Key message 4 – Diagnostic data can nudge public administration towards greater use of evidence

ICT interventions and associated management systems can have a catalytic impact on public service delivery. They can inform not only public policy decisions but also reform the structure of the public sector. By providing managers with information on their own staff and organisations, they can base their management decisions on more rigorous analytical foundations than solely their experience.

However, while ICT prices have fallen and the availability of technological innovations to improve information flows have increased, corresponding productivity improvements in the public sector have not occurred. Figure 1 shows the evolution of the ‘government effectiveness’ indicator of the Worldwide Governance Indicators (World Bank 2017) indicating stagnant perceptions of government capabilities over the past two decades.

Part of the reason for this stagnation is that information interventions have not always targeted the capabilities of the public administration. For example, although public finance management reforms have often been successful in creating a common budgeting platform in government, they have not always provided information that will help improve the productivity of spending those funds (Hashim and Piatti-Fünfkirchen 2018). Without competitive pressures, reform is often constrained and when is the option to proceed reforms in one setting are often dependent on another (Moore and Hartley 2008). Thus, where reformers have responded to information interventions and improved the public service, they have overcome the incentive to free ride on the efforts of their colleagues, circumvented resistance by their managers, and co-ordinated across disparate agencies.

The large number of constraints to evidence-based reform can lead governments to become stuck in a ‘reform trap’. If managers do not have information on the poor state of information in their agencies, they will not enact reforms to improve the information acquisition capabilities in their organisation.

However, by the same logic the effective use of data on bottlenecks in public administration can improve government institutions and nudge them towards greater use of evidence. This is a rationale for external stakeholders providing diagnostic data on the public administration and its use of evidence. These stakeholders can all play a role in pushing the administration towards an evidence-based approach to public sector reform, with the aim of creating a self-sustaining cycle of demand for and supply of information in government.

Figure 1: Evolution of the ‘government effectiveness’ indicator