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Targeting Commitment

Interagency Performance in New Zealand

By Rodney Scott and Ross Boyd

New Zealand’s deceptively simple but effective program to improve public services

New Zealand has long been considered at the forefront of public administration, experimenting with new ways of organizing and delivering public services. Even so, successive New Zealand governments had mixed results from using traditional public management tools to lift the performance of the public service and address persistent problems that required multi-agency action.

In 2012 the government decided to try something different. As part of a reform package called Better Public Services, the government challenged the public service to organize itself around achieving just ten results that had proven resistant to previous interventions. The plan was deceptively simple: set ambitious targets and publicly report on progress every six months; hold small groups of public managers collectively responsible; use lead indicators; and learn from both success and failure.

This book explores how and why the New Zealand government made progress and how the program was able to create and sustain the commitment of public servants and unleash the creativity of public entrepreneurs.

The authors combine case studies based on the experience of people involved in the change, together with public management research. They explain how ambitious targets and public accountability were used as levers to overcome the bureaucratic barriers that impeded public service delivery, and how data, evidence, and innovation were used to change practice. New Zealand experimented, failed, succeeded, and learned from the experience over five years. This New Zealand experience demonstrates that interagency performance targets are a potentially powerful tool for fostering better public services and thus improving social outcomes.

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