30 May 2015

According to Sir Michael Barber, the Chief Education Advisor, Pearson PLC, the effectiveness of government is something that should be of interest. A major moral issue to be confronted over the next decade will be how to achieve effective and accountable government even as it faces increasing cynicism. In the absence of government, as Thomas Hobbes said, life is “nasty, brutish and short.” This has potentially negative ramifications as evidenced in countries like Libya, Syria and Somalia over recent years.

For a long time, Barber said, there has been a certain “infatuation” with markets, the era of minimal government and anti-government rhetoric. However, there’s been a “comeback of government”. He believes that the solution is less about ideology and more about sustained priorities, solving problems as they arise and not giving up when the going gets tough.

As it seems with the financial crisis, there has been a growing recognition that government is important. The financial crisis reinforced the notion that markets cannot function without government intervention or regulation. Despite the inclination towards minimal government, there is need for government to take up the role of regulator, whether for the breaking up of monopolies, enforcing property rights, individual rights, etc.

The debate for more or less government differs across countries. However, whether one argues for a big or small government, the larger issue remains if it is effective and accountable.

The basic roles of government, which include security, are a monumental task and when executed appropriately or inappropriately, make a substantial impact in the lives of people in either a positive or negative manner. The debate for more or less government differs across countries. However, whether one argues for a big or small government, the larger issue remains if it is effective and accountable.

The business of running a government is a tough feat, but government effectiveness can be achieved if the following elements are incorporated into governance practices. First, it is important for governments to prioritise and have clarity on things that need to be changed and what achievements are desired for the future. This enables the citizenry to track government’s progress and create a medium for accountability.

Government prioritisation should be followed by organisation and focus. Often, the right policies are not followed with the requisite implementation strategies. The implementation of policies may even be more difficult than the policy decision-making process. It is therefore important to have a focused faction of the bureaucracy tasked with scrutinising the implementation of priorities.

Barber’s ‘deliverology’ for efficient government management

Barber outlined the key elements in the running of government machinery. Strategy is also an important part of the, as communication of how to do things can easily get lost and cause confusion. Strategy involves thinking ahead and anticipation of future changes. Singapore is a model in this department.

Planning is also important, as opposed to simply having a plan. Whilst the latter may not always materialise as projected, planning can make a wealth of difference. In the absence of a clear delivery chain, there is little likelihood that government will deliver. Barber calls this the ‘deliverology’— an ‘emerging science of delivery’ or a how-to manual of sorts on how governments deliver ambitious goals.

Furthermore, government is rife with events, challenges and crises. However, when routines are built into government operation to examine the progress of priorities, it makes a substantial difference.

Too often, there is the tendency to continue with things even when it is evident that they are failing. Problem solving is a major component of governance to diagnose how big a problem is and to attempt to resolve it.

He also pointed out that continuity is vital in government effectiveness. Hence, it is important to gain the buy-in of system leaders, the workforce and citizenry for effective policies to ensure their irreversibility. The calibre of government plays a major role in enabling the citizenry to have fulfilled lives. Governments need to avoid drifting or stumbling along and govern with a sense of direction.

On 26 May 2015, a book launch of How to Run a Government, by Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor, Pearson PLC, was held at the LKY School. A live recording of the event can be viewed here. For upcoming events by the LKY School, please visit our website.

Awa Tourey is an MPP Student at the LKY School. Her email is decb64_YTAxMjI4MzRAdS5udXMuZWR1_decb64