Public value framework: ability to monitor progress on objectives tops departmental worry list

Written by Richard Johnstone on 4 July 2019 in Analysis
Analysis

Analysis of improvement pledges under new public value framework also reveals concerns over participation of users in services and workforce capacity

Photo: PA

A majority of government departments have said they need to improve their ability to monitor their own progress against goals and objectives, a CSW analysis of pledges under the government’s new public value framework has revealed.

'Implementing planning and monitoring progress' was the most frequently-cited theme revealed in an examination of the pledges departments made to improve across the 35 elements of the public value framework. Other common areas where departments saw room for improvement were user and client experience and participation, and workforce capacity.

The framework was developed by former No.10 Delivery Unit head Sir Michael Barber to help departments measure the effectiveness of public spending in improving outcomes and to “set the agenda for dialogue” between the Treasury and departments.

After the Treasury announced in the Spring Statement that departments would be required to adopt the framework, the publication in June of single departmental plans provided the first glimpse of where departments are going to focus their improvement efforts.


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In her foreword to a revised version of the framework, chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said the pilots had "demonstrated the importance of data and innovation, as set out in the November 2017 report".

"[The framework] needs to become part of the culture, such that the expectation becomes that departments will work together and with the Treasury to continuously improve their performance against the framework, and with it the value they deliver for taxpayers. The next phase of this work is designed to achieve just that," Truss wrote.

The framework set out ways to measure the public value of projects and programmes across four pillars, with a number of themes under each. The pillars are: pursuing goals to ensure departments remain focused on what they are aiming to achieve and monitoring delivery; managing inputs, to make sure departments have basic financial management; engaging citizens and users, to convince taxpayers of both the value being delivered by spending and the importance of engaging service users; and developing system capacity, which emphasises long-term sustainability.

Government departments have now set out its priorities for improvement across the 35 elements, with improving under the plan’s theme of implementing planning and monitoring progress requires a department to do two things: assess how well it monitors delivery of its goals and objectives, and consider what data is used to track progress against delivering the vision, objectives and indicators.

Twelve departments said getting better in this area was a priority: the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Cabinet Office, Department for Digital, Culture and Media and Sport, Department for Exiting the European Union, Deportment for International Trade, Department for Transport, Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Health and Social Care, Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Ministry of Justice.

The second most frequently-highlighted area for improvement was better understanding of departments’ user and client experience and participation. This is cited by nine ministries – BEIS, DCMS, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DExEU, Department for International Development, DWP, MHCLG, MOJ and HM Revenue and Customs. Under the framework, this requires each department to answer four questions: whether it understands the link between user and client experience and better outcomes; how it plans to improve the experience of users and clients; what evidence there is of the link between user participation and improved outcomes; and how it will improve participation and change user or client behaviour.

Eight of the 17 departments examined said they needed to make progress on improving workforce capacity was the third area of the framework most cited for improvement: BEIS, the Cabinet Office, DCMS, DExEU, DfT, DHSC, the Treasury, and the MoD. Under this measure. departments must consider what processes and data they use to monitor and plan for changes in their workforce, how they intend to build a skilled workforce, and how they are assessing and developing leadership capability.

Departments dealt with the framework differently. The Department for Education's pledge was “to support the delivery of our objectives, we will be improving our performance against the public value framework, which includes the following areas: pursuing goals; managing inputs; engaging users and citizens, and developing system capacity”, which mirrors the PVF’s pillar headings, while other departments pledged to improve against the 35 questions. DIT also pledged to improve against the developing system capacity pillar, while also naming some more specific objectives (see table).

The Foreign Office broke down its objectives across its functions: it would improve its performance on implementing planning and monitoring progress across the whole department, while focusing on public and taxpayer legitimacy and capacity to evaluate impact in its consular network.

In a statement as the SDPs were published, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said that including the principles of the public value framework in the plans was “just one of the steps we are taking to have a greater focus on outcomes delivered for taxpayers’ money”.

But speaking to CSW, Institute for Government senior fellow Martin Wheatley said the SDPs did not make clear how departments had identified these areas for improvement.

He asked: “Was it entirely marking their own homework or did they get their non-executive directors to help them pick them out, or any other sources of critical friendship?”

  BEIS CO DCMS DfE Defra DExEU DfID DfT DIT DWP DHSC FCO HMRC HO MHCLG MoD MoJ HMT
PILLAR ONE: PURSUING GOALS                                  
Understanding vision and goals                          
Degree of ambition                                  
Implementing planning and monitoring progress            
PILLAR TWO: MANAGING INPUTS                                  
Managing financial resources                          
Quality of data and forecasts                            
Benchmarking & cost control                                
PILLAR THREE: USER AND CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT                                  
Public and taxpayer legitimacy                        
User and client experience and participation                    
PILLAR FOUR: DEVELOPING SYSTEM CAPACITY                                
Capacity to manage the delivery chain                                  
Workforce capacity                    
Capacity to evaluate impact                        
Stakeholder management                                  

Wheatley also highlighted that the framework was intended to be applied to particular policies or areas of government spending to strengthen the process of turning inputs into outcomes, rather than across departments.

Using the framework to develop corporate departmental improvement plans is an “interesting, and rather odd” way to make use of it, he said.

“The framework was developed as a tool for departments to look at particular policies or functions, whether it is knife crime or collecting taxes or whatever. It has a series of 13 items arranged under four pillars to go through and answer a set of questions about each of them. It wasn’t designed to work out how effective a department is, and this is moving away from evaluating particular programmes and functions departments have towards a corporate self-evaluation.

“To take the Home Office as an example, you could apply it to asylum and immigration and get one set of answers, and you could apply it to police funding and get a different one. How do you say a particular item is more applicable across the Home Office [as a whole] than another?”

Wheatley highlighted areas of the framework that were not named for improvement by departments.

“No-one seems to have been interested in the ‘degree of ambition’ areas about how we correctly judged our ambition for a policy – a really fundamental question to ask. And the other one missing is cost shunting [part of the managing inputs pillar] which raises a question we have about the public value framework about how good it is at looking across government.

“Only a couple are interested in benchmarking and cost control, and only a couple in capacity to manage delivery. A lot of people outside central government might be surprised that so few departments think there are many issues there.”

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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