In modern society, the government is the most important actor in the economy. From education to medicine to income support programs to national defence, each year our government spends billions of rupees on direct service provision and transfers additional billions in direct payments. In the private sector, companies must report profits and losses, and their survival and growth are disciplined by consumers, capital markets, and the courts. However, what about government performance? How should we measure and report it? How do we reward success and assign accountability for failures? Do modern advances in computation, data collection and analysis, and communications technology create new possibilities for better performance measures and greater political accountability? This, as we know has been the main concern in Pakistan where governmental delivery, since its inception in 1947, has not only left a huge gap, but its overall management performance per se leaves us with a lot to be desired!

The main reason why the developed countries tend to be developed is that over the years they have managed to successfully launch a series of mechanisms to tackle these and similar questions. Their academia has also helped in devising yardsticks to measure governmental performance and also in unleashing tools that can help shore up the bureaucracy’s efficiency. For example, late Yale University has come us with its new ‘Democratic Innovation Program’, which brings together public sector managers from different sectors to help them learn from each other’s experiences, successes, and failures and at the same time seek help from both, the experts and the private sector leaders on how to improve their performance. The endeavour puts together a series of events covering a variety of areas, such as education, medical care, and the media. Speakers discuss what accounts for the successes and failures of government performance in these domains, introduce ideas for developing new measures of performance and new systems of accountability, and consider what general lessons might be drawn to improve government performance and democratic accountability. A good current-day example of learning through this model and in turn improving state-level management is that of Bangladesh where professionals and private sector’s leading entrepreneurs have not only helped in teaching operational and delivery output efficiencies to a rather obsolete colonial-days bureaucracy, but at the same have also practically helped out by way of assuming responsibility in selected sectors and physically demonstrating on how it is done. Pakistan could also benefit from undertaking such initiatives.

This new approach is so exciting that even the most developed countries are using it to further enhance governmental performance cum efficiencies. Again, for example, last October (2021) the US Government kicked off a series of interactive seminars engaging the leaders from McKinsey & Company’s social, health care, and public sector practices. In their time at McKinsey and stints in government, they have brought management and operational expertise to help government leaders frame decisions, which have led to improvements in budget and operations plans, streamlined customer service, and upgraded IT infrastructure. The Democratic Innovations program in essence focuses on understanding how democracy works and when it fails to achieve its potential.

It has never been more important to direct new intellectual energy to the challenge of rethinking what is possible for our democratic institutions and especially in a decadent bureaucracy. By productively rubbing shoulders with and learning from these entrepreneurial and innovation gurus, they can learn to proactively identify and then test new ideas for improving the quality of democratic representation and governance per se. The McKinsey experiment taught us that one of the real challenges is of measuring productivity in the government sector. The conventional ways to measure productivity are based on inputs and output prices, but there are no market-generated output prices for the goods and services that the government produces. If a productivity measure is based on output, it is often tricky to measure the quality of the output and service delivery. It was explained that how just by simply applying some private sector performance benchmarks to correlate employment trajectory, performance could be improved instantly by about one-fourth or 25%. The State in its contract makes certain promises to its people and it is its responsibility to deliver on these commitments. The basic idea is to improve bureaucratic service performance measurement and to use analytics to improve resource allocation and productivity. The dividends from such an exercise that aims at enhancing the value and impact of improving government services are so huge that the real potential of gains could very well be immeasurable.

To conclude, when looking to measure and improve government performance, an important aspect is about the scope of careers in the public sector and the challenges the public sector faces when competing for talent against the private sector. This brings us to the requirement of making public service attractive. For example, a recommendation from the McKinsey seminar was that though spending time in the US Department for Justice is a “career accelerator” for lawyers, however, to make it effective this time should then be also extended to other areas of government service. The philosophy is that those who seek to transform their government must do what they can when they can, as though running a relay race. Take the baton from those who came before you, then run as fast as you possibly can for as long as you can until you pass the baton to the next set of government officers who have been practically shown the way on how to compete optimally.