Making public agencies S.M.A.R.T.
The current climate presents government with a range of challenges (from the economic to the social and the environmental) that must be dealt with in ways that are new and evolving. Many of these challenges will require governments to perform at higher levels, deliver stronger benefits and provide greater transparency than we have seen in the past.
In a previous article, on strengthening the performance and accountability of government, I talked of robust and agile performance and accountability arrangements and how essential they are in enabling public agencies to execute their responsibilities and effectively address these challenges. Given that performance and accountability in government is so deeply enmeshed in complexity – from systems and processes to monitoring and evaluation - it's difficult for many agencies to land on a starting point for improving them. It makes sense to be smarter, but being so requires more than just more efficient and economical strategies. It also involves innovation in the delivery of measurable outcomes that must improve over time and be in line with the political culture of the time they pertain to.
Over the years, I’ve formed the opinion that for an agency’s performance and accountability processes, systems, and architecture to be resilient to the complex expectations of their ministers and the community, they must be S.M.A.R.T. This means implementing program, policy and organisational arrangements that are (S)pecific, (M)easurable, (A)chievable, (R)elevant, and (T)imely. Taking the S.M.A.R.T approach helps to engrain the concepts of performance and accountability within the fabric of all government action and organisation.It also aligns with good practice public administration as promulgated by the auditors-general of Australia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In particular, it means that the objectives and the indicators for a policy, program or initiative should be:
- Specific: the objectives or performance indicators used by agencies should be specific and accurate enough for those concerned to interpret the information, though they don’t need to be perfect.
- Measurable: the objectives or performance indicators used by agencies should be assessable over a period of time.
- Achievable: the objectives and performance indicators set by agencies must be achievable and within their reasonable span of control.
- Relevant: the objectives or performance indicators used by agencies must be tied to the policy problem that government is seeking to address. Without strong linkages to a clearly defined policy problem, agency interventions can drift and become solutions with an unclear purpose.
- Timely: the performance indicators used by agencies should be reported in a timely fashion and use firm dates for measuring the outputs, outcomes and impacts of government action.
Being specific about the problems the government is trying to resolve and the objectives it is trying to achieve, is critical in effectively managing policy responsibilities and challenges. Developing policy solutions that are overtly linked (or relevant) to the problems facing government/society and are timely in their intervention is crucial to achieving policy success. The actions of agencies must also be measurable so constituents can assess the impact of government intervention over time.
ACIL Allen has decades of experience advising organisations on how best to implement program, policy and organisational arrangements which are S.M.A.R.T and drive performance over time. Our experience and track record are second to none. Our expertise includes the review and design of policy and program objectives, key performance indicators, performance information, evaluation, impact assessment and reporting arrangements. If my reflections resonate with your experiences, or if you have any questions about this topic please feel free to get in touch, or contact ACIL Allen for further information.