I warmly welcome this opportunity to share views with Members on the organisational review programme. I will focus on the second report, which was published by the Taoiseach on 4 October, and more widely on the role of the organisational review programme in the agenda of transformational change across the public service. It will be helpful to Senators if I were first to give a brief status report on progress to date.
The first report of the organisational review programme, published in November 2008, related to three Departments – the Departments of Transport; Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, now Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. Copies were sent to all Members of the Oireachtas on publication and may be accessed in the Oireachtas Library.
The second report of the organisational review programme includes the findings of the reviews of a further four organisations and follow-up action plans prepared by the management of each of them. The organisations were the Department of Health and Children, the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Central Statistics Office and the Property Registration Authority. Regarding the third round, work is well advanced at this stage. Reviews are being undertaken of the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach.
By way of background to the organisational review programme process, the Taoiseach asked the implementation group of Secretaries General in 2006 to develop proposals on new initiatives for the next phase of modernisation of the public service. The group's proposals included a major external review of the public service which became the OECD review – a major benchmarking exercise of the public service published in the report Ireland: Towards an Integrated Public Service. The proposals also included an initiative on organisational health checks, which became the organisational review programme. The OECD and organisational review programme reviews complement one another.
When announcing the organisational review programme reviews, the Taoiseach suggested they should examine the "structures, capacities, procedures and leadership capabilities" within individual Government organisations. Thus, the reviews involve undertaking full 360° assessments. It is planned that all Departments and major offices will have been reviewed by the end of 2012.
The key purpose of the reviews is to assess how fit for purpose organisations are in light of the tasks set for them by Government and the challenges ahead. In that context, the reviews are designed to do the following: promote greater synergies across the various functions, programmes and services of an organisation; target practical support and advice on areas of particular concern for the future; examine the implications of an organisation's existing business strategies in terms of its capacity to deliver on them, including by reference to their procedures, processes and systems; assess the implications of externally imposed requirements, including obligations arising from changes in EU or national legislation; and assess the extent to which the various plans of an organisation are aligned, and if they are supported corporately so as to achieve the goals set out in the programme for Government and other national frameworks. In short, the organisational review programme reviews are designed to provide a check against an organisation's capability to do what it says it is doing or plans to do.
The organisational review programme reviews are carried out by a team comprising civil servants, not consultants. This provides significant added value. As civil servants, the team members have a good understanding of public service organisations, their cultures and their practices and, in that way, support and buy-in to the process by management and staff is promoted and strengthened.
The organisational review programme team is led by the Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr. Dermot McCarthy, and assistant secretary, Mr. Philip Kelly. The team also comprises three principals seconded from parent Departments or offices. Typically, each principal leads on the conduct of just one review, obviously without any involvement in the review of his or her parent Department or office. The team also includes three support staff from the Department of the Taoiseach.
At the outset it is important to make clear that the organisational review programme reviews do not make any recommendations about the statutory remit of organisations. This is a matter more appropriately dealt with at political level. Equally, the reviews are undertaken on a resource neutral basis, recognising that Departments and offices rarely have all the resources they believe necessary to fulfil their mandates. However, identification of areas where there are significant issues between commitments and available resources are not precluded.
At the heart of an organisational review programme review is an assessment of the capacities of organisations, using a common template covering three broad areas: strategy, delivery of customer service, and performance evaluation. Within each of these areas, ten attributes of organisational practice and behaviour are comprehensively explored. These include, for example, an examination of the capacity of leadership, internally and externally, whether a commitment to continuous improvement and innovation permeates the organisation, how well resources like HR and ICT are managed, and if performance is monitored and measured.
In reaching findings on issues, the team uses a research methodology that is both extensive and thorough. A broad review of secondary data is undertaken, including all major policy reports and legislation, HR strategies, customer charters and action plans, ICT programmes and operations, financial and audit reports, and value for money studies. The review also includes organisational-specific plans and strategies that involve cross-institutional collaboration with other agencies to deliver core objectives.
Second, on-line, web-based questionnaires are administered to all staff. In the interests of confidentiality and participant trust, the questionnaires are issued and analysed by independent consultants. No individual replies are seen by anyone except the consultants and aggregate results only are produced for the team. Third, there is extensive fieldwork, involving meetings, workshops and other forms of engagement with Ministers, Oireachtas committees, the management and staff of the organisation under review, its stakeholders, both public and private, and at EU and international level where particularly appropriate. In that regard, over 340 meetings and workshops were held in the course of the second round of organisational review programme reviews covering four Government organisations.
When the information gathering stage has been completed, the organisational review programme team analyses the evidence collected from all the meetings, workshops and surveys. It produces findings on each of the attributes covering the broad areas of strategy, managing delivery and performance evaluation. A core aim is to identify a small number of key issues which, if acted upon, would make a substantive improvement to the way the Department or office conducts its business. Each organisation then draws up an action plan to address the key findings of the organisational review programme team. Both the findings and the action plan are published in a composite report. I turn specifically to the second report of the organisational review programme which deals with system-wide implications. The report highlights significant progress made in a number of important areas. For example, a strong commitment to quality customer service is firmly embedded in many of the organisations reviewed. There are a number of excellent examples of the effective use of information and communications technology, involving innovative approaches and strong project management. The organisational review programme team has included in its report a chapter on information and communications technology best practice guidelines drawing from the research to date. Permeating the guidelines is the imperative that management at all levels in an organisation regard information and communications technology as a potentially powerful business tool that would enable, for example, the provision of management information systems, on-line customer service delivery and automated back-end processing.
The report highlights areas in which there are significant capacity challenges which will require transformational change and development. For example, there is considerable scope for improvement in the management of people, particularly the flexible allocation and redeployment of staff, the management of performance and the introduction of innovative work practices. In these challenging times Departments and offices need consciously to make more effective use of resources, both people and technology, to enhance productivity levels. The report highlights that there is significant potential for new efficiencies to be gained. It is clear, too, from the research that Civil Service organisations are still struggling to put in place effective performance measurement systems, especially to tackle under-performance and measure outcomes. All these issues require both organisational level and system-wide responses.
In a special commentary in the second report by Professor John Murray, head of the school of business, Trinity College, who sadly passed away recently, he drew attention to a number of key challenges facing public sector organisations individually and collectively. He suggested a stronger emphasis on public service productivity was needed, especially given a future of scarce resources and higher service demands. He indicated focused actions were required to change aspects of HR management at organisational and public service-wide levels. There is a need to improve the measurement of performance, especially with regard to outcomes and also with reference to international benchmark indicators of high performance. Overall, there is a need to explore the possibility for radical transformational change in the public service, as well as pursuing incremental change programmes. In progressing the salient and insightful points made by the late Professor Murray, it is vital that the challenging programme of reform set out by Government in the report of the task force on transforming public services and reflected more recently in the public service agreement 2010 to 2014 is fully implemented.
Separate statements on this topic were made in the House this morning and I do not propose to revisit them. However, it is clear that these times of exceptional economic and social challenge are driving an urgent need for greater cost effectiveness, efficiency and innovation in many areas of all organisations across the entire public service. The Government is committed to far-reaching and effective public sector reform. The organisational review programme is a real illustration of its desire to examine honestly the public sector, acknowledge best practice in order that others may benefit, show areas for improvement and make concrete recommendations for action and change.
Regarding the findings on individual organisations in the second report, they relate to reviews of three processing entities and one policy organisation, the Department of Health and Children. The review of the Department provides a challenging critique in a number of areas, notably, the management of crises, role demarcation with the HSE and the Department's other 30 agencies, the performance and governance of agencies, and the internal deployment of resources, especially staff. The Department's action plan demonstrates an evident willingness to address these issues. It is particularly encouraging that each action is time-bound and targeted at a specific outcome.
The review of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners revealed significant strengths, especially in the development and application of information and communications technology-based solutions to meet business needs and improve customer services. However, as with other public sector organisations, Revenue will need to work on human resources management, especially with regard to the deployment of resources, the management of under-performance, as well as dealing with the significant challenge of replacing the organisational memory and expertise which has been lost in the recent past. The key challenge will be to maintain a culture of excellence.
The review of the Central Statistics Office shows an organisation with many satisfied customers. However, despite fully meeting increasing EU statistical requirements, it is not as effective as it might be, especially in moving from a reliance on surveys to the re-use of administrative data held by other Government bodies. Such a transition is necessary to achieve a tangible reduction in the survey burden on businesses and the citizen. It will require substantial engagement and investment in data management by many organisations across government.
The fourth review, relating to the Property Registration Authority, portrays an organisation which has a very satisfied customer base, gone through significant technological change and managed that change in a highly competent manner. Overall, it has a clear sense of direction and a strong capacity to meet forthcoming challenges.
Generally, the organisational review programme reviews have surfaced some issues that are particular to an individual organisation and others which are common to the Civil Service and the wider public service. Both kinds of issues featured prominently in the negotiations that culminated in the Croke Park agreement. There is a particular focus in the agreement on achieving efficiencies through changes in work practices and the flexible redeployment of staff. Such measures will be central to addressing the kinds of weaknesses and limitations in Government organisations that have surfaced in the organisational review programme process.
Regarding follow-up on the findings of the organisational review programme team, every Department and office reviewed must produce a follow-up action plan. It is clear that a plan's value is in the thoroughness of its implementation. While the efforts of the organisational review programme team are focused on undertaking the reviews and planning for the next rounds, there is also a need for a process to ensure the specific commitments made by organisations in their organisational review programme action plans are fully delivered. In that regard, the new public service board being established under the chairmanship of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, will advise on the design of a robust look-back process in respect of the organisational review programme reviews. The board will assess progress on public service transformation generally and advise on future directions.
All Departments and major offices will have been reviewed as part of the organisational review programme by the end of 2012. Individually and collectively, the organisational review programme reviews provide strong evidentiary platforms for sustainable transformational change across the public service.