This is a rewrite of a post I published in November 2009 on another blog. I’ve reviewed and revised the text. While a number of ideas remain valid, I’ve made quite a number of changes.
Any project executed in a public sector environment has to face – by its very nature – a high level of scrutiny. Laws and regulations have been designed to ensure that the use of public means is as correctly executed as possible. The question that plagues many an administrator is whether he or she has invested time and effort in the right project. And while the decision remains complex, the following decision model aims at assisting the decision takers in a first project prioritisation.
By evaluating projects on the three axes of monetary impact, political feasibility and communicability, these projects can be prioritised in a way which answers legitimate questions on best use of means. These questions can, should and will be asked by the concerned representatives of the people, the politicians. The model which we propose below allows such a prioritisation.
“Is this project the most relevant investment of my available resources, be these financial means, available people or my own limited time?” When prioritising a project financed by public means this is a legitimate question which a politician can, should and will ask of the public administration proposing a project. Whereas the question is legitimate, the answer requires an approach which is not always readily available to administrations.
The administration can answer this question from its own perspective, but runs the risk of missing one or more key elements which do not play a role in its own decision taking but are very important to the concerned representatives.
The following three-dimensional model an administration can use to transparently present different projects or project options to representatives in order to develop a higher degree of buy-in.
The first dimension – estimated monetary impact
This dimension aims at providing a verifiable estimation of the monetary impact a project can have under different conditions. It must answer the question how much the project will actually save, gain or result in, either for the public administration or for the constituency (either citizens or companies).
This most traditional of measurements can be executed by means of different measurement systems, depending on the needs and nature of the project. For burden reduction projects for example, an analysis using a Standard Cost Model assessment of the situation before and after or the Regulatory Impact Assessment is most often used.
The second dimension – political feasibility
The second dimension assesses the feasibility of the project from a purely political point of view. “Can we obtain an adequate level of support to realise all the relevant goals of this project?” Even more importantly, “are there no indications of any resistance to the realisation of the project which can block it even before it gets started?”
This assessment requires a keen view on the current political reality or the expected political reality at the time of project approval and throughout the period of project execution. In order to correctly assess this, the administration will need the input and the support from the appropriate cabinet(s).
This need reconfirms the essential nature of regular communication and information flows between cabinets and the administrations.
The third dimension – Communicability
This dimension is for a politician the most important, and legitimately so. After all, visibility ensures continued political relevance, and visibility is often a function of how well a project can be communicated.
We often look down on politicians seeking the public eye, looking to “score” by going on TV. We actually forget that that is an essential part of the role of the politician. He or she needs to communicate to a wide audience and gauge the reaction of that audience to determine his or her position. I’m not naive in that I do know and realise that party pressure can influence voting behaviour, but I also believe this day and age, with social networks which enjoy a high degree of participation, provides the best possible situation for a politician to get almost real time feedback on his or her performance.
The purpose of this dimension is to evaluate the extent of the communicability of a certain project: how well can the purpose be communicated to a third party (citizen or company) and how large will the extent of political support be generated by this communication? Is it a viable news item? Will it be taken up by the news organisations, both written, spoken and/or tv?
The proposed approach allows the public servants to be more proactive in their relationship with the politician(s) and member of the cabinet(s) as argued in a prior article (published on the original posting site, which I will repost later) on correctly treating politicians as stakeholders. It prepares the ground for decision for duly elected representatives without forcing a decision on them.