Monday, July 9, 2012

Behavioural scientists in government?

Richard Thaler makes the case for including behavioural science in the curriculum for training civil servants. He points to the initial success of the Behavioral Insights Team set up within the British government to introduce concepts from behavioral science to improving governance outcomes.

Prof Thaler points to two interesting reports brought out by the British Cabinet Office. The first one is a working plan for far-reaching and radical reforms to the British civil service.

1. The report seeks to "transfer power and control away from Whitehall, devolving power as far as possible to those actually using the services at local level".

2. Related to this is a call for the bureaucracy to "transform the delivery of services to its users" or to "become Digital by Default (by end-2012), in its skills, its style, how it communicates and how it enables service users to interact with it".

3. Leverage economies of scale and increase bureaucratic efficiency by the creation of five centres (with all physical infrastructure) for sharing transactional services (i.e. finance, payroll, HR, procurement) among different departments, to be made fully operational by 2014.

4. A prioritized thrust towards sharing of a wide-range of services and expertise - including legal services, internal audit, programme and project management resources and commercial contracting procurement skills - among government departments. It advocates that smaller departments should no longer expect to maintain full freestanding operations in all these functions. The logic for such sharing being that as departments shrink, they will "no longer be able to maintain high quality services in many expert and advisory services (such as policy making, analytical functions, and legal services)" without external support.

5. Encourage open, collaborative policy making and move away from the traditional centralized policy formulation models. Such approaches would include crowdsourcing questions to define the problem and solutions; set up "Policy Labs" to draw external expertise from a range of people and organizations and provide a unique environment to test new policies before they are implemented; creation of cross-departmental teams where Senior Responsible Officers (SROs) report jointly to departments; web-based tools, platforms, and new media to widen access to policy debates to individuals and organisations not normally involved; and making more data available freely so experts can test and challenge our approaches effectively.

6. Prioritizing work in a manner that ensures both administrative and financial resources are focussed on the critically important areas. Policy makers will therefore need to be equipped with skills to identify priorities and map its level of resources requirements. These skills would involve new age areas like behavioral sciences and digital technologies.

7. Designing policy by keeping implementation environments and its challenges in mind.

8. Focus on improving project delivery (in both quality and time) by closely involving the Major Projects Authority (MPA), set up recently to help assist in the design and monitoring of the highest risk and highest value projects. The MPA will analyze and share the progress of projects with departments. The turnover of Senior Responsible Officers (SROs) will be minimized during the project duration.

9. A slew of performance management measures that will seek to incentivize senior officials to constantly improve their skills. There will be accelerated development programs for the high-performers; training for high potential Senior Civil Servants to be sourced on the open market through Civil Service Learning, and conducted alongside high potential individuals in other sectors, especially the private sector.

The second is an excellent report on the role of randomized control trials (RCTs) in designing public policy. It advocates using RCTs to test (by introducing a draft policy intervention on randomly chosen groups), learn (by comparing its impact on the treatment group as opposed to the control group), and adapt (policy intervention to be modified to reflect the findings) policy initiatives before scaled up implementation.

No comments: