How to get things done in government: the art of delivery

By on 29/03/2016
The Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) is a charity founded by the former UK prime minister to help African leaders deliver their policies and develop their governments’ capabilities.

Tony Blair’s African governance charity is sharing what it’s learned about policy delivery in a series of reports. Matt Ross talks to series author Dan Hymowitz

“Delivery units are spreading around the world,” says Dan Hymowitz. “Last year the Institute for Government said about 15 countries had them, and I’ve heard of more since. So they’re spreading: the question of how you improve implementation from the leader’s and centre of government’s standpoints is a live and growing issue. And that’s one of the reasons we wanted to write this series of reports.”

Hymowitz is the Acting Head of Development and External Relations at the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) – a charity founded by the former UK prime minister to help African leaders deliver their policies and develop their governments’ capabilities. The AGI has spent the last seven years working closely with African governments; and Hymowitz says its experiences provide clear lessons for countries which want to strengthen the centre’s ability to monitor and hasten delivery of a leader’s priorities.

“One of the challenges is that the easily-replicable aspects of delivery – performance monitoring, and intervening from the centre to problem-solve – are getting copied, but the more ‘artistic’ elements of delivery, such as aligning political authority to delivery and using incentives, are getting left out of the picture,” he comments. “And that matters: governments won’t get the results they want if they only focus on the technical side of things.”

In January’s Too Much Science, Not Enough Art – the first of four planned AGI reports on the topic of delivery – Hymowitz focused on the need to adapt delivery systems and interventions to suit the political and organisational context. “We think that leaving out the ‘art’ of delivery is a real risk to delivery’s effectiveness, and that’s the main message of this paper,” he says. It’s not enough to introduce performance monitoring and ways of addressing weak delivery, the report argues: new structures and processes need to connect political authority to the delivery process, and to introduce the right incentives for ministers and officials. “You won’t see effective performance driven from the centre without these things, and they’re tougher to ‘cut and paste’ from one country to the next [than more technical solutions],” says Hymowitz.

It was Blair’s Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit that sparked other governments’ interest in the model – though since then, says Hymowitz, “it’s taken on a life of its own. The World Bank has teams looking into it; the Inter-American Development Bank is very interested. It’s grown into a very big thing.” But the UK’s delivery unit model has since evolved to suit subsequent leaders’ interests and approaches, demonstrating Hymowitz’s point that the solution must closely fit the context: “Delivery requires different mechanisms, and what that looks like will vary from one country to the next,” he comments. “You can get too focused on the unit; we see delivery as a basket of approaches from the centre that government needs to think about how to deploy.”

The AGI has just published the second in its series of reports, which focuses on prioritisation – and Hymowitz has produced an article for Global Government Forum explaining its findings. Further reports are expected in April and June. “We’ve worked on delivery in 10 African countries: supporting the centre of government to implement priority reforms,” he comments. “We’re learning along the way and, as lots of countries have begun thinking about and working on delivery, we wanted to share what we’re learning.”

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About Matt Ross

Matt is a journalist and editor specialising in public services, policymaking, government and management. He was the editor of trade title Civil Service World from 2008 to 2014, serving an audience of senior UK officials; and the features editor of weekly news magazine Regeneration & Renewal between 2002 and 2008, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development. He has also been a motoring and travel journalist, and now combines his role as editorial director of Global Government Forum with writing for other publications including The Guardian and Planning magazine.

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