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Perspectives

Delivering results series

Innovative government management

Delivery units are an innovative approach that help governments achieve outcomes for citizens. When governments decide to adopt the approach, three issues are critical: defining the unit’s mission, building and branding the unit, and determining the unit’s day-to-day activities.

Improving outcomes for citizens: The case for delivery units

As citizens, we expect our governments to maintain, if not improve, the quality and impact of public services. From reducing congestion on highways to increasing the educational attainment of our children, governments are increasingly expected to deliver value for money. But in the eyes of many members of the public, governments fail to live up to these standards.

A 2016 global survey showed that governments are the least trusted institution studied, after NGOs, business, and the media. With fewer than half of respondents stating that they trusted their government, several factors drive this skepticism. One is the perception that government programs do not result in impact. To maximize the potential for producing results, governments should rigorously focus on service delivery and create a culture that views delivery as one its top priorities as an institution.

What is a delivery unit?

Delivery units are an innovation with both technical and cultural components. They bring a new set of technical approaches to untangling the barriers to getting results. They help instill a culture of data-led decision making. And they support government in keeping its focus on its top priorities.

What makes delivery units special?
Delivery units use frequent data to drive improvement cycles that lead to better results more quickly. Because senior leadership typically sponsors and oversees their operations, delivery units have the authority to overcome barriers that delay progress, connect people and resources, and mitigate risks. They help break down common obstacles such as siloed departments, insufficient project management expertise, and plans containing unclear targets or objectives.

Delivery unit team members proactively engage both those responsible for results and those managing day-to-day implementation. Simple but targeted questions can help officials refocus on the issues that most contribute to a project’s success. Most importantly, these questions help determine whether the operational plan continues to guide implementers to the desired outcome(s) in the most efficient way possible.

To do this work, delivery units develop “delivery plans” that feature operational routines along with designated opportunities for real-time feedback. The plans commonly assign owners to specific tasks, establish data collection processes, and identify relevant benchmarks, targets, and trajectories.

How should a delivery unit be designed?

Delivery units are an innovative approach that help governments achieve outcomes for citizens. When governments decide to adopt the approach, three issues are critical: defining the unit’s mission, building and branding the unit, and determining the unit’s day-to-day activities.

Defining the mission
One of the key features of delivery units are that they focus exclusively on improving the performance of a select group of priority issues. While many issues may be important, this focus allows delivery units to use their full capacity to address a major public challenge. Each delivery unit needs to be structured to support the specific objectives sought by its sponsor—typically, the senior-most leader at the central level, such as the president, prime minister, governor, or minister. It is also possible for agencies outside of the center to implement delivery units if they want to focus efforts on achieving outcomes in key areas.

Building the delivery unit 
Once the mission has been established, the sponsor needs to decide where the unit should sit within the system of government. Most delivery units derive their authority from their close relationship with the sponsor, so proximity to that office is often integral to success. A key decision for the sponsor is who will run the unit’s work. The operational head should possess a diverse range of skills, an ability to see the big picture, and talent in the field of relationship management. The operational head must have an intimate understanding of how government works, with strong relationships across government. Most critically, the sponsor must trust the head and be available to him or her when necessary.

Day-to-day activities
The day-to-day activities of delivery units may vary considerably in accordance with their mission and the maturity of the government they serve. Regardless of the content of the work, delivery units usually employ a common methodology. After reviewing all pertinent data, delivery unit staff focus on asking line ministries about the goals they are trying to achieve and progress being made through activities currently under way. They help the ministries determine whether the activities are meeting their goals and how implementation may need to change. Much of the work of a delivery unit consists of these repeated cycles of data collection, analysis, and course correction.

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