Supporting public service reform and innovation

The Goal Programme: New ways of working in public services in Ireland and Northern Ireland

All over the world, governments are committed to public service reform and innovation. The complexity of social problems, the pace of technology, and increasing expectations of the public, requires new thinking and new ways of working.

The Goal Programme aimed to support systemic change in public services in Ireland and Northern Ireland, to improve outcomes for people using public services.


Evaluation of the Goal Programme for Public Service Reform and Innovation

Seven government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland used expertise from CES, backed by funding support from The Atlantic Philanthropies, to assist their own staff to build skills and capacity and to work on nine reform projects. Projects focused on areas that departments identified, such as collaboration, joined up working, leadership development and embedding innovation in public services. The Programme was set up in 2016 and project work concluded in 2019.

We commissioned the IPA to do an independent evaluation of the Programme to learn more about public service reform and the factors which support it. The evaluation showed that the Programme illustrated an innovative and novel approach to supporting public service reform.

There is now a group of public servants thinking and acting differently and working in new ways. This would not have happened without their participation in the Goal Programme

Evaluation of the Goal Programme for Public Service Reform and Innovation, IPA

What was involved?

CES delivered the Programme in partnership with seven government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Departments in Ireland who took part in the Programme included the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Health, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

In Northern Ireland, participating departments included the Department of Finance, Education, Health and the Executive Office. The programme was funded through an investment of €10 million by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

The Programme was developed to align with existing public sector reform programmes in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Projects were selected based on the needs and priorities of the participating departments. There was strong alignment with public service reform priorities in the Civil Service Renewal Plan in Ireland and the draft Programme for Government in Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) wanted to support senior leaders to deal with a challenging external environment, to embed innovation and to have a greater focus on outcomes. ‘Leading for the future’ was a leadership development initiative which CES co-designed and delivered together with the NICS as part of the Goal Programme. A Top Leaders Forum was established to allow senior leaders to come together, collaborate and network.

Video Watch Richard Boyle on what enables public sector reform

Introducing new ways of working

Using data and working collaboratively are ways of working which are critical to good decision making and are essential in bringing about change. Both themes featured in projects delivered by the Department of Education and Skills in Ireland. With support from CES, the department designed and implemented tools and guidance to support their staff to plan, implement and reflect on collaborative working.

"These tools and guidelines have been tailored for use in the Department to reflect and build on existing practice. The guidelines and tools were co-designed which has resulted in a degree of ownership by Department personnel which might otherwise have been absent."

Department of Education and Skills

Capacity building for implementation

Getting ready to implement a new, single youth funding scheme was one of the projects delivered by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The Department drew on expertise and support from CES to implement the recommendations of a Value for Money Review of youth funding schemes. The project involved consulting with and building capacity of local service providers (Education and Training Boards) to implement the new scheme, which will be needs led and evidence informed.

CES’ role

Our work on the Programme involved gathering and reviewing evidence, co-designing and developing tools and materials, designing and delivering training and professional development programmes. We organised events and activities to bring together department staff working on projects, to share learning about their experience across departments, sectors and jurisdictions.

Pathfinder workshop
Sharing learning

We recognised that the scale of the investment, the time and commitment made by government departments, and the range of projects had the potential to generate useful learning about reform and innovation in public services. We commissioned the Irish Institute of Public Administration (IPA) to conduct an evaluation of the Programme overall, to assess what happened and what changed.

The evaluation report outlines short term progress achieved, the factors which helped or hindered reform, and learning for future reform initiatives. David Sterling, Head of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland launched the report in Belfast in November. In January 2020, Robert Watt, Secretary-General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform launched the evaluation findings to an audience in Ireland.

We will continue to share the findings from the evaluation across the civil and public service in Ireland and Northern Ireland and internationally

Goal Programme launch

What changed?

The evaluation assessed the contribution of the Programme as a whole, rather than individual projects. The team focused on progress made in reaching six short term outcomes. The evaluation draws from research, interviews and focus groups, and was conducted over a period of a year and a half.

Peter Thomas

The evaluation report shows early progress in a number of areas. Staff were engaged in new ways of working. There was evidence of the Programme leading to improved collaboration. Department staff identified enhanced skills and capacities, in areas such as evaluation and leadership.

Progress in achieving other outcomes was less developed, such as connections across jurisdictions, embedding new ways of working, and improving collaborative practices within and across government departments.


Three lessons to inform future reform initiatives

The evaluation report highlights six factors which can help or hinder reform, and seven lessons for future reform initiatives. Recruiting and holding onto the right people, skills and expertise, and using external support were two of the factors identified which can help or hinder reform. The evaluation also includes seven lessons for future reform.

Three key lessons include:

  1. Build strong but flexible governance arrangements when introducing change
    The Goal Programme used different arrangements – e.g. an Advisory Group of senior leaders, Project Sponsors within departments and Memorandums of Understandings (MOUs). A flexible approach to governance allowed oversight but also supported change.
  2. Balance the pace and urgency to implement change with the need to take time and be iterative
    Experience from the Programme indicates that the urgency of implementing reform needs to be balanced with time to explore creative solutions and options.
  3. Plan for sustainability and embedding of reform
    Staff turnover and culture change were some of the challenges experienced by departments in embedding reform. Approaches such as knowledge management and succession planning can help. Collaboration and networking were recognised as key to changing leadership culture. In Northern Ireland, a Top Leaders Forum was established following the Leadership Development Programme to support these activities.

"A lesson from the Goal Programme is that external support of the type provided through the programme can support capacity building within the civil service rather than replace it."


Six Case Vignettes

The evaluation team also captured live themes emerging from the evaluation and produced a series of short case vignettes.

Tools, Resources & Publications

Embedding reform and new ways of working is challenging for everyone. Tools and resources can help to document and share processes and approaches so that new ways of working can last.

Here is a selection of resources that were produced under the Programme.

Download Leading for the Future: Learning from a Leadership Development Programme for Senior Civil Servants in Northern Ireland
Download Beyond Ideas - Enabling a culture of innovation for improved public services
Download ‘15 Days’ – a story about collaborative problem solving in public services
Download 15 Days - The Toolkit