Garbage in, garbage out and civil service effectiveness

The often good Institute for Government has added to the world’s league ladders. As Woody Allen says in Annie Hall “All you people do in California is give away awards. Adolf Hitler: Greatest Fascist Dictator”. Anyway, who doesn’t need an effective civil service? I know Australia does. So does pretty much everyone come to think of it. So why not have a civil service effectiveness index? Well why not indeed. Certainly if you published it you’d get into the memeosphere and that would be good for your KPIs. But how would you measure civil service effectiveness?

And how would you do that. Well pretty obviously civil service effectiveness will comprise many things. You can see all the dimensions of this index in our own spider graph. Now some people might be sceptical that you can measure these these things. But they’d be wrong. For instance it turns out that, as the report tells us, policy making has “four themes: the quality of policy advice; the role of civil servants in setting strategic policy direction; policy proposal coordination across government; and monitoring policy implementation. Some proxy metrics have been used for measuring the quality of policy advice. A fifth theme, assessing the timeliness and accuracy of policy delivery, will be added when data becomes available. All data for this indicator is drawn from the Bertelsmann Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI).

Here’s the SGI’s comment on this question for two countries.

How effectively do informal coordination mechanisms complement formal mechanisms of inter-ministerial coordination?

And here’s SGI’s commentary on how Finland’s going.

Intersectoral coordination has generally been perceived as an important issue in Finnish politics, but rather few institutional mechanisms have in fact been introduced. One of these, the Iltakoulu (which translates as evening session), was previously an important unofficial negotiation session for the cabinet, but this system is no longer systematically used. To a considerable extent, though, coordination proceeds effectively through informal mechanisms. Recent large-scale policy programs have enhanced intersectoral policymaking; additionally, Finland’s membership in the European Union has of course necessitated increased interministerial coordination. Recent research in Finland has only focused tangentially on informal mechanisms, but various case studies suggest that the system of coordination by advisory councils has performed well.

And here’s how Australia’s going:

Significant strategic planning takes place in the course of governmental decision-making. The Ministry of Finance is a key actor in the long-term planning process, and also presents views during the annual budget cycle on how best to cope with long-term economic challenges and the financing of the welfare state.

The typical procedure for major decisions or reforms entails the following steps: First, the government appoints an ad hoc committee tasked with delivering a detailed report on a particular issue. Some of these committees are composed exclusively of experts, while others have a broader membership that includes politicians and representatives of interested parties such as unions, business confederations and other non-governmental organizations.

For instance, a report to the Ministry of Finance would typically be drafted by high-profile academic economists along with representatives of unions, employers and the central bank. When this procedure leads to legislative action, a proposal is drafted and distributed to interested parties, who are invited to make comments and suggestions (a period of three months for comments is recommended, and six weeks is the minimum period allowed).

Only after comments have been received will the government prepare a proposal for parliament, sometimes in the form of a parliamentary bill, but occasionally only as an initial white paper. Governments deviate from this procedure only in cases of emergency, and any attempt to circumvent it would lead to public criticism.

There is an established procedure for the approval of the annual budget. Activity starts a year in advance, when the government holds three conferences on the budget proposal. The finance minister presents an initial proposal to parliament in the first week of October. A parliamentary committee plays an active role in the budget process, making concrete proposals for the distribution of resources. This proposal becomes the basis of parliamentary discussion. After the parliament approves a proposal for the allocation of resources, it becomes binding for subsequent, more detailed discussions that take place in various parliamentary committees. By December 15, this work is concluded, and the final budget is approved by the full parliament.

The shortcomings in governance that were revealed in the course of the July 22 terrorist attacks and their aftermath have resulted in a general downgrade in the scores associated with executive capacity. However, these shortcomings have been mostly rectified in the past several years.

Below the fold you can find out which is better. 

Pretty obviously Finland’s coordination is a 10 while Norway’s coordination is a 7.

Still I know you’ll join with me, and all decent, right thinking people and I don’t think I’m courting any controversy by saying that that now certainly isn’t the time for complacency from Finland.


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