By Robert Watt, Secretary General

After what has often seemed like a gruelling ten years of a necessary reframing of public services, it is good to know that we have real and meaningful results to show for all the hard work. We have without a doubt achieved much but we are still progressing. I think that taking time to reflect on our progress and achievements is necessary if we are to really understand and learn from experience so far.

To this end on 13 July, Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan launched four public service reform initiatives, which cover achievements since 2014 and identify lessons learned for the next phase.

  • The Final Progress Report on the implementation of the 2014-16 Public Service Reform Plan documents a large number of reform achievements delivered over the last three years.
  • The OECD’s Assessment of the 2014-16 Public Service Reform Plan finds that the plan was by-and-large successful in terms of completing the majority of the activities it set out to do.
  • Two case-studies on recent major reform projects: the creation of the Office of Government Procurement and the establishment of the INTREO one-stop-shop service for job-seekers.
  • This first-ever public consultation on public service reform has been opened.

I was pleased to see that the final Progress Report on the second Public Service Reform Plan sets out a wide range of improved services for the public and efficiencies across a range of projects.  It shows that almost 90% of the 227 actions in the plan are on target or completed. What stands out in particular is the significant progress on improving online services, the use of technology to generate efficiencies, and the very significant transformation of the Civil Service through the ongoing implementation of the Civil Service Renewal Plan.

The OECD was commissioned by the Department to undertake an evaluation of the second Public Service Reform Plan with a view to informing future public service reform efforts. It focused on whether the plan met its objectives, how Ireland compares with other OECD member countries, and it provides clear recommendations for the future direction of public service reform and innovation.

The Assessment noted that the Reform Plan 2014-16 achieved the majority of its goals. It also identifies key learnings for the future:

  • focusing more on evaluation of the impact of the reforms on citizens and organisational efficiencies;
  • strengthening governance arrangements and focusing on what the respective responsibilities of the centre and the sectors are;
  • spelling out more clearly the respective roles of key public service actors in achieving results for citizens;
  • seizing the opportunity to move from a process-oriented reform plan to one anchored in outcomes and to drive innovation; and strengthening the link between expenditure and reform as part of this.

We are now at the next stage – we have reflected on, and examined what has worked and what could have been approached differently. The Department is now preparing a successor to the 2014-2016 Reform Plan. Our Public Service 2020 – Development and Innovation Framework identifies 20 actions to implement in order to deliver better outcomes for the public and to build a responsive and agile public service. The Framework is based on three pillars.

  • Delivering for our Public
  • Innovating for our Future
  • Developing our People and Organisations

In this regard, the first-ever public consultation on public service reform, was launched on 13 July and runs to 4 September.  Members of the public and public servants themselves have been asked to submit their views on the draft framework.

I was struck by the OECD’s 6 skill areas for Public Service Innovation (published in April 2017 by the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation). One of these is ‘Storytelling’- using narratives to explain ‘the journey’. I think that is what the Progress Report and the OECD’s assessment do. They allow us to move to the next level of identifying new ideas and new ways of working. I am particularly keen that the new framework will use and adapt approaches that have worked well, both in Ireland and in other states.

Submissions can be made via a dedicated consultation portal, by email to ourpublicservice2020@per.gov.ie, and I hope we receive a wide range of responses. We are all stakeholders in the Public Service. Our services meet real needs and it is important that we consider all users when designing and implementing policy.