True public value can be created when public policy has been developed to solve the problems the community most cares about. Developing public policy  in this way requires a careful balance of public input and consultation; recognising the expertise of government sector officials; and being innovative and adaptive in the face of a constantly changing operating environment.

This can be achieved by:

  • ensuring optimal use of current policy development capacity within the government sector
  • building capacity through collaboration, strategic workforce management and organisational development initiatives.

A leadership culture that demands outward-looking, evidence-based and innovative policy thinking at all levels is essential to strengthening the government sector’s policy development capability.

Policy thinking for public value

Mark Moore’s 'Creating Public Value' model (1995), argues that public services should add value to society in the same way that private organisations create value for their shareholders and other stakeholders. This implies that public intervention needs to achieve positive social and economic outcomes for citizens so everything the government sector does should focus on solving problems the public cares most about.

Moore’s model is most commonly applied to service delivery implementation, although this misses the value to be gained from applying it when formulating public policy. The pursuit of public value when making public policy requires an approach that involves:

  • gaining adequate input from and consulting with the public for whom the government sector is seeking to create value which creates a sense of common ownership of community problems and leads inclusive governance in policy and service delivery
  • calling on expert government sector staff members to provide objective, evidence-based advice that better informs the decision-making process
  • innovatively adapting to rapidly evolving enabling technologies and circumstances that offer new service delivery channels while introducing complex new policy challenges.

Professor Mark Evans of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) believes that to achieve this balance it is necessary to adopt an innovative, outward-looking, evidence-based policy approach.

Creating public value through effective policy development relies on a tight alignment between the policy intentions created when developing the policy and the actual implementation that occurs once the policy is accepted and delivered. Mintrom and Luetjens’ ANZSOG article (2016) points out that policy makers often fail to engage during the implementation stage, leaving those in charge of implementation to guess as to the true intentions of the policy. The resulting misalignment can diminish  the public value the new policy provides.

Challenges to implementing outward-looking, evidence-based, innovative policy approaches

The decision-making processes that lead to new policy are being weighed down by a number of factors:

  • Increasing volume: The number of Cabinet submissions being generated and considered by governments is higher than ever before.
  • Scope creep: Key strategic thinkers are being drawn into a large number of activities, which takes their attention away from the main policy game.
  • Short-term responsiveness: Governments' strategic long-term priorities are increasingly being diluted by short-term challenges in response to an increasingly assertive citizenry. This can often introduce tensions between governments' long-term policy objectives and the need to respond to day-to-day events or issues.

These challenges prevent the government sector from making the best use of the policy development capacity that is currently available.

Principles for achieving outward-looking, evidence-based, innovative policy approaches

Evans and Scott (2015) argue that to make the best use of current policy development capacity, the government sector needs to optimise policy development processes and governance arrangements. This means reducing duplication, increasing collaboration within the sector and ensuring that policy advisors are focused on the core policy issues.

Furthermore, the sector could take additional steps to increase its capacity for developing high-quality policy advice. This would involve three key actions:

  • Seek to collaborate more effectively with knowledge-and research-based institutions by:
    • participating in external think tanks
    • arranging for ongoing staff exchange programs with knowledge-based institutions such as universities and policy institutes
    • collaborating across the sector on specific policy issues
    • establishing communities of practice that seek to provide a 'centre of gravity' for policy themes.
  • Attract and retain the best and brightest talent by:
    • rigorously applying the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework to all recruitment decisions, with a specific focus on:
      • working collaboratively -  collaborating with others and valuing their contribution
      • influencing and negotiating - gaining consensus and commitment from others, and resolving issues and conflicts
      • delivering results -  achieving results by using resources efficiently and committing to quality outcomes
      • thinking about solving problems -  thinking, analysing and considering the broader context to develop practical solutions.
    • empowering individuals within the workplace to increase job satisfaction; encouraging a focus on strategic issues; and developing subject-matter expertise
    • establishing a well-balanced mobility program, both within the government sector and from other sectors to provide sufficient opportunity for staff to achieve:
      • breadth of experience
      • professional development over a broader range of work environments
      • fresh thinking and new ways of viewing problems
      • sufficient knowledge and subject matter expertise.
    • providing  staff with professional development opportunities that encourage them to hone their research, analysis and critical thinking skills.
  • Promote strategic leadership, by:
    • embedding a culture of demand for evidence-based policy, which requires leadership at all levels in the process. An increasing focus on creating public value establishes  the preconditions for a strategic learning approach to policy development, in tune with the aspiration of creating public value. Leaders must demonstrate an appetite for long-term strategic thinking, and champion  the use of evidence as a basis of developing robust strategic policy.