Keeping your promises…easier said than done

The Jamaican election is now over (although at this writing recounts were underway) and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and its leader, the Right Honourable Andrew Holness, looks as though it will soon be taking office.

While Jamaican elections have their own individual character, this one seems to have followed the recent trends that have appeared in other countries.Nobody tells truth

Voters are clearly tired with incumbent administrations generally, and, more specifically the politics of restraint (perhaps particularly so in Jamaica where the governing PNP administration has been successfully implementing an IMF program that has limited fiscal programs).  Beyond this there is a broader malaise; a widespread voter apathy which has resulted in lower and lower turnouts for elections in general.  And, as in other countries, Jamaica has seen the development of an increasingly vibrant and vocal social media community, which (depending on your perspective), has either lead, or reflected, a general rejection of incumbent governments, usually on the grounds that they do not consult on their programs; that they appear to govern for the benefit of the few; and that they tend towards arrogance and entitlement in the conduct of the public’s business.

This seems to be the generally unsettling context then in which the new Jamaican government takes office.  Among the several daunting challenges it faces will be how to ensure that it does not fall prey to the very sentiments that helped it come to power.

Perhaps it can look to the experience in other countries for some ideas.  The recently elected government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is faced with (some) similar challenges. While I don’t want to force similarities that are too close between Canada and Jamaica, there may be some instructive ideas from our recent government transition.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration has from the beginning put great emphasis on ensuring that it will remain focused on what is important…i.e. delivering on the promises they made during the election.  Whether it does so is of course another thing altogether…but, they have increased their odds of doing so through a number of important steps they have taken. And in doing so they are increasing their chances of being more than a one term government.

The JLP and Holness Transition Team might do well to consider the following ideas:

Create a Cabinet and government “culture” that is single-mindedly focussed on achieving promised results  

In a Canadian context this has meant looking abroad and adopting the concept of “deliverology”.  This rather awkwardly titled approach to public administration, developed by Sir Michael Barber of the UK (an advisor to the Blair government), is really nothing more than common sense and measurement/tracking of progress so that necessary adjustments to implementation can be introduced to ensure delivery as promised.

For more information on the concept of deliverology, and its adoption in Canada, see these articles from The Economist and Macleans Magazine.

In Barber’s own words:

“What I discovered with others in the Blair administration was that you could put in place some basic approaches that, if you followed them through, would make it much more likely that you’d deliver what you’d promised than otherwise.”

Focussing on results…as simple as it seems in concept… it is harder to internalize in large organizations with wide-ranging mandates.  It is harder still to accomplish when Ministers must also respond to day-to-day challenges of administering their departments; staying in touch with constituency business; responding to the latest “urgency”; and fulfilling all the other related-duties of public life.

So one of the first moves the Trudeau administration made was to seek to internalize concept of deliverology to all Cabinet Ministers in a special retreat shortly after taking office.  In addition each department has also been instructed to establish an office dedicated to deliverology to support their Minister in monitoring progress.

Now, I am not suggesting that the Jamaican government should immediately go out and hire an expensive international consultant.  However, it might want to consider setting up an accountability and reporting framework that will allow them to keep their eye on what is important…the promises they made that generated the support they required to win the election.

Spell out and communicate clear accountabilities – not just at the platform level – but at the level of individial Ministers.

All governments have their electoral platforms which form the basis of the promises they have made to the people.  The JLP is no exception.  See their Manifesto.

In order to direct and manage the implementation of these platforms most Prime Ministers find ways to communicate their expectations to their Ministers and caucus.  However, in today’s world, particularly with media savvy, young voters, it is important to also communicate these expectations to the people.

Upon taking office in Canada, the incoming Trudeau government has found a novel way to do this.  While successive Canadian governments have relied on internal (and hitherto “Secret”) “mandate letters” from the Prime Minister to instruct Cabinet Ministers as to his/her priorities for action, the Trudeau government has taken it a step further and made these letters public.  The mandate letters sent by Prime Minister Trudeau set out the general expectations for the government’s style, behaviour, and approach to governance, but most importantly, identify those issues where the Prime Minister expects results.  The list of deliverables is not the sum total of issues a Minister might be called upon to address during his/her term in office, but rather are the priorities that they must always keep in mind.

The interesting thing is that with these letters in hand, the public and the media (social media included) can follow along through the term of the government and track each Minister’s achievement (or not) of key deliverables.

See the announcement of Canada’s Ministerial mandate letters here.

See the mandate letters for Canadian Ministers here.

Consult widely and report on the progress of your program

Another area where the new Canadian government has placed priority is consultation.  This is not say that previous governments have not consulted.  However, the new government has consciously emphasized engaging citizens, particularly those they feel have been under represented, i.e. First Nation aboriginal groups.

Consultation is being used to gain policy insights, to increase the feeling of inclusion on the part of citizens; and to generate broader support for the governments program.  Fundamentally, I believe it is also expected to create a more forgiving electorate, one that is better informed on issues, cognizant of the trade-offs involved in public policy and prepared to be more understanding of mistakes and failures to reach all targets.

(As an aside, care needs to be taken to ensure that (as may be happening already in Canada) consultation does not become an alternative to taking action)

The JLP government would do well to emphasize consultation and outreach as part of their focus on delivering on promises.  Indeed, they do not need to look very far for a model and could do worse than take a page from the PNP administration, which set up the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) to monitor and report on IMF Programme implementation.  Many would say that the PNP government succeeded against long odds in fully meeting the obligations of the IMF program.  And many would also say that the existence of the EPOC is one of the reasons for this success. No one liked the IMFs harsh medicine.  However, having respected thought leaders from outside of government monitor, and be available to comment on IMF implementation, helped to de-politicize the file and certainly helped disseminate accurate information and continuously underline the importance of the file to Jamaicans.   

The JLP program certainly contains a number of challenges.  While the EPOC model might not be a good fit for all files that will confront the government, the ideas behind it…consultation; commitment to partnership; information sharing with the people and reporting on progress certainly would be. A similar consultation model might help increase the chances of delivery of other elements of the new government’s platform.

Breaking Promises