Developing standards in public service provision-Watch Queensland with interest.

April 26, 2013

One of the on-going themes in public service reforms since the 1980’s has been that of trying to demonstrate service efficiency and effectiveness in services which in many instances do not lend themselves to normal quantification appraisal. It is clearly a major challenge to attempt to measure the rolling back of high levels of disadvantage, social integration and even the measurement of person based services using largely private sector forms of measurement.

Successive reforms, particularly under New Public Management sought to apply output based assessment methodologies but even these have had limited use given that much of what the public service provides is qualitative in nature and potential impact.

Recent thinking in public service performance now recognises that applying output based quantitative assessment to public service provision is only partially useful when it comes to determining whether a public authority is both efficient and effective.

The challenge is not so much about measuring simple data sets that indicate volumes of output, rather it is about determining whether policy outcomes are being achieved. Is the policy, in other words, actually delivering what it was intended to deliver?

Public services all over the globe are grappling with this challenge and it something in Ireland which the Programme for Government is trying to put in place. Working examples are difficult to identify as clearly international thinking on performance standards will be applicable to the particular circumstances pertaining in the relevant country or to the particular policy theme.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to see that in Queensland, the Government, grappling with similar public expenditure challenges to those in Ireland, has recently published a Human Services Quality Framework as it moves to re-configure service delivery whilst also reforming work practices and downsizing a system with many parallels to Ireland.

The over-riding thinking is to enhance service delivery to the people of Queensland while clearly demonstrating a commitment to quality and effective business delivery.

This commitment is unsurprising given that the current premier, Campbell Newman, was previously Lord Mayor of Brisbane one of the leading City Councils worldwide in moving towards shared service platforms which has placed integrated person-centred service planning at the heart of service delivery.

No doubt having had to deal with the competing silos of State Government while trying to provide better services through the City Council, has taught Mr. Newman about the need to turn overall service delivery towards the citizen and not, as is often the case, towards the priorities of the service delivery agency.

This is not as strange as it might seem as increasingly governments are discovering the reality that much of their services are about meeting competing needs of citizens and that placing service planning and the policies that underpin such planning at the heart of public service design is a perfectly rational and effective way to manage the public finances!

The platform in Queensland is focused on
• governance and management
• service access
• responding to individual need
• safety, well-being and rights
• feedback, complaints and appeals
• human resources

Much of the thinking seems to have come through the experience of the Government in trying to refocus services for people with disabilities, other disadvantaged communities and services which have a long-term application.

What is interesting is that there is a clear political leadership underpinning the process along with a rigorous re-configuration of service delivery.

The challenge for the Newman Government over the next number of years will be to translate the Framework from policy to application but the fact that such standards are being rolled into public policy design makes what is happening in Queensland an interesting laboratory that public services elsewhere, including Ireland, might usefully watch and learn from as they also grapple with the twin demands of efficiency and effectiveness.