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Sir Michael Barber: Results and Delivery Unit: Lessons for Canada


Sir Michael Barber,
thank you for joining us. Welcome here to Ottawa. You set up the original
Results and Delivery Unit under Tony Blair’s government. Can you describe a bit the
motivation and impetus for that, and how that differed
from previous approaches in British governments? The original
delivery unit was set up by the Blair administration at
the beginning of his second term based fundamentally on the
insight from the Prime Minister and a number of people
who had worked with him that in their first term
they had promised a lot, made some great speeches, the
economy had grown, on the whole people liked the tone
and the direction that Blair was setting for the country – but during the election campaign
in 2001, the citizens were basically saying to Tony Blair:
“Well, we love the speeches and we like the economic
growth but you keep promising the health services
are going to get better and it hasn’t changed,” etc. So the impetus for the
delivery was to take an agenda for the second term of
domestic policy reforms and really deliver them –
not just get the laws passed and the white papers written,
but actually change the daily experience
of citizens, whether it was
a child going to school or a patient
going to the health service or ending crime on the streets or the quality
of the public transport. So the insight was, this time we
really have to get it right and make sure we deliver right out,
so that the citizen benefits, feels, sees,
and notices the difference. As you set up the initial
unit, what were some of the big challenges you
faced with the public service? I’d say that there
were two or three challenges with getting started out. One with the politicians,
which – they had understood they needed to change but
getting them to actually change their practice of responding
to crises in the media needed something, and getting them to
focus on building routines, getting the way – you know,
the very basic level, getting the Prime Minister’s
diary so that it organized his routine stocktakes
right through a year. There was
one set of challenges there. With the public service, there
were a couple of challenges. One was, most departments
were not enthused about having a new unit
at the centre of government. They thought,
these new units come and go, they’re mostly annoying, they mostly generate
a whole lot of bureaucracy… we’ll see it off if we can. The challenge
at the beginning was building the right relationships
with the ministers who… We were saying, we will
help solve your problems. We’re not Tony’s spies. We are here to
help you get the job done that the Cabinet has agreed. With the top civil servants who
were saying, “Well, who are you? Why should we take any notice?”
We were saying to them, “Well, we’re going to be
a small group of people. We’re going to keep the Prime
Minister focused on this agenda so he won’t
be changing his mind. We’ll also going to
help you solve your problems, and when you do get them solved
we’ll give you the credit.” So we went through those
key relationships and worked out how to get the relationship
so that it was functional and that they
could see mutual benefit. Then I think crucially
after that was getting the data systems in place, which
was work that the Prime Minister wouldn’t notice but was actually
fundamentally important. So making sure that the
43 police forces in England had a similar way of counting
crime and reported that monthly. It took about a year, it was absolutely basic
to get this agenda done. So I would say those
were the main challenges: change in the way
the politicians worked, building the relationships
with the public service and then getting
data systems in place. What about the integration of
the policy development process and the implementation (because
sometimes we think of those as two separate phases)? How did you go about
integrating those, and was that
a challenge as well? It was a challenge
and it did need some work. The key to it was a combination
of over time, putting the data system in place, and secondly,
having these routine checkpoints (we called them stocktakes),
where every two months Blair was meeting, for example, the
Secretary of State for Health or the Secretary of State for
Education and reviewing progress towards the goals
that had been set. Those review meetings
in effect became policy development meetings
and implementation meetings. So you get a plan that’s good
enough, you start implementing, you see what happens,
the stocktake comes up, you say this is working,
and this isn’t working so well or it’s working in these
places and not in those places, and then you adjust
and refine the policy as you go. One of the critiques of
British government when it fails is that in those cases there
was – and I am quoting some political scientist here –
a deficit of deliberation. I think what we put in place
was serious deliberation, evidence-informed debate,
between the Prime Minister, minister and their advisors. Then, a decision. So the policy
got continuously refined. A mistake we made at the
beginning of the delivery unit, that I think can
be avoided here and elsewhere, is you don’t need to get
delivery plans perfect at the beginning. You just need to get them
good enough, get started and then once you’ve got your
routines in place those plans can be reviewed, refined
and improved as you go, and that does integrate
policy and implementation. What about the data
and indicators though? Is it crucial to get
those right at the beginning or is there a risk that
you kind of go through a process then you realize that
you can’t actually measure or report on what
you’re trying to achieve? I think you need to get
the best you can to get started but you will find sometimes
that the data systems that you’ve got
are not good enough and you need
to refine them over time. One thing is,
some of the goals that get set, climate change would
be a good example in Canada or in other parts of the world, is you set a goal
for emissions in 2030. That’s a long time off. How would you know
in 2018 or 2019 whether you’re making progress
towards that 2030 goal? It may not just be on
the overall emissions metric. There may be
other things that you need to see that
you’ve put in place. So for example,
I did some work with some big American
public university systems. They’re trying to improve
their graduation rates, their six-year graduation rate. But if you’re a student
in semester one of year one, what do we know about what
happens in semester one, year one that will indicate
whether that student is on track to graduate in six years or not? We discovered that if that
student goes to the library, gets trained
in how to use the library and starts using the
library in the first month, that’s a good indicator
they’re on track to stay. If they don’t do it,
it’s an indicator that they’re
on track to drop out. That is something
you can do something about. So I think in these areas where
you’ve got a long-term goal, working out what
the lead indicators are – what are the things that
you can do something about in the short term –
that will help you. I’ll give you another
example from Punjab, Pakistan. We’re trying
to reduce infant mortality. We know that one thing
associated with infant mortality in the long run is
whether there’s a skilled birth attendant present when
an expectant mother gives birth. That’s something
we can do something about. We are making progress. So that tells us – we don’t
yet know what’s going to happen to infant mortality, but it
tells us we’re probably on track to reducing infant mortality. So I think thinking through
the data system not just in the headline goal
but the lead indicators that will tell you whether you’re
on track is really important, and then only with those
can you refine the policy. The UK has a different system
of government than Canada, and we live here in
a federal system where provinces and territories
have many of the levers. Sometimes the federal
government has few policy levers on some of the things
that we want to impact. How do you think
a delivery approach works in a federal system
like Canada’s? Well, the first thing I would
say about this whole question, which is obviously
fundamental to Canada history and the Canadian
present relationship between the federal government
and the provincial government… The first thing
I’d say is that deliverology or this system will
really help because it makes the whole process explicit. So if you’ve got
a climate change agenda or an infrastructure agenda,
by setting some goals, by working out
what the delivery plan is, you make explicit what
it is you’re attempting to do and it makes clearer
and sharper where you depend on the provinces or
the cities or municipalities for delivery. So it will make the problem
or the challenge clearer. That’s point one. The second
thing is, while Britain – or at least England, anyway – is
more of a kind of unitary system than you have in Canada, actually you do
need to think through, even in a unitary system, how
you’re going to engage people at every level of the system,
whether it’s teachers, school principals and school
boards in the school system, or whether it’s provinces
and the federal government – municipalities, provinces
and the federal government collaborating on changing
infrastructure, transport, housing or whatever it might be. So I think the deliverology
approach will help make it clearer, but in the end
it will depend on the quality of the dialogue between
the federal government and the provincial government, and
over and above that the appeal the federal government
makes to the people of Canada, and the extent to which the
people of Canada are saying to their provincial governments as
well as the federal government, “Yes, this is what
we want to do, we do want to
see that happen. We would like Indigenous people
to have better opportunities and close that gap. We would like to have better
public transport in our big cities. We do want it
delivered as soon as possible. So we want you to solve these
problems and we don’t want you to turn it into one of the many
stand offs in Canadian history between the provinces
and the federal government.” So I think
there’re two levels of this: the quality of the relationship
between the federal government and the provinces, and then
there’s the relationship between the federal government
and the people of Canada and whether they’re really
demanding that the agenda that the government was elected
on is actually delivered. If they are, the provincial
governments will know that and that makes it more likely
the negotiation will succeed. Thank you very much,
Sir Michael! Thank you!

Norman Bunn

2 Comments

  1. This guy is a piece of garbage. He is a globalist pig and wrote part of Common Core. Throw him out Canada!

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