Five interesting insights from the OECD’s governance report

By on 08/01/2021
The OECD a report helps civil servants build a coherent framework for sound public governance. Credit: Alain Pham/Unsplash

The recent publication includes some surprising lessons for civil service leaders – arguing, for example, that some anti-corruption practices can be counterproductive

Last month, the OECD published a report promoting “a coherent and multidimensional approach to public governance” – including some interesting and counter-intuitive findings on how best to promote effective government.

The report, Policy Framework on Sound Public Governance: Baseline Features of Governments that Work Well, sets out to provide “governments at all levels with an integrated diagnostic, guidance and benchmarking tool that aims to improve the quality of public governance”. The issues covered are particularly important as governments strive to manage the COVID-19 crisis and plan for a “sustainable and inclusive” recovery, it adds.

Below, we outline five takeaways from the first chapter, covering the values of sound public governance. You can read the full report here.

Traditional compliance checks do not necessarily improve integrity 

Integrity is a “cornerstone” of governance, the report notes – but behavioural experiments suggest that some of the traditional methods of promoting integrity in decision-making can be counterproductive.

It gives the example of the “four eyes” principle, which holds that two people should sign off on a decision because it is harder to corrupt two decision-makers than one. “However, experimental evidence has found that involving additional actors to a decision-making process without giving them a unique responsibility might not necessarily be an effective approach to promoting integrity,” the report says.  

“Indeed, the principle is motivated by distrust and can have adverse impact on employees’ intrinsic motivations. Moreover, it enables the diffusion of responsibility between individuals, taking away moral responsibility from the individual decision. The principle also encourages people to develop solidarity with one another and can entrap them in a corrupt network.” 

Moving from open government to ‘open state’

Good governance cannot be achieved at the national level, the report says, arguing that it depends on close partnership working between national, regional and local officials.

A growing number of countries are moving from the concept of open government toward that of an “open state”, it says – with the executive, legislature, judiciary, independent public bodies and all levels of government collaborating to “exploit synergies and share good practices and lessons learned among themselves and with other stakeholders to promote open government principles.”

Subnational levels of government are essential to this. Such bodies, the report says, “have a fundamental role to play in enhancing the policies, values and culture of open government and can make an important contribution to a country’s move towards an open state”.  

It adds: “Historically, they have been at the forefront of open government and innovation practices. Planning the way ahead, further efforts are needed to integrate them in the design and implementation of national strategies and policies.” 

But central co-ordination is instrumental

While subnational government is important for policy design and implementation, the report notes that as open government strategies cut across different sectors and structures, central offices can be “instrumental” when it comes to leading and co-ordinating policy. They play a key role in bringing together local organisations, sectors and groups.

In a 2016 OECD survey, 85% of countries that participated had a “dedicated office responsible for horizontal co-ordination of open government initiatives”.

Effective evaluation may be a blind spot

Monitoring and evaluation system of open government initiatives is “pivotal to ensure that policies are achieving their intended outcomes”, says the report. Good evaluation gives officials an opportunity to make changes and ensure work is having the best possible impact. But an OECD report notes that while 91% of countries monitor open government initiatives, just half said that they evaluate them.

People-centred justice 

One of the most important recent trends among OECD member states has been a shift towards people-centred justice, the report notes. This requires “adopting clear and easy understandable language so that citizens can understand laws and legal documents, as well as providing access to legal and justice services”. The principle also supports inclusion by recognising that some communities may have different legal needs and face barriers to accessing services.

Some countries have begun to set justice in a wider socio-economic framework by co-ordinating justice and social services under one, outcomes-based approach. This addresses both people’s justice needs and their accompanying social or health issues, such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse. 

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