A stupid diagram – the kind of thing we can’t get enough of here at ClubTroppo. And remember “Reflect, revise and Improve”. That’s RRI – capiche?. In short, you can’t get enough RRI. In fact you should be doing it now! Reflect, Revise Improve!
As I’ve suggested before, a key to the development of the modern world was the evolution of new public goods (the other key was the development of new private goods. Capiche? The world is an ecology of both at every level of society and the economy – about which I’ll write more). The grand, progressive project of the nineteenth century saw public sanitation and health, public education, public security (the police) and merit-based public service all come of age. All made a huge contribution – economically, socially, politically.
One core of governance is the flow of information. That’s why weights and measures are a key part of governance – appearing in the role of the sovereign in Magna Carta and (I think) right back to the age of Hammurabi. Likewise the need for integrity. The office of the Auditor General goes back into the dim dark past too. As the UK National Audit Office informs us “The earliest surviving mention of a public official charged with auditing government expenditure is a reference to the Auditor of the Exchequer in 1314.”
However, like so many other things, the role of Auditor General came into its own in the nineteenth century with the emergence of the Exchequer and Audit Department in 1866. As Wikipedia tells us:
The existence and work of the NAO are underpinned by three fundamental principles of public audit:
- Independence of auditors from the audited (executives and Parliament)
- Auditing for: regularity, propriety and value for money
- Public reporting that enables democratic and managerial accountability
But if the professionalisation of audit was brought on by the increasing complexity and professionalisation of government functions itself, surely what’s developed since requires us to go beyond the basic idea of audit for integrity – we want to do more than catch the misappropriation of money or even rank incompetence. As the three principles set out above make clear, the aspirations of the Auditor General function have risen well above this.
But though an external body might make a reasonable fist of auditing ‘regularity and propriety’, it can only provide a pretty rudimentary review of value for money. If one goes to the trouble of trying to find out, it turns out that, notwithstanding various short-lived crazes for ‘evidence-based policy’ (rather like the current craze-ette for government ‘agility’) very little government activity is guided by evidence. According to one study of US government program expenditure “less than $1 of every $100 the federal government spends is backed by even the most basic evidence”. I doubt things would be much different here.
As ever, policy development and even a lot of policy thinking hasn’t got far beyond these high-level slogans. Of course we want government activities to be evidence based. And yes, there really are lots of ways in which governments could take advantage of ‘big data’. But that’s the TED talk. Continue reading