Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Lessons on Reforming Government from New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand's largest city. Image via travellight/ Auckland, New Zealand's largest city. Image via travellight/

At the World Bank’s series of forums on performance management, I found John Whitehead’s insights particularly interesting.  Whitehead is a former secretary of the Treasury in New Zealand, which has been touted as the most advanced in performance-oriented government reform.  He looked back on what worked and what did not in their reform efforts over the past 25 years.  New Zealand’s efforts centering around four key elements:

  • Instituting the elements of performance management (strategic planning, performance measurement, performance reporting, performance pay).
  • Providing greater transparency in financial reporting, budgeting, and spending controls.
  • Separating regulatory vs. service delivery roles.
  • Separating commercial vs. non-commercial services provided by government.

In looking back over the past 25 years, governmental systems improved overall but there were some limitations to the New Zealand approach:

  • Managers had more discretion to manage, but their focus on their performance contracts led them to lose sight of the bigger picture
  • There was better staff retention, but greater internal competition for talent
  • There was improved accountability, better fiscal and debt performance
  • There were more silos and weaker collective action, leading to weak customer focus
  • There were poor incentives to innovate and capture economies of scale; agencies were slower to adopt new technologies.

Based on what was learned, Whitehead sees the following next steps in New Zealand’s “performance journey:”

  • Create a performance improvement framework with joint reviews (like the UK model) and focus on key governmental priorities.
  • Institute biennial citizen surveys on governmental performance.
  • Create an investment statement of the government – not just financial statements but performance statements, including how agencies plan to manage risk across their portfolios.  Create a “results to citizens” report.
  • Create a better public services initiative – improve government interactions with citizens and businesses (e.g.., a single business-facing agency, single natural resources agency)
  • Encourage more cross-agency sharing of support services via the central agencies
  • Move to 4-year budget plans with incentives to collaborate across agencies; consolidate appropriations.
  • Increase use of public-private partnerships, joint ventures, “policy hubs.”

More on government reform:

Part 1:  An International Snapshot of Progress on Performance Management

Image via travellight/

John M. Kamensky is a Senior Research Fellow for the IBM Center for the Business of Government. He previously served as deputy director of Vice President Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government, a special assistant at the Office of Management and Budget, and as an assistant director at the Government Accountability Office. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and received a Masters in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.