Improving outcomes: New Zealand’s Better Public Services Results programme

  • Published Date: 18 April 2017

All 10 of the Better Public Services Results initiatives have shown measurable improvements on problems such as criminal reoffending and infant immunisation rates since the program was introduced in 2012. ANZSOG’s Adjunct Research Fellow Dr Rodney Scott and colleague Ross Boyd investigated what features contributed to this success – things like specificity of measures, public reporting, and collective responsibility for targets.

Public servants around the world are currently paying attention to the Better Public Services (BPS) Results programme in New Zealand. Interest has been sparked by a report published by the IBM Centre for the Business of Government.

Governments around the world struggle with problems where responsibility falls across multiple agencies. Elsewhere, performance targets have been described as the ‘least bad’ option for driving public performance, but are also seen as creating a barrier to cooperation between agencies. The BPS Results programme represents one possible solution to both problems – it uses collective responsibility for performance targets to drive improvements in crosscutting problems.

The BPS Results programme has run since 2012. The New Zealand government committed to achieving ten challenging targets for important problems that cross agency boundaries. While some have been more successful than others, all ten problems have demonstrated measurable improvements over the past five years.

Targets range from reducing the number of assaults on children, to increasing participation in early childhood education, to ensuring that New Zealanders can complete their transactions with government easily in a digital environment. For each problem, the government chose a result (the desired outcome), a target (the degree of change to be achieved over five years, from 2012 to 2017), and a measure (how that change would be assessed).

The report describes the New Zealand context and history of trying to work across agency boundaries. It explains how the BPS Result programme was designed to improve cross agency and system level work by focusing on just a few problems and making agencies jointly accountable for achieving ambitious targets. Scott and Boyd identify the following features of the BPS Results that contributed to the success of the programme:

  • results are few and specific, so their relative importance is greater
  • targets convey the level of government ambition and create a sense of urgency
  • public reporting creates a strong signal that these are important and enduring government priorities
  • participants feel committed to improving each of the BPS Results, seeing them as important priorities for government and for New Zealanders, and this joint commitment has persisted over four years without any sign of decline 
  • narrowing participation to the core agencies means greater responsibility for each party
  • collective responsibility creates a focus on achieving results rather than avoiding blame
  • cascading collaboration means collective responsibility is felt down through agency hierarchies.

For more details, download the report on IBM's website. The report has featured in public management media including the Federal Times, Federal News, Government Executive, Global Government Forum, The Mandarin, and the Transtasman Report.

Based on strong interest from ANZSOG members, Rodney Scott and Ross Boyd have agreed to bring lessons from the BPS Results programme to Australia for a 2017 masterclass on inter-agency performance targets.


About the authors

Adjunct Research Fellow Dr Rodney Scott is the 2017 Innovations Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, an Adjunct Senior Lecturer for the University of New South Wales, and leads the Public Management Research Programme for the State Services Commission.

Ross Boyd is a Principal Analyst at the State Services Commission and has been involved with the Better Public Services Results programme since 2011, working on the original policy design, through implementation, monitoring and reporting.