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Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

What Are the Elements of Sound Public Governance?

February 15, 2019

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This session focused on an initiative by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to develop an integrated framework of practices that would constitute “sound public governance,” based on empirical evidence of good practice gleaned from OECD’s work in this area in Member and Partner countries over the past decade.

This initiative to craft a practice-based “Policy Framework on Sound Public Governance” will lead to a discussion in November 2019 by OECD Delegates to the Public Governance Committee during which they will be asked to approve a final draft of the Framework. Calendar 2019 will enable engagement and consultations with the other main OECD policy committees, relevant international non-governmental organizations and national stakeholders and concerned citizens in Member and Partner countries.

Ultimately, the aim of the Framework is to enable countries to self-assess their own governance systems against OECD good practices in this area so that they can engage in public-governance reforms to serve citizens better.


  • Adam Knelman Ostry, Head of Unit, Public Governance Reviews, Public Governance Directorate (GOV), OECD
  • Ivan Stola, Policy Analyst, Governance Reviews and Partnerships Division, Public Governance Directorate (GOV), OECD

Presentation Highlights

The ongoing development of this framework is a milestone project for OECD. The seeds for this effort were first planted in 2013 and after nearly a decade of work on various initiatives -- such as improving customer service, budgeting, and procurement -- the team is looking for commonalities in approaches between countries, their challenges and responses, that can be codified by OECD’s governance council as best practices.

The project team found the various elements of sound public governance were largely siloed and found a need to integrate them into a larger model or framework so policymakers could sequence reforms or make tradeoffs between different elements of reform. They noted that “reform” is intended to solve problems, not necessarily serve as a vehicle to cut costs.

To date, the project has created a three-part framework that identifies several topic areas to be integrated into a whole:

  • Values that underpin sound public governance (e.g., integrity, openness, inclusiveness, rule of law)
  • Enablers of sound public governance (e.g., leadership, whole-of-government coordination, innovation, use of evidence, evidence)
  • Tools of sound public governance (e.g., the Public Service, digital government, budget, regulation, procurement, evaluation)

OECD envisions that the final product would serve as a self-evaluation diagnostic or benchmarking guide for countries wanting to frame a government reform initiative, or to help enact a major policy initiative. It would likely be used by non-OECD countries, as well.

Each chapter of the report ends with a series of questions for self-assessment.

The OECD project team will be placing the draft document on-line and seek public comments, and then the country delegates can consider these before they vote on a final version in November. The accompanying slide deck is an initial draft that will be modified as additional input is received by the OECD project team.

Select Discussion Items

Q: Will the guide be used as an internal assessment only, or would you envision countries engaging an independent third-party to conduct the assessment (e.g., the national audit office)?

A: There is not an intent for the guide to be applied by third-party. Different governments have undertaken different actions in different circumstance to address common problems. Therefore, the framework document is not intended to be prescriptive, but rather just “bearing witness” to what is going on in member countries. The document is not intended to be a static framework but would be revisited and revised every 2-5 years.

Q: What evidence convinces you that these are effective practices? What areas are you more or less confident about drawing conclusions?

A: OECD’s research is stronger in more traditional areas such as budgeting. In other areas, their insights and advice are more aspirational, e.g., - does citizen engagement actually lead to better policy? Does better coordination and collaboration lead to better results?

Q: Will OECD get state-local input?

A: this is being done indirectly via country delegates and the OECD regional development policy committee.

Multiple Frameworks. One discussion participant noted that multiple assessment frameworks already exist. For example:

  • The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 include goals for sound public governance. SDG #16 for example, promotes several of the same principles that appear in the OECD draft. And the SDG’s voluntary national reporting framework includes an implicit framework for good governance.
  • The UN’s Committee of Experts on Public Administration have developed a model for effective governance for sustainable development.
  • There is also a 2001 EU white paper on practices in “policy coherence for development.” One participant observed that OECD is further ahead of other frameworks in incorporating assessments of regulatory policies and approaches as a tool.
  • The World Bank has 80 metrics on good public administration.

In the case of OECD, the value of developing its own framework is that it becomes a platform for sharing best practices it has already identified (e.g., the US Digital Service was inspired by a pioneering effort in the UK), and it provides non-OECD countries a path to explore when they want to move forward (e.g., Colombia recently incorporated performance management framework into its governance institutions via statute, such as the use of Delivery Units).

Next Steps: Engaging with the OECD Consultation Process

  • OECD staff say they want to include more evidence into their process. They have created an email address where people can send case studies: . In addition, by June, they will develop a “map” for collecting input. This consultation website will have a framework with questions.
  • For additional resources, see the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, which has case studies. See also its Governments-at-a-Glance reference guide (2017).