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Defining Public Sector Governance


Ben French explores four key competencies of the public sector governance team

International development is full of jargon, acronyms and concepts that overlap. This conceptual fog can be a particular challenge in public sector governance, where we work and contribute to cross sectoral policy issues; one day we could be working on health and the next on education.

Defining what do we do and explaining it to non-experts is a perpetual challenge.  At OPM, our Public Sector Governance Team has been developing a common set of frameworks to make our work on governance more transparent to non-experts. We’re doing this because we know that the skills a governance expert brings are vital to public policy transformation, but in order for us to contribute fully we need to be able to clearly articulate and define what we do, and how we do it.

What do we do?

We have been identifying key areas that represent our work by using prevalent and reoccurring language that has been used in discussions with our partners and exploring literature and emerging thinking. We identified that:

  • Our work contributes to an understanding of how government institutions and governance work
  • We help to improve the quality of governance
  • We help governments improve service delivery for their citizens
  • We focus on accountability in our work, both horizontal (between state institutions) and vertical (between state and citizens or civil society)
  • We support policymakers within and outside of governments to develop and assess capacity.

The challenge is reformulating these concepts and themes into language that everyone understands and that is meaningful to someone who does not share our space. Getting this right really matters, because we know that public sector governance is crucial for enhancing project impact and can lead to long-term and sustainable change.

How do we do it?

But what does this mean for non-experts? We work on understanding how governments are organised, and how they function to formulate policy, deliver services, and are held accountable for their performance.

We have broken this statement down further into four practical and tangible things that we do:

  • Policymaking and planning: We develop individual skills and organisational systems to enable the analysis and use of evidence in policymaking and strategic planning. Working from programme design to implementation, we support governments to identify, adapt, and deliver policy that aligns with their political reality.
  • Politics and democracy: We support government and civil society to build a shared understanding of, and an approach to, policymaking and its implementation
  • Policy execution: Ensuring that policy implementation is planned for from the outset and that robust evidence-based systems are in place to manage and oversee service delivery
  • Programme implementation: Building effective programme management systems to enable programmes to adapt and change to the complex environments in which they work, with the objective of leaving a last impact on policy, systems, and people.

OPM’s Public Sector Governance team will be developing this framework further to provide some practical tools and approaches that can be used to understand these competency areas, highlight exciting and practical examples of our work in them, and hopefully improving the accessibility of these areas for non-governance specialists.