Panel Paper: Enhancing Policy Capability and Performance in New Zealand

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Wilson C - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Claudia Scott, Victoria University of Wellington and Graham Cecil Scott, New Zealand Productivity Commission

Claudia Scott and Graham Scott Abstract

New Zealand and Australia operate a Westminster policy advisory system in which public servants are expected to provide professional policy advice which is described as ‘free and frank’ (in New Zealand) and 'frank and fearless' (in Australia). Political advisers serve Ministers alongside public service advisers who hold permanent positions and serve current and future governments. There are long-standing concerns that policy advice is becoming too dominated by short-term political imperatives, leading to more 'responsive' and less 'strategic' policy advice and a migration from a Westminster to a ‘Washminster’ advisory system.

Cutting across this trend has been various initiatives to professionalise the role of policy analysts and advisers. This has had a background of on-going concern about the quality of policy analysis and advice. Various reports and enquiries have drawn attention to the declining capability of the public sector to provide strategic policy advice. Such concerns have led to many initiatives in both countries to build and enhance the strategic policy capability of the public sector advisory system.

The research provides an overview of various initiatives undertaken in New Zealand and Australia drawing on various external and internal initiatives and their impact on the building policy skills and capabilities and delivering more strategic public sector policy analysis and advice. Interventions to build strategic policy capability have been addressed at the individual, group, agency and whole of public sector levels. Consideration has been given to the importance of evidence in making policy decision including more attention to the use of various methods and approaches to making decisions and to look at more systemic influences on the public sector’s strategic policy capability and performance.

Initiatives included investment in building strategic skills, the preparation of guidance documents to facilitate dealing with more complex policy issues, greater emphasis on the role of evidence-based and evidence-informed inputs to policy design, stronger public engagement, the co-design of policy options and examples, and more attention to policy outcomes over policy processes. Other changes include a stronger emphasis on whole of government ways of working, greater attention to policy outcomes, and approaches and techniques for policy development which bring together the analytical and political streams of policy advice. New provisions introduced in New Zealand have made departments responsible for stewardship which requires them to have the capability to advise current and future governments.

Brief attention will be given to practices and developments to improve the evidence-base and the establishment of standards for quality policy analysis and advice and a Policy Project involving cross-government working to develop a set of common policy capabilities – which comprise knowledge, skills competencies and behaviours. Another strategy has been to publish regulatory impact statements to monitor policy processes and make policy practices more open to public scrutiny.

A goal of the research is to draw lessons and opportunities for policy transfer to other jurisdictions.