copy the linklink copied!1. Key findings

This chapter presents the key findings from the review, together with an assessment of the achievements and remaining challenges. It underlines the role that IGEES has made to strengthening policy making in Ireland and offers suggestions for achieving greater coherence in the governance of IGEES, for broadening the development of people and skills, for leveraging IGEES to further the quality and use of evaluation in Ireland, and also for furthering the scope of dissemination and sharing processes. The chapter also presents the machinery of government involved in EIPM and discusses the distribution of policy analysis resources across departments as well as their relations with statistical resources and data.

    

copy the linklink copied!Drivers of change

The Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) was created in March 2012 under an initiative to extend analytic capacities for evidence-informed policy making across whole of Government in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The development of the Service sought to expand and extend analytical capacity within the Irish Civil Service.

Previously, there were specific areas of the Irish Civil Service that had dedicated economic and evaluation resources. For instance, resources were present within the Departments of Finance, Transport and Agriculture. Within the Department of Finance, a Central Expenditure and Evaluation Unit (CEEU) had been established in 2006 to promote the application of best value for money practice in public expenditure programmes and projects. Its primary goal consisted in providing analytic and research support to the Department of Finance and later the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), while the responsibility for achieving value for money remained in the hands of the relevant Departments and Implementing Agencies. The CEEU assisted these bodies by promoting best practices in the evaluation and implementation of programme and project expenditure and providing guidance now captured in the Public Spending Code. Overall, the CEEU conducted the study of crosscutting issues, complementing the more programme-specific analyses conducted by regular staff in Vote sections in DPER, which are overseeing spending by the Line Departments (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, 2012[1]). The CEEU itself was established to follow an Evaluation Unit in the Department of Finance (NDP/CSF Evaluation Unit) which was set up in the 1990’s to provide technical expertise in the areas of evaluation and appraisal.

The severe economic and fiscal context of the 2008 financial crisis exerted very strong pressures on Ireland’s public finances. The Irish economy indeed experienced a significant 14% of GDP contraction from 2007 to 2009, with a deficit going up to 14.2% of GDP in 2009 and gross debt growing from 28.9% to 70% of GDP between 2007 and 2009 (OECD, 2011[2]).

The Irish Government implemented a medium term fiscal consolidation strategy from 2008, consisting in permanent expenditure cuts and revenue enhancement measures. Still, pressures on public finances remained, with an ongoing challenge for the management of public expenditure. This is in line with the general tendency for public spending to rise as a share of national income across countries at the international level in the post-crisis period, which reinforces the need for public spending optimisation (Kennedy and Howlin, 2017[3]).

A number of reforms to public administration and the budgetary and fiscal framework were implemented in response to the financial crisis. The OECD conducted in 2008 a review of the public service reforms occurring in Ireland at that time. The main identified challenge for Ireland going forward was to make different parts of the service work in greater cohesion, with a more integrated approach at the national and local levels (OECD, 2008[4]).

The IGEES was established in 2012 as a more systemic response, which would have the aim to build and expand capacity to achieve value-for-money in policy across all Government Departments by ensuring that the appropriate capacity would be created where it would be needed most at departmental level. This initiative moved the development of economic and evaluation resources beyond individual units in specific Departments towards a more general investment in economic and analytical skills. One of the key goals was in particular to ensure that spending reviews and strategic analysis of public expenditure were informed by high quality economic analysis.

Ireland established a second Public Service Reform Plan for 2014-2016, putting forward IGEES as a service to enhance the analytic capacities of the civil service, undertake evaluations of public expenditure and improve analytic resources for policy formulation (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, 2014[5]). The OECD’s assessment of this second reform plan recognised IGEES as an essential asset in building an integrated cross-Government capacity to support better policy formulation, evaluation and implementation in the civil service, supporting reform and supporting progress on cross-cutting challenges (OECD, 2016[6]). IGEES is currently a key initiative led by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to support the “Our Public Service 2020” public sector reforms (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, 2017[7]).

The purpose of IGEES is to provide a cross-Government service supporting better policy formulation and implementation based on economics, statistics, value-for-money analysis and evaluation. This service particularly aims at improving the design and targeting of the Irish Government’s policies and contribute to better outcomes for citizens. (IGEES, 2017[8]). Such purpose is achieved by integrating IGEES staff in each Department, adding their specific analytic and policy skills and expertise across whole of Government. In particular, IGEES assists the Government’s decision-making process through specialised recruitment, learning and development of staff in policy analysis from a whole of government perspective. IGEES provides high standards of economic and policy analysis and ensures the application of established best practices in policy evaluation, enabling greater effectiveness of policy and programme interventions. Finally, the Service also facilitates policy dialogue between the civil servants, academia, external specialists and stakeholders across the socio-economic spectrum.

The IGEES launched its Medium Term Strategy (MTS) for 2016-2019 to guide the further development of the service following an initial start-up phase. The focus of this strategy was to improve the quality of its output, increase the impact the policy analysis process and better inform the policy debate. In particular, the work plan for 2018 consisted in continuing the development of IGEES as a whole of Government service, and identified the areas of work that should be undertaken by IGEES staff across individual Departments. It focuses on branded output, dissemination and capacity building through recruitment, mobility and training.

copy the linklink copied!The current OECD study

The current OECD Study undertaken at the invitation of DPER will feed in the development of the next Medium Term Strategy, taking stock of the achievements and effectiveness of the IGEES. This offers a unique opportunity to present an external review of the service’s impact in light of international best practices. It will help to gauge IGEES effectiveness, its current achievements and remaining challenges from a cross-country perspective informed by recent international developments. Findings from this review are also founded on consultation exercises (survey questionnaire, interviews) undertaken with a number of Departments themselves.

The goal is to identify areas for further progress and to chart a way forward in the medium to long term, with a view to inform future reform effort and strengthen Ireland’s approach to evidence-informed policy making.

copy the linklink copied!Achievements and Remaining Challenges

The IGEES has made a significant difference in strengthening the analytical capacity of the Civil Service in Ireland and progress is being achieved in many areas in terms of building a robust evidence base for better policy and decision-making. While not always directly visible, the impact of IGEES across the civil service is widely recognised, helping to inform the development of spending proposals, to improve the quality and effectiveness of public expenditure and to consolidate the underlying analysis of regulatory impacts for new laws and regulations. With resources embedded across a large number of departments, IGEES has contributed to forming an expert community and a unique capacity to assess, inform and discuss key policy choices, around a significant amount and range of Irish public policies and programmes. For example, IGEES has played a significant role in informing the development of the most recent 28 spending reviews that were released in the autumn of 2019, and is a very active contributor to the Dublin Economics Workshops1. The decentralised approach adopted by IGEES, namely having IGEES staff embedded within ministries, has helped to create a cross sectoral networked approach to economic evaluation across ministries.

This has led to significant change across the civil service. Departments have often cooperated to work on analysing key policy issues across the whole of Government. Relevant recent analytical and statistical outputs achieved by IGEES economists and evaluators touch on topics such as health, the environment, disability or Brexit. Table in Annex A presents a more detailed but non-exhaustive overview of the large amount and variety of work that IGEES has achieved across different policy areas between 2016 and 2019, including several Social Impact Assessments. More than 200 papers have been produced by IGEES policy analysts, covering most policy areas such as the Social Protection, Health and Transport, Tourism and Sport [See Annex A].

While papers by themselves are not necessarily a direct proof of policy success, this impressive list testifies of the solid achievements that have been made with limited human and financial resources, within a very compact civil service, compared to some of the larger European or OECD countries.

IGEES is now a recognised brand as part of the policy debate in Ireland and it owes the value of the brand to the commitment, qualification and efforts of all the analysts that are serving IGEES as a community and the Irish civil service as a whole.

While much progress has been made, it is important to continue investing and strengthening IGEES as a shared public good for the civil service in Ireland. The Recommendations offered below by the OECD are meant to offer some suggestions for policy development over the next 3 to 5 years, as a way to capitalise on the current achievements of IGEES and to help close some of the remaining gaps.

copy the linklink copied!Recommendations for the future

The recommendations below are meant to sustain the future development of IGEES, taking into account its broad strategic environment. The recommendations are also framed in light of the broad implications of the international trends in this area.

Achieving greater coherence in the governance of IGEES

The IGEES structures had grown out of its key connection with DPER, one of the core central departments of the Government in Ireland. The governance structures were designed in the initial phase of IGEES, with a view to facilitate its development. Given now the broad reach of IGEES across government departments in Ireland, it will be important to ensure greater coherence and to facilitate collective ownership of IGEES as a key tool of the civil service as a whole in Ireland. For this reason, some of the current fragmentation between a “Policy Oversight Group”, an “Internal Advisory Group” and an “External advisory group”, do not seem to fit the future needs of IGEES as a horizontal cross cutting service for the government and the country as a whole.

Create an integrated advisory group

The policy oversight group and the external advisory group should be consolidated into one “Advisory group”, which should function as a “Strategy board” for IGEES. It should build on the current participation in the policy oversight group, but expanding the participation to some other departments, including in particular the department of the Taoiseach, and also external experts. The external experts could be selected from the Academia, but also the business world, and could include senior international representatives that are interested in developing strategic capacity for policymaking. It should also of course continue to integrate the presence of ESRI, and could include private sector representatives, experts in the area of big data. This could function as a strategic advisory board for IGEES.

One of the corollary of such change, would be to just adapt and rename the internal advisory group, as an “Internal IGEES Steering Group”. Such a group performs an essential function to assist in the daily management, coordination and operations of IGEES. Such a group seems to perform its mission in a useful manner, but its name should clearly distinguish it from the other strategic/advisory board.

Establish the foundations for an evidence based policy making policy to increase access and use of data

While IGEES has been very successful in creating a highly skilled economists’ workforce inside the Irish civil service, the full implementation of an evidence-based agenda implies leveraging the data that are available for analytical purposes. The fact that IGEES economists are based in the ministries gives them close access to the data held by those ministries, but it is not always enough to guarantee data interoperability and access, and needs to go hand in hand with further progress on an integrated data infrastructure. Evidenced based policymaking also requires integrated strategies to leverage data within the public sector and to facilitate its use for policy making (OECD, forthcoming).

This would imply ensuring that any efforts in the use of data for evidenced-based policy making in Ireland are also in line and coherent with broader data policies in the country, including the Public Service Data Strategy 2019-20232 (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, 2018[9]). In addition, Ireland has a very active “Open Government Data” policy and ranks certainly well on this front in comparison with European neighbours or OECD peers. Still, it is clear that many gaps remain in the possibility to obtain linked data sets, and to create “smart data” for analysis. The IGEES efforts are partly coordinated with those of the Irish Statistical Office, but there seems scope for deepening these efforts and giving them a stronger institutional foundation and political leverage.

In countries such as the United States, or even in France concerning firm datasets, the statistical apparatus has more possibilities of interconnection with administrative datasets, so that data can be available for applied economic studies and policy analysis. This report has highlighted a number of remaining challenges for data availability and use that remain to be tackled. A stronger institutionalisation of the evidence, statistical or data function in some of the ministries coupled with an explicit connection with IGEES might help to resolve some of the gaps. In addition, it would be useful to explore the possibility of setting up special mechanisms within the scope of data protection arrangements, to facilitate data linkages without having to release any confidential information outside of the boundaries where these have been collected.

Increase synergies with broader civil service renewal strategies

IGEES is an essential element that support analytical skills in the Irish civil service to strengthen policy formulation and implementation. IGEES also has mechanisms to engage with a wide range of ministries. The ONE civil service strategy aims to foster the management of the civil service as an integrated organisation, with increased scope for flexibility, and responsiveness. It also promotes continuous learning. This presents IGEES with a unique opportunity to brand itself as a cross cutting initiative across the civil service in Ireland. This can help to promote some of the tools that could be developed and are suggested in this report as core ways to facilitate a more unified structure and policy community on these issues across the various streams of the civil service in Ireland.

Broaden the development of people and skills

As there are currently 160 analysts working across a range of ministries, the policy options presented below are aimed at consolidating the current development of IGEES. The goal is to further strengthen its role in nurturing a corporate policy community in Ireland and to adapt its reach and functioning to its increasing responsibilities across the civil service.

Start developing a market place and electronic community tools for IGEES analysts

Given the increased number of IGEES analysts working across ministries, it might be relevant to start creating shared tools for the profession, such as an intranet site, a community of practice, and access to specific tools such as journals, software or analytical resources that could be relevant for IGEES analysts. Online collaborative communication tools (Slack, Teams, etc.) may also be particularly useful for the analysts who tend to be more isolated or working in Ministries that are relatively less equipped.

Creating a functional market place, with openly advertised positions, and even some form of a coordinated rotation might help to create a sense of a shared approach and a level playing field among IGEES analysts.

Other tools that are frequently used in public sector innovation strategies could be mobilised. This could include creating an “Award”, of the IGEES paper of the year, and identifying some IGEES agents as “agent of change”, who can nurture and promote innovative and forward looking analytical strategies. This could help to emulate best practices and facilitate the diffusion of innovative tools and ideas across the civil service.

Explore the possibility to develop career opportunities for analytical professions

Given the increased scope of IGEES as a horizontal programme, a striking feature is that IGEES positions remain at the level of the policy officer and assistant principal. There is currently no career path estabp0lished as part of the IGEES system. An important element to take into account is that IGEES analysts still tend to have relatively rapid career progressions and to obtain managerial roles relatively quickly.

Still, the issue should be framed as to how to position the analytical and advisory function within the civil service. While it is important for this function to be close to the policy field to remain relevant, yet, if no specific titles or positions are established, there is also a risk for the “evidence-informed policy making agenda” to lack some form of an institutional and political anchor. This is why a number of countries have created functions such as “Chief economist” or Chief evaluators in Ministries, and this is particularly the case now in the US with the implementation of the evidence act. In Ireland, the situation remains mixed: chief economists or their equivalent, tend to exist in some ministries, but the approach seems to remain scattered and fragmented. It is also the case that a number of Senior Civil Servants (Principal Officers, Assistant Secretaries etc.) have an analytical background (e.g. economists, social scientists etc.).

It might be advisable to start thinking first in strategic ways as to how to position and frame the policy advisory function across a range of ministries, at a level that is currently beyond the reach of the current IGEES programme, which would entail framing positions at the principal officer or assistant secretary levels. While framing the policy advisory function, it would also be relevant to start articulating this with exploring the possibility to establish a career path for IGEES analysts, which would not be automatic but would still entail the possibility to obtain a corporate and visible recognition for the most talented elements.

Diversify professional skills to include social and applied sciences

The IGEES was originally created to form a community of professional economist who could support the analytical functions of the civil service in Ireland. In other countries, the types and range of analytical skills that are needed in the civil service may be at times wider than just economics, while still relying on a range of applied social sciences. In the United Kingdom, the analytical professions includes economists, statisticians, operations research and social sciences. While IGEES has already started to slightly diversify its recruitment it will be important to continue this diversification in order to provide the ministries with the range of analytical skills that are needed, as was the case for example in the health area. Another aspect would also be to allow IGEES economists to develop their careers in terms of expertise, completing PhDs for example, and in some cases keeping teaching appointments or possibilities to engage with the academia. This can help to strengthen the reach of IGEES as well as the quality of the work and motivation of the staff.

Reduce remaining barriers to mobility

The IGEES functions as a transversal service across the civil service in Ireland. As such it already provides significant possibilities for mobility, even if a few remaining barriers have been identified within the scope of the report, whether formal or informal. These are not necessarily easy to tackle as they are related to general management practices in the civil service, some pay differentials that exist across ministries and a greater attractiveness of some of the core departments, including DPER, Finance and the department of the Taoiseach. It might be advisable to reward the possibility for young economists to develop some of the IGEES functions in some of the more peripheral areas, by favouring some moves between the periphery and the centre and to explore ways to reduce some of the current pay differentials that may exist across the profession.

Leverage IGEES to further the quality and use of evaluation in Ireland

The IGEES has served to date mainly as a way to invest in skills and capabilities, and some of the core tools that guide policy evaluation in Ireland are closely related to the spending review process, such as the Public Spending code. The experience of New Zealand and some other European countries has underlined the value that a broader perspective on well-being could bring to the development of modern policy analysis for highly developed OECD economies. While Ireland has weathered the impact of the financial crisis and stands among the relatively wealthier European countries, it might make sense to contribute to adapting some of the analytical approaches.

Review and enhance the tools and guidelines to broaden their scope

This could entail reviewing some of the current analytical tools, to broaden their scope and include some of the well-being approaches, including some of the non-monetary aspect of the analysis, the distributional and environmental impacts. This may contribute to enriching the analysis and to maintaining its broader relevance to strengthen the capacity to reach consensus across Ministries across core long-term issues

Enhance the focus on implementation and theory of change

The IGEES has been created as a community of professional economists trained in analytical tools and statistical methods. Yet, one of the often-neglected aspects of policy proposals in government is related to the capacity to create consensus on policy options, to identify pitfalls for implementation and to use a theory of change approach. The recent OECD work on standards of evidence underlines the importance of ensuring the right conditions for implementation. While it is normal for IGEES economists to have a fairly technical and analytical training, it would also be useful as part of the induction and professional experience in the civil service, to address the policy implementation and political economy of reform aspects of policy proposals. This requires developing some of the soft skills and the capacity to listen to weak signals in the policy and political environment.

Strengthen capacity for evidence synthesis and knowledge management

The IGEES has been developed as a compact and effective analytical service within a small country context, where many ministries have to work with relatively limited staffing capacity. The possibility of using “meta-analysis” and systematic reviews also offers an interesting approach that could complement the need to conduct original analytical work for any new policy question. The meta analysis and systematic reviews are part of the “What Works” approach championed by the United Kingdom, and are used by many Nordic countries and in North America. It offers a cost effective alternative to produce analytical research through systematic scans of the international literature.

This report found limited evidence for these methods to be used in the Irish civil service at present, except for the health intervention area where Cochrane approaches and health technology assessment are part of the landscape. Therefore, the IGEES could play a useful role in spearheading such approaches in some of the policy areas, particularly the social policy sector, or issues such as economic clusters and entrepreneurship which are very important to sustain the future of the Irish economic model.

Strengthen mechanisms for use of evidence

The IGEES has served to strengthen civil service capacity to produce evidence and to locate it close to the policy-making functions. Yet, there are still many gaps in the use of evidence, as is the case in the majority of OECD countries. A range of approaches have been identified to strengthen the capacity to promote evidence informed policy making through use of evaluation and evidence by the OECD, including skills for understanding, obtaining, interrogating and assessing evidence, using and applying it, engaging with stakeholders and evaluating. In addition, the OECD has identified some organisational approaches, such as promoting an evidence agenda, or establishing strategic units or positions to strengthen the knowledge brokerage functions. The rationale for IGEES is very close to many of these initiatives and IGEES tools and convening power could be used to promote such mechanisms across departments and facilitate the sharing of best practice across areas of the civil service in Ireland. For example, the Department for children and Youth Affairs has developed an “Evidence into policy programme”, that can be an interesting example to support governmental policy priorities through research and knowledge transfer. Sharing these and other initiatives widely across the civil service may help to address this recurring challenge faced in most countries.

Another channel will be to facilitate the sharing of evaluation and economic analytical approaches with Parliament, through the usual dialogue mechanisms that ministries have to engage with Parliamentarians. This could be flagged through IGEES channels while leaving the departments to best identify how to promote and exploit windows of opportunity. Finally, the setting up of some senior positions, such as chief economists, has also been used across a range of countries as a way to help build demand for evidence by promoting individuals with the range of authority, technical and soft skills that are necessary to engage at the political level.

Further the scope of dissemination and sharing processes

The IGEES has been very active to produce and promote analytical substance across the civil service and beyond in Ireland. The proposals below are aimed at supporting such initiatives and complementing them in some areas.

Continue and expand high level events

IGEES is very active in high-level events, branding analytical work, and encouraging IGEES analyst to engage in conferences and policy dialogue. This is excellent, very important and useful.

This can be deepened and continued. For example, high-level visits by international recognised experts, academics could be used to organise “high level policy dialogues”, on core and global issues for the domestic audience of analysts and professional economists across the civil service. This may require leveraging some personal contacts from the Irish academic community and could help to broaden the scope of the domestic policy dialogue.

Establish mechanisms for sharing at the more junior levels

While the high-level conferences are certainly useful and important, the report has also highlighted some remaining gaps at the junior level. In some other countries, for example in the US or France, some mechanisms exist to promote sharing of ongoing work, and peer-to-peer exchange for the junior analysts. This would be particularly useful as a way to foster a community approach and for the more isolated analysts to find a community of peers and colleagues to exchange on going work.

Envisage some stronger branding and dissemination strategy

DPER is already active in branding and disseminating IGEES work, while recognising the need to also ensure departmental ownership on the work that is produced in the sectoral areas. Still, a few steps could be envisaged to further consolidate the branding and dissemination strategy. One could simply be to create a colourful IGEES logo, which could be put on the cover or back cover of documents to indicate IGEES contributions. Another one could also be to establish some social media strategy to brand and promote the results. Ensuring that nuggets of information are duly promoted with links to relevant web pages could contribute greatly to increasing the impact, promoting the brand and disseminating the content of IGEES work.

copy the linklink copied!Overall organisation

Machinery of government involved in EIPM

The IGEES is a horizontal network, embedded across Government Departments supported by the Department of Expenditure and Reform (DPER), which is part of the policy making process and which supports the whole of Irish Government in delivering evidence-informed policymaking (EIPM) by guiding policy research, evaluation and appraisal through a variety of processes and frameworks. The diagram below shows the interconnections between IGEES, DPER, the Department of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister’s Office) and the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The aim is to deliver value for money in terms of public spending and delivery of public services, IGEES relies on data as a primary building block for good evidence-informed policymaking. The goal of IGEES is to ensure that government departments can make sense of data and use it to feed into policy-making processes. To deliver this goal, IGEES supports capacity for ex-ante and ex-post evaluation and for monitoring cost effectiveness, output and impact on users across departments. As for public intervention, the areas considered are current expenditure capital expenditure, taxation measures and regulation. In terms of stage of analysis, different requirements are established for the appraisal stage, the implementation or monitoring phase and the evaluation phase.

The Central Statistical Office is a statutory body responsible for the development and analysis of statistics, supports capacity for statistical analysis across a number of departments and agencies with a set of statisticians, who are in some instances associated with IGEES staff across Ministries to help manage data. However, the governance of this statistical network is less developed than in the case of IGEES. While the two are working closely together, there are also no explicit governance arrangements to connect the two.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) is an integral part of the overall organisation and coordination of policy analysis in Ireland, together with the Department of the Taoiseach and the Ministry of Finance (see Figure 1.1). DPER hosts critical IGEES resources, with the IGEES coordination Unit, with an Accounting Officer, a significant number of IGEES staff located within DPER, and particularly the Vote Sections3 as they are termed in DPER, which oversee different parts of the budget.

IGEES Staff are located in the main policy units in charge of overseeing expenditure, for example the Health Vote, the Social Protection Vote and the Pay and Pensions Division. In cases where a unit does not have its own IGEES resources, the central IGEES unit in DPER is available to provide support on a project basis. IGEES staff in the Vote Sections within DPER have a critical and ongoing relationship with Departmental policy units and Departmental IGEES staff. DPER’s role as a Treasury Department necessitates ongoing engagement with line Departments as part of the budgetary process and expenditure management. As such, IGEES staff would be involved in this on an on-going basis. In addition, IGEES policy analysts would typically engage with the relevant Departments in relation to papers proposed for publication as part of the Quality Assurance process.

The relations between the “Votes” and the departments are by nature challenging at times, between sectoral spending departments and a central expenditure oversight body. The goal of the system is to ensure that final decisions are properly informed by thorough analysis of the facts that can be done through in depth analysis at departmental level and a challenge function operated by DPER. These relations appear to be more fruitful in some sectors than others. The role of DPER has also evolved over time, as the need for fiscal restraint has been felt as less stringent following the economic recovery, which may reduce the impact a pure value for money and expenditure focused approach. This also depends on the quality and availability of dedicated analytical resources within the departments, which remain uneven. In some departments, such as Business Enterprise and Innovation these resources are well developed with a corporate culture that is close to that of DPER facilitating a fluid relationship. In other departments where similar resources also exist, such as health, the policy angle deviates from a pure value for money approach, which makes a dialogue on a common ground more difficult to achieve.

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Figure 1.1. Machinery of government involved in EIPM: The horizontal role of IGEES
Figure 1.1. Machinery of government involved in EIPM: The horizontal role of IGEES

Source: OECD Secretariat, drawing on IGEES related materials and interviews.

Notes: This figure is a schematic presentation, which helps to show some core processes, but in which the role of the agencies could not be shown in full. IGEES resources are present in all of the department analytical resources, as well as in DPER and in Taoiseach.

Policy analysis within DPER and its connections with the Departments

Structure of analytical resources within departments

Departments varied in terms of how they deployed and structured their analytical resource. In some Departments, the policy analysis functions are within given policy units. Some Departments have a unit or units specifically dedicated to economic analysis, which may group IGEES and statistical staff who work on the policy areas their Departments are responsible for. In other Departments, the analysis functions were located in a central unit that also had responsibility for other cross cutting functions such as reform and strategy, alongside policy analysis. These models are not mutually exclusive in the Irish system with some Departments having analysts embedded within policy teams whilst also having one or more specialist units. IGEES typically employs staff at Administrative Officer and Assistant Principal levels, which are key analytic roles in the civil service below senior and managerial grades. [See Box 1.1 for more details on the grade structure of the Irish Civil Service].

There was a trend for Departments with more developed analysis capacity to have organised this into a unit or units specifically dedicated to analysis. In Departments at an earlier stage of developing their analytical capacity, the IGEES staff are typically either located within policy units or in a central cross cutting unit. While attempts to build a critical mass of analytical capacity within each Department appear desirable, a one-size fits all approach may not work best to organise how that capacity should be structured and organised. Each model has its own profile of strengths and weaknesses and context will determine the appropriateness of each model or combination of models for each Department. Analysts embedded within policy units have the advantage of proximity to the policy-making processes, increasing the likelihood of producing timely and policy relevant analysis. The downside is that protecting time for analysis can be difficult in the face of competing pressures and where individual Administrative Officer analysts are not managed by colleagues with an analytical background. In Departments with a unit or units dedicated to policy analysis, it is perhaps easier to provide the critical mass that makes protecting time dedicated to analysis and gives junior staff clearer progression opportunities.

The departments also differ in relation to their ability to incorporate economic analysis into policy thinking which is not always in line with the size of their economic expenditure or economic impact. Again, the Department of Finance, of Business, Enterprise and Innovation have a more developed economic analysis function. The Department of Social Protection has also a relatively well-developed unit, headed by a chief economist recruited from the Central Bank. The Department of Education and Skills has three members of staff that are designated as IGEES resources. The Department also has a dedicated Statistics Unit, the Inspectorate’s Evaluation Support and Research Unit, which supports the quality assurance role of the Inspectorate and feeds back into curriculum development. Still overall, there is limited capacity for strategic economic and policy analysis given the size of the department, particularly as a share of total government expenditure. It is worth nothing that in this area, as is the case in several other OECD countries, analytical capacity has been built at arms’ length from the department, with the Education Research Centre, established in 1966 and designed as a statutory body in 2015. This Centre conducts independent research as well as evaluations commissioned by the Department of Education and Skills, and provides an assessment support service to educational facilities. Other bodies, include the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the National Council for Special Education, the Higher Education Authority, and SOLAS.

Most departments, such as Health and Education and Skills, are also subject to intense political and social pressures where the need for thorough analysis is competing with other political demands. It appears that the department of Health was currently building significant analytical capacity in house, taking into account the role of other disciplines, which are important in the health area, such as social sciences or epidemiology. However, the focused scope of the current study did not allow for a full dialogue and review of all the departments.

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Box 1.1. Irish Civil Service Grade Structure
The IGEES stream recruits policy analysts at Administrative Officer, and Assistant Principal, which are key to the analytic capacity of the service. These are located below higher managerial levels, namely Principal Officer (senior management), Assistant Secretary and Secretary General (highest management grades). The general Civil Service grading structure starts with the Clerical Officer grade, reporting to junior management at the Executive Offer grade, which reports to mid-management grade Higher Executive Officer. Administrative Officer grade is a graduate entry position and is at the same grade level as the HEO.

Source: Publicjobs.ie « Range of opportunities and roles” https://www.publicjobs.ie/en/information-hub/the-civil-and-public-service/career-path-in-the-public-service, Accessed 10 September 2019.

Statistical resources and data

The Central Statistical Office (CSO), the national statistics body, is another key part of the analytical landscape in Ireland. The remit of the CSO is to collect, analyse and make available statistics about Ireland’s people, society and economy. As well as producing official statistics to contribute to evidence informed policy making at a national level across a range of policy areas, at the European level the CSO is also responsible for providing an accurate picture of Ireland’s economic and social performance to enable comparisons with other jurisdictions.

In order to strengthen the statistical capacity across the government, the CSO created the Irish Government Statistical Service (IGSS), which involves placing statisticians on secondment in government departments, building on existing secondment models within the Irish civil service. A key part of programme of work for the ISS is contributing towards the development of the National Data Infrastructure (NDI), which aims to improve how the government collects, manages, shares and stores data in order to make it more useful for policymaking.

There are no overall formal explicit coordination arrangements between IGEES and the IGSS, even if they have a number of joint initiatives that aim to create a stronger ‘critical mass’ of analytical resource in each Department. However, the extent to which IGSS and IGESS staff are integrated and collaborate varies considerably across departments. Where this integration works well, it had the double benefit of leading to improved analysis and improved data quality

The National Data Infrastructure is a work in progress. A number of data linking initiatives have already been progressed across areas including housing4, incomes5 and educational outcomes6. In fact, while the presence of IGEES and statistical staff at departmental level allows for full exploitation of the departments’ statistical resources, significant challenges remain in accessing data across departments, and in obtaining linked files, where coverage of common identifiers to merge datasets is low. A common identifier does not exist yet and is still currently under development for businesses and for citizens, as strong protective legislation restricts access to individual data and does not allow for merging statistical files. Accredited research organisations and researchers can apply to gain access to CSO Research Microdata Files (RMF) through the secure Researcher Data Portal. However, the experience reported by academics to access public data seemed to reflect significant constraints, unless there was a close partnership with a given ministry. The experience from countries such as New Zealand, Denmark and France may nevertheless offer useful insights for the Irish context (Box 1.2)

Ireland recently showed significant progress regarding open government data, as the country ranked first in the European assessment on Open Data maturity for the second year in a row (Open Data Unit (DPER), 2018[10]). Available international results for 2019 tend to show similar progress, with the country catching up to highest performing countries such as Korea, as shown in the results of the OECD Open Useful Re-usable data (OURdata) Index7.

DPER is responsible for the country’s Public Service Data Strategy 2019-2023, the open data policy and the Open Data Strategy for 2017-2022 aiming at increasing the value of public sector data for value co-creation (OECD, 2018[11]), through the accessibility to government data in an open and freely reusable way (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, 2019[12]). The national Open Data Portal provides access to a significant number of datasets, supported for example by the launch of an Open Data engagement fund in July 2019. While these initiatives are highly laudable, and despite these achievements, the use of data for policy purposes and its impacts are still hampered by the absence of a capacity to create linked datasets. The challenge is to create smart datasets, including a range of either firm or individual characteristics that provide the flexibility and resources to perform high-powered analysis, and where IGEES analysts working on the ground in ministries are still facing significant barriers. Countries such as Denmark or New Zealand provide interesting best practice examples of data integration, as national registries in Denmark, and an integrated Data Infrastructure in New Zealand facilitate agile and dynamic analysis and modelling (See Box 1.2).

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Box 1.2. International experiences in creating national data infrastructures.

New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure

New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) represents an innovative approach to administrative data. This large research database links together anonymised administrative data about people, businesses and households and various life events such as education, income, benefits, migration justice and health. The data is provided by government agencies, NGOs and Stats NZ (New Zealand’s official data agency) and is accessible by accredited researchers to conduct evaluations. In fact, the IDI is a strong asset that enables quality evaluations to be carried out both within New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development and increasingly by external parties such as academics.

The Danish system for access to micro data

Statistics Denmark facilitates register-based research by giving researchers access to anonymised data directly on their own computers. This represents a unique opportunity for researchers to use micro data in their policy work. In Denmark as in other Nordic countries, Personal Identification Numbers (CPR) are used as identification keys in people and business registers, which contribute to a substantial proportion of the national production of statistics. In the Danish register, data from 250 subject areas (such as demography, labour market, consumption, agriculture, housing, transport, environment, trade, etc.) are available for research purposes. Such micro data is accessible to approved public researchers, analysts (from universities, sector research institutes, ministries, etc.), and non-profit and private research organisations. The data is prepared by the Research Service Division and is accessible remotely and securely through specific powerful internet servers. All aggregated results from researchers’ computers are stored in special files and printouts are sent to them directly by email, in a continuous process that takes place every 5 minutes. This process is effective and advantageous since all emails are logged at Statistics Denmark and regularly checked by the Research Service Unit. Lastly, the newest versions of several computer packages such as SAS, SPSS, STATA, GAUSS and R are available on the research server.

France’s Secure Access Data Centre (CASD)

In France, the statistics system also facilitates research by giving researchers access to anonymised data through a secure access data centre (CASD). The CASD is a trusted interface between data producers and users, enabling secure data depositing and matching. It has become a reference in the provision of secure and remote access to statistical and administrative microdata. For instance, this centre makes publicly available data from the national statistics institute (INSEE), as well as from the Justice, Education, Agriculture and Finance ministries. The CASD also provides external access to private companies’ data for collaboration with researchers, start-ups and consultants. Today, it has secured about 350 data sources and shared more than 200 publications.

Sources: Statistics Denmark (2014) Data for Research https://www.dst.dk/en/TilSalg/Forskningsservice#. OECD (2019) The Role of Evidence Informed Policy Making in Delivering on Performance: Social Investment in New Zealand. CASD website https://www.casd.eu/en/, Accessed 17 October 2019.

Role of IGEES in building analytical capacities across ministries

More than 160 IGEES policy analysts work across all of the Irish Government’s Departments, through the general scales and contracts of the civil service, at Assistant Principal (middle management) and Administrative Officer (graduate entry). They are either serving civil servants or staff directly recruited through the open competition process of the IGEES stream. The latter are graduates, experienced economists, evaluators and policy analysts who join analytical resources in all Departments. IGEES posts are funded by host Departments, as direct Departmental placements. Departments validate posts for Administrative Officers (AO) or Assistant Principals (AP) at internal level, and then request that IGEES place them on a list for the next recruitment cohort. The Department that has the most IGEES staff is the Public Expenditure and Reform, which through the IGEES recruitment stream added 11 APs and 22 AOs to an existing cohort of Department’s policy analysts. In contrast, IGEES staff is scarcer in all other Departments, ranging from one to five APs or AOs, with the exception of the Department of Finance, which enhanced its existing analytical capacity through the IGEES stream by adding 7 APs and 11 AOs.

IGEES supports capacity building and skills enhancement and transfer for individuals and Departments through relatively more flexible opportunities for mobility, a learning and development framework and targeted opportunities, and platforms for discussion on analytical output and its relevance for policy. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has overall policy responsibility for the IGEES and thereby reports on cross-departmental issues such as resourcing, capacity building and continuing professional development under the work programme. The IGEES Research Fund, issued twice in 2018, is another means to support analytical work on cross-departmental issue to break policy silos, particularly the work carried by the Departments of Finance, Children and Youth Affairs and Housing, Planning and Local Government. It also supports the new project undertaken by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Central Statistics Office.

There is almost universal recognition that IGEES was providing a critical role in building capacity across the government and having an analytical ‘brand’ for economic analysis in this regard was useful and important. Branding and development of IGEES has to build on the fact that there is a need to adopt a comprehensive perspective, with analytical positions that pre-date the existence of the IGEES recruitment stream and many people working in non-IGEES roles but with strong analytical backgrounds, sometimes relying on a wealth of social sciences. Ireland is facing the constraints of the scale of a small country, yet is deploying an astute response to address the challenge even if it is more difficult to foster a multidisciplinary approach. Larger countries such as the UK may have the possibility to develop a broader range of analytical expertise within the civil service: for example, the policy professions in the UK include the economists, the statisticians, the operations research and social scientists.

Distributed analytical functions across the government

While the IGEES is an essential service in building analytical capacity across the Irish Government, it works as part of a policy environment composed of other relevant bodies also contributing to evidence-informed policy making.

In terms of performance audits and ex post evaluation, the Supreme Audit Institution, the Irish Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General plays a key role in improving the use of public resources, optimising public spending and strengthening the accountability of public officials. Many government Departments themselves also have dedicated, and separate, internal audit functions.

The work of the Irish Central Bank is closely interrelated to that of the IGEES, and interestingly, the service and the Central Bank joined efforts in supporting awards for young economists to do research on priority topics, such as the impact of Brexit on the Irish economy (Central Bank of Ireland, 2019[13]). Other institutions support the whole Irish Government in making better policy decisions and sustaining its budget: the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) for instance, is an independent statutory body that was established as part of the agenda to reform Ireland’s budgetary architecture. The IFAC has a mandate to assess government revenue and spending as well as macroeconomic and budgetary forecasts (Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, 2019[14]).

Moreover, the National Economic and Social Council supports the Taoiseach and Government by giving guidance on important policy issues with a particular focus on sustainable economic development. Many actors from academia such as the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the Irish Economic Association support analytic capacity building in Ireland for the improvement of policymaking. The ESRI for instance plays a significant role in producing high quality independent research to inform policy, support the economy and promote social progress (Economic and Social Research Institute, 2019[15]). The institute has joint research programmes with a number of government departments such as Finance and Housing. Interestingly, it also developed a useful microsimulation model, SWITCH, to assess the impact of tax and pensions as well as a suite of structural macroeconomic models. Lastly, in terms of events, the Annual Irish Economic Policy Conference, part of the Dublin Economics Workshop, also favours the inclusion of economic analysis and evaluation in policy-making.

One of the major institutions with a strong interest in policy analysis is the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO). The PBO in Ireland has a remit to provide independent and impartial information, analysis and advice to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The PBO is an important source of financial and budgetary information for Oireachtas Members as it conducts ex-ante scrutiny of all budgetary matters. The PBO covers a necessarily broad range of issues: from giving information on the latest changes in legislation and how it will affect the public finances to the costing of policy proposals. As a result, the PBO has produced a number of publications that aim to make IGEES outputs digestible for parliamentarians, and the Oireachtas Library and Research service is also a key resource.

It might be worth exploring whether there could be a stronger connection between the Houses of the Oireachtas and the work of IGEES staffs. There still seemed to be some distance to go to move from most parliamentarians seeing IGEES as an exclusively DPER initiative, to one that is truly shared and owned across government. Whilst recognising that DPER analysis needed to retain a degree of technical autonomy and that there are established structures for Government Departments to engage with the Oireachtas, it could be desirable to make IGEES work more visible at the political level and to increase its broader impact. IGEES staff are part of each Government Department and report to the relevant Secretary General. Ultimately, however, it also remains in the hands of Departments themselves to reach out to Parliament and engage with the issues suggested.

copy the linklink copied!Governance of IGEES

IGEES governance structure and interactions

The governance structure of IGEES consists of several elements, including an Accounting Officer, a Policy Oversight Group, an External Advisory Group and an Internal Advisory Group, as can be visualised in Figure 1.2.

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Figure 1.2. IGEES Governance Structures and the interactions between them
Figure 1.2. IGEES Governance Structures and the interactions between them

Source: IGEES (2019) OECD Review of IGEES – Overview and Briefing.

Accounting Officer for IGEES

The Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has overall responsibility for IGEES and is Chair of the Policy Oversight Group. Within DPER, the Head of IGEES has responsibility to implement the IGEES strategy and all its actions. The Head of IGEES reports to an Assistant Secretary in DPER, to the Policy Oversight Group and to the Secretary General DPER. IGEES is also supported by the Internal Advisory Group and the External Advisory Group.

Internal Advisory Group

The internal advisory group performs an important function for the management of IGEES and the daily coordination of IGEES resources. All Departments are represented by a PO on the IGEES Internal Advisory Group, which is chaired by the Head of the IGEES unit in DPER. A cross-departmental forum works towards the development of IGEES throughout the whole government. It drives the implementation of the IGEES strategy at Departmental level. This includes analytical capacity building through recruitment, mobility and Learning and Development, production of analytical outputs and their dissemination through publication, events and awareness raising and championing the culture of evidence informed policymaking. It also reinforces the development and implementation of the IGEES Learning and Development programme.

It seems to benefit from active engagement from the departments involved, which value the contribution of IGEES to their work and see it as a useful forum for exchange, and coordination on staffing issues.

Policy Oversight Group

The Policy Oversight group is composed of the Secretaries General from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), the Department of Finance, one other Department elected on a rolling basis, and a representative from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The group is a forum that considers the strategic direction of IGEES and meets every six months to discuss relevant issues. As IGEES has grown, the input from this group has also developed. It remains a challenge for IGEES to build on the role of this group to champion IGEES at senior levels of the Civil Service.

External Advisory Group

The External Advisory Group is composed of external stakeholders from research institutes and Universities. It provides support to IGEES management in order to develop the Service by providing advice on important issues such as peer review and CPD. This forum helps to promote the communication between IGEES and the wider economic and evaluation community. The group plays a significant role in the IGEES internship programme, promoting and facilitating the selection of candidates.

The External Advisory Group is engaged in the development of IGEES, playing an important role in helping to promote IGEES recruitment. The External Advisory Group itself welcomed the interaction it had with the IGEES team, but suggested that it would be beneficial to have a dialogue also with the policy professionals within the Departments. Some members of this current group expressed the view that further opportunities to meet with the Internal Advisory Group would offer opportunities for the External Advisory Group to get a greater insight into the policy process.

While it includes the Director of the ESRI, most of its members have limited experience of government, and a limited vision of the implications and the role of IGEES for improving policy effectiveness within government. It does not include members of other external institutions with an interest in developing Evidence Informed Policy Making (EIPM) on a broad basis in Ireland.

Assessment of the effectiveness of current institutionalisation arrangements

There is general recognition, at official level, in Ireland of the contribution that IGEES has made to improving capacity for policymaking and policy effectiveness at the national level. IGEES benefits from a strong institutional setting with its anchor within DPER, although this can be both an asset and a curse as it may also limit its impact if it is perceived as solely working for DPER. IGEES has created an undisputed reputation for professional quality and for improving the standards of economic analysis within government in Ireland, yet the challenges are to ensure that such an innovative institutional framework can be effective from a whole of government perspective.

On a day-to-day basis, the internal advisory group is very effective in driving day to day operations and providing a platform for sharing and coordination. The Policy Oversight Group is comprised of senior management of the Civil Service with the potential to champion the work of IGEES with all senior management. The External Advisory Group has the benefit of consisting of members of academia and Research Institutions who can ensure the development of skilled graduates and knowledge transfers to IGEES. The combination of these groups could lead to a more structured and sustained attention to data and evidence without which IGEES cannot be fully effective.

References

[13] Central Bank of Ireland (2019), Young economists could win placement at Central Bank of Ireland, https://www.centralbank.ie/news/article/young-economists-could-win-placement-at-central-bank-of-ireland (accessed on 12 August 2019).

[12] Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (2019), Gov.ie - Open Data in Ireland, https://www.gov.ie/en/policy-information/8587b0-open-data/ (accessed on 11 September 2019).

[9] Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (2018), Public Service Data Strategy 2019-2023, https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/1d6bc7-public-service-data-strategy-2019-2023/ (accessed on 18 October 2019).

[7] Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (2017), “Our Public Service 2020”, https://ops2020.gov.ie/resources/Our-Public-Service-2020-WEB.pdf (accessed on 10 September 2019).

[5] Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (2014), “Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016”, https://reformplan.per.gov.ie/2014/downloads/files/Reform%20Plan%202014.pdf (accessed on 10 September 2019).

[1] Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (2012), About Us : The Central Expenditure Evaluation Unit | The Public Spending Code, https://publicspendingcode.per.gov.ie/about-us/ (accessed on 23 July 2019).

[15] Economic and Social Research Institute (2019), About the ESRI | ESRI, https://www.esri.ie/about (accessed on 11 September 2019).

[8] IGEES (2017), IGEES Work Programme for 2018 and IGEES Achievements in 2017, http://igees.gov.ie/ (accessed on 12 August 2019).

[14] Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (2019), Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, https://www.fiscalcouncil.ie/ (accessed on 11 September 2019).

[3] Kennedy, F. and J. Howlin (2017), “Spending reviews in Ireland-Learning from experience”, OECD Journal on Budgeting, Vol. 2016/2, pp. 93-109, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/budget-16-5jg30cchf0g0.pdf?expires=1565605875&id=id&accname=ocid84004878&checksum=53F7E58BBFC1BEF3E24DE76EFFB045D9 (accessed on 12 August 2019).

[11] OECD (2018), Open Government Data Report: Enhancing Policy Maturity for Sustainable Impact, OECD Digital Government Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264305847-en.

[6] OECD (2016), “Assessment of Ireland’s Second Public Sector Reform Plan 2014-2016”, https://www.oecd.org/gov/ireland-public-sector-reform-plan-assessment.pdf (accessed on 10 September 2019).

[2] OECD (2011), Restoring Public Finances, https://www.oecd.org/governance/budgeting/47558957.pdf (accessed on 2 August 2019).

[4] OECD (2008), “Ireland, Towards an Integrated Public Service”, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/9789264043268-en.pdf?expires=1568115320&id=id&accname=ocid84004878&checksum=22A4C83734AC673029BF03301D6EF162 (accessed on 10 September 2019).

[10] Open Data Unit (DPER) (2018), Ireland achieves first place in its Open Data Maturity assessment for the second year running - data.gov.ie, https://data.gov.ie/blog/ireland-achieves-first-place-in-its-open-data-maturity-assessment-for-the-second-year-running (accessed on 11 September 2019).

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