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Key opportunities for governance assessments in policymaking

A number of factors influence the use of national governance assessments, including:

  • The governance indicators and data sources are politically acceptable to all key stakeholders: For data and indicators to inform and help create policy, it is essential that they are considered valid, reliable and useful by those who will use them. Those qualities will depend on who collects the data, the transparency of the data collection methodology used, and the nature and content of the data collected, amongst others.
  • The assessment is relevant to policy: The assessment should be relevant and useful to concerned stakeholders and decision makers. It is thus crucial that the questions and assumptions behind the measurement reflect, to the greatest extent possible, those of major stakeholders, the people and policymakers.
  • Indicators are selected and generated through a transparent, participatory and inclusive process: Priority should be placed on inclusive, participatory and bottom-up approaches. When stakeholders are involved at an early phase, and when a common understanding is reached early on about what a governance assessment should include, it is more likely that potential users will accept the findings later on and engage constructively with them. This is all the more true in cases where researchers and stakeholders do not seem to agree on the way in which problems should be tackled.
  • Policymakers are engaged in the governance assessment process: It is important that policymakers be part of steering and advisory committees to review report outlines, data research and drafts. A strategy for engaging policymakers needs to be developed from the outset of a governance assessment. While involving stakeholders can greatly facilitate the use of data to influence policy, in certain contexts, such as in authoritative regimes, it might not be possible or fruitful to consult with relevant stakeholders and policymakers. In such cases, research should be conducted anyway, based on the preliminary knowledge and information available to whoever is in charge of the assessment -- but with the knowledge that hard work and long efforts will have to be devoted to presenting and disseminating results in order to influence policymaking.
  • Governance assessments are integrated into professional competence: It is important for policymakers to be able to understand and use governance assessments in their professional practice. Knowing about the governance assessment, as well as how to gain access to it and critically appraise it, is a necessary skill for professional policymakers and practitioners. Without such knowledge and understanding, it is difficult to see how a strong demand for governance assessments can be established. Joint training and professional development opportunities for policymakers and analysts may be one way of taking this forward and for matching demand with supply.
  • There exists ownership of the governance assessment: A closely related issue is getting policymakers and practitioners to "own" the governance assessment. This stands in contrast to a position where evidence is solely the property and domain of external researchers or donors, for example.
  • There exists appropriate "buy-in": Getting policymakers and practitioners to own and use governance assessments also involves getting commitment and buy-in at the most appropriate levels. In central government, this usually means getting ministers and senior policy officials to sign up to the ownership of a project and the evidence that goes to support it. This, in turn, means a commitment to use findings that are contrary to expectations and not to continue with a policy, programme or project if the assessment indicates this is ineffective. At the level of "frontline" service delivery, it means getting key decision makers to "own" and champion the assessment.
  • A shared notion of evidence: The assessment is more likely to be used in the policymaking process if there exists agreement between policymakers and researchers, and within the research community, on the validity of the indicators and their underlying data. Disputes between researchers about the superiority or inferiority of quantitative versus qualitative data, or experimental methods, can lead to no useful evidence being produced or to evidence that is technically very good but of little use to policymakers or anyone else.
  • The message is clear. Researchers must work with policymakers to more fully understand the sorts of questions they need to answer, and to agree on the most appropriate evidence that will help solve policy problems. This means having a strategic approach to policy development and, wherever possible, integrated teams of policy officials, researchers, specialist consultants, and people who have to implement and deliver "frontline" services in undertaking the assessment.
  • Incentives are in place to use governance assessments: The evidence on how to get research into practice repeatedly shows that practitioners need incentives to use evidence and to do things shown to be effective. This also means not doing things shown to be ineffective or harmful.

Governance assessments are relevant to almost all policymaking processes but have particular relevance in the following areas:

  • Using governance assessments in national and local development plans: The comprehensive national development plan represents the country’s policy for future growth and development. In an increasing number of cases, such plans also include democratic governance as a central theme and a specific sector encompassing, for example, justice, rule of law, media, elections, local government, parliament and so forth. When governance is included as a specific sector in the national development plan, a mechanism is needed to establish the baseline for the governance situation, including an explicit strategy for addressing governance deficits with targets and goals for monitoring improvements. In this respect a national governance assessment can be especially useful in informing the baseline and providing robust indicators for monitoring improvements.
  • Using governance assessments for making decisions on policies affecting the provision of public goods and services: The provision of public goods and services is a critical role for the state. Assessing the quality of governance therefore entails assessing the quality of goods and services and the effectiveness of government in delivering public goods and services. A national governance assessment is especially helpful in highlighting citizen concerns and needs as well as diagnosing specific state failures. A national governance assessment that includes disaggregated data for marginalized groups (geographically and socially/economically) can also help policymakers in deciding upon how to allocate resources and at which service level. Innovative initiatives such as citizens’ reports cards can be included as indicators in the national governance assessment. This type of mechanism was developed in Bangalore, India, and involves systematically gathering citizen feedback on performance of public agencies and disseminating the findings to the citizenry, thus exerting public pressure on the agencies to reform. A seven-point rating scale facilitated quantification of citizen satisfaction levels with regard to service delivery, dimensions of corruption, staff behavior, and other areas.
  • Using governance indicators in the budget formulation process: The allocation of resources to competing needs is an important exercise of setting local policy. Deciding what not to do is also an important part of policymaking. The budget is therefore considered one of the strongest policymaking tools. It defines the spending and service priorities for numerous other policy decisions; for example, important decisions relating to the governance sector such as justice (police, courts, prisons), corruption (institutional, legal and educational programmes) can be informed by a national governance assessment.