What does an evaluation of three basic attributes tell us about public management?
One thing is clear: Measuring things is a fashionable trend. What started out some five thousand years ago in Mesopotamia as a vital necessity to standardize distances and weights has become a dynamic element that is present in all scientific disciplines, including the social sciences. There are indicators that measure everything, from the quality of life to educational performance to economic competitiveness, even such abstract notions as happiness.
In this ocean of instruments, many are used to evaluate government performance, though there is one that stands out for its macro approach during the entire public management cycle: Our Prodev Evaluation Tool (PET), which was designed to analyze the five pillars of Results-Based Management –Planning for results, Budgeting for results, Financial management, Program and project management, and Monitoring and evaluation– and has served as the base for an IDB publication on building effective governments.
Its ample coverage of topics and the wide availability of its supporting data allow for the construction of new indicators that can be used to measure other aspects of public management. In this blog we describe an alternative use for the PET: Creating new indicators to measure government capacity to promote effectiveness, efficiency and transparency in public management. And this is not a coincidence. Increasing governments’ transparency, efficiency and effectiveness is a goal not only for the IDB but also for the division I work in, the Institutional Capacity of the State.
A word of caution, though: Like all other measuring instruments, the PET has its limitations. Human resource management, for instance, is very important for these three attributes but is not analyzed by the PET. Therefore, more than a comprehensive indicator, what the PET offers is a proxy based on the elements of the management cycle and focused on institutional capacities. In other words, it does not measure the three attributes from the standpoint of the results obtained, but in terms of the existence of instruments allowing effective, efficient and transparent management.
Effective Management Capacity. This indicator analyzes the institutional capacity to ensure policies, programs and projects will achieve their goals. The related aspects the PET can measure include the capacities to identify the problems and challenges for development in the country, state, province or municipality; to plan policies, programs and projects aimed at resolving the hurdles to development based on the evidence available; to translate policies, programs and projects into budgets and operating plans; to monitor the execution of the plans; and to provide feedback on decisions based on statistics and evaluations.
Out of a maximum of five points allowed by the instrument, the 24 countries of the region included in the indicator together moved up from 1.8 points in 2007 to 2.2 points in 2013, a relatively modest increase of 0.4 point. The main advances are seen in the capacity for strategic planning and the alignment of the budget with planning. However, some crucial elements like the capacity to monitor and evaluate government programs have made little progress. If we consider that monitoring and evaluation are essential tools to understand what work and what does not, this capacity appears as a major pending issue to achieve effective management.
Efficient Management Capacity. This indicator analyzes the institutional capacity to produce the greatest cost effectiveness in government programs. Some of the elements that the PET allows to examine include the capacity to operate in an environment of clear fiscal rules that promote stability; the capacity to allocate budgetary resources consistent with entity requirements; the existence of an integrated financial management system, which implies active treasury processes that minimize resource opportunity costs while ensuring timely payment to creditors; and the existence of a procurement and contract system that provides quick access to quality products at the lowest costs possible.
The results of the 2007-2013 comparison reveal an increase slightly higher than 0.5 point, up from 2.2 to 2.7. The strengthening of integrated financial information systems and the enactment of new legal and institutional frameworks for public procurement showed the greatest progress, continuing a trend of several decades in the region. For their part, electronic procurement systems have been much slower on average. This means there is still a great potential for increased efficiency, especially regarding public procurement processes.
Transparent Management Capacity. In order to gain a better understanding of the instruments that governments use for managing in an open, transparent and accountable manner, the PET provides information related to participatory planning and budgeting processes; rules and procedures to expedite access to information; norms and systems for transparent budgeting; systems for the evaluation of policies, programs and projects whose results are made public; solid institutions for internal and external control; and mechanisms for social auditing.
This is the area where progress is most modest, up from 2.5 in 2007 to 2.7 in 2013. There is clearly a lot to be done in terms of evaluation production and dissemination to the public, as well as external audits. In contrast, the dissemination of budget information and internal audit systems show more improvement.
The possibility of using the PET in different manners to analyze the five pillars of MfDR makes one wonder whether other diagnostic instruments applied to public management can also be used in different ways. This is possible because the detailed data of the PET are available for download and manipulation. We sincerely hope this will become a common practice for the various instruments existing today in order to take the maximum advantage of these data.