

No matter what government does or doesn't do, agencies won't easily, quickly and largely painlessly get the setting right without extensive consultation with the right groups throughout our society.

There's wisdom out there in the community. If governments and public servants don't tap into it and damage the fabric of a community, employment opportunities or add unnecessary cost onto their own procurement processes, there's no-one to blame but them.

Sure agencies can argue it is expensive and time-consuming to consult, but it is far costlier to the overall nation to avoid consultation and make unnecessary and costly mistakes.

The three businesses I spoke to all laughed off the absurdity and stupidity of the agency decisions that had affected them. They didn't expect government to be able to do better and saw it simply a lumbering dinosaur whose feet they had to avoid.

Governments can do much better than this. Pubic services can do much better than this. All it takes is a shift in the culture of internal expertise to recognise that consulting can provide perspectives and a deeper understanding of situations than any career public policy professional ever can.

No comments:

Post a Comment