Every year, governments around the world spend billions of dollars on programs that they hope will improve their economies, strengthen the quality of their services, and benefit their citizens. Yet they often do not take a rigorous approach to tracking these programs and ensuring their effectiveness. This issue looms large in the Middle East, especially for countries that are in the midst of multiyear national development efforts and need ways to oversee them.
Performance management can be invaluable in increasing the likelihood that a wide variety of government programs, such as infrastructure and health, meet their objectives. It is about translating overarching visions into more specific projects and initiatives. It is ultimately about metrics that can help government agencies at every level make the necessary contributions and keep these efforts on track.
Many of the world’s most advanced countries have adopted outcome-based performance management, which will also serve the Middle East best. The key aspects of outcome-based performance management include the role and structure of a central performance management entity, key enablers in the areas of human capital, culture change, technology, and measurement; and the need to be flexible and alter the approach as circumstances warrant.
Middle East governments need a way to keep track of their performance as they begin work on large-scale economic and national development plans. The equivalent of hundreds of billions of dollar s are at stake in such plans as Saudi Vision 2030, Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, Qatar National Vision 2030, Kuwait Vision 2035, and Egypt Vision 2030. These countries need mechanisms to make sure their investments — in areas such as infrastructure, healthcare, education, and renewable energy — are on schedule and are meeting the necessary milestones. That is especially important now with low oil prices pushing many Middle East budgetary positions into deficit.
A large part of the potential solution lies with performance management, a discipline that allows governments to assess the progress of their initiatives against pre-set goals and expectations. Countries all over the world rely on performance management. In some places, performance management has become a highly developed tool, improving the outcomes of government-funded programs and benefitting the citizenry.
Although Middle East countries have their own performance management efforts in place, they tend to be limited in scope. Their effectiveness is limited because of the rudimentary nature of the associated methodologies and processes. To get more benefit from performance management, Middle East countries will have to rethink their approach.
Performance management can help Middle East governments by combating bureaucracy and diagnosing sources of inefficiency. Governments can use performance management to improve their everyday activities and to implement national development programs. With few exceptions, Middle East countries have struggled with bureaucracy and low government efficiency. Indeed, Middle East governments generally lag behind advanced economies in the government effectiveness indicator published by the World Bank. The indicator captures elements such as the quality of public services, of civil service work, and of policy formulation and implementation. Middle East governments also rank low in the ease of doing business, an indicator that reflects the quality of key government services such as business registration and licensing, applications for construction permits, and property registration (see Exhibit 1).
Along with addressing inefficiencies in the system, performance management can be used to improve employee performance and motivate civil servants. Indeed, some government organizations use performance management programs as the basis of rewards systems, often monetary, that recognize public-sector entities or individuals. An example is the annual European Public Sector Awards, which recognize high-performing government entities across Europe. These awards create an arena in which Europe’s public-sector institutions can excel and become examples for the rest of the world.
It is essential for Middle East governments to institute solid performance management systems given their commitments to deliver ambitious national development programs and their budgetary constraints. By establishing a dedicated performance management entity residing within the executive office, Middle East governments can ensure efficient use of budget and resources, visibility on achieved progress, availability of information to feed government decision making, and increased levels of transparency. Failure to put in place a well-functioning, outcome-based performance management system could severely affect the realization of long-term national objectives and undermine the well-being and prosperity of regional communities.