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Departments should check whether their policy-making and implementation processes are suitable and cost effective, and the Cabinet Office can assist by accelerating the identification and dissemination of good practice, Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, today reported to Parliament.

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Departments spend some £350 billion a year on a range of services and activities intended to benefit citizens. If public services are badly designed and implemented, they will not meet users’ expectations and may have adverse unintended impacts. Departments can enhance their ability to design and deliver policies cost effectively by learning from the good practice approaches adopted by others within the public sector and beyond.

The report identifies good practice in policy design and implementation by drawing on selected case studies and examples of good practice from departments, local authorities, the private and voluntary sectors. The report’s key findings include:

  • Identifying the need for a policy requires departments to have reliable and comprehensive information, including research into citizens’ preferences, and to be robust against foreseeable contingencies.
  • Understanding the nature of the problem, including having staff with the necessary research and analytical skills, and exploiting web based technology to access a range of information from across departments and from outside government. Departments need to have in place well developed strategies to determine their information requirements and to analyse the components of an issue so that they can focus their policy development effectively.
  • Assessing how policies are likely to work in practice is a crucial stage in policy design that should identify the practical constraints which need to be overcome if policies are to be successful. This includes estimating the likely costs of polices, opportunities to shape policies so that certain groups are not unintentionally excluded, and determine whether policies are likely to represent value for money and deliver sustainable benefits in the longer term.
  • Identifying and assessing risks to performance and delivery such as assessing the capability of those required to implement policies, and assessing whether those intended to benefit from a policy are likely to do so, by examining accessibility and communicating the policy to those intended to benefit (the Department of Health’s Meningitis C vaccination programme provides a good example of this, examined in the report).

The report also identifies good practice for Departments to improve the way they implement, maintain and evaluate their policies. By following these, they can ensure that they are well placed to manage risks to value for money and under-performance; that policies remain relevant and cost effective and that they can keep policies on track when something unexpected occurs.

The report suggests some key questions for departments to consider to secure intended outcomes and to deliver value for money in the policy process, including the interconnection of policies, how the identification and management of risks are built into policy design and implementation, and measuring, reviewing and evaluating the effectiveness of policy activities and outcomes.


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