By Gianmario Pisanu

In 2015, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched Vision 2030, an ambitious reform plan aimed at diversifying the economy by moving away from oil and encouraging the development of stronger private and public sectors. The plan streamlined and centralized decision-making to ensure better coordination between ministries and implemented a distributed program-management model to monitor execution.

Looking at the typical pattern of government reforms, Saudi has accomplished important milestones in a relatively short period of time: the direction has been set, the public administration has been aligned and communication channels have been put in place. The Vision’s realization now rests on the commitment and operational capabilities of Saudi government entities.     

Implementation: nemesis of planners

Experience shows that implementation is the most critical step in the policy cycle, where gaps between desired and actual outcomes are either created or avoided. Even mature administrations can get it wrong, as demonstrated by the technical issues encountered during the implementation of the US Affordable Care Act in 2013.

On the other hand, good execution can bring about great results. A perfect example of this is the flawless implementation of the Hartz labor market reform in Germany between 2003 and 2005, which resulted in a drastic drop in unemployment. The success of a reform program’s execution is driven by many factors that can broadly be grouped into two: people and processes.

The next step

People factors embrace elements such as effective communication, which means objectives need to be clear enough to provide direction and flexible enough to adapt to the reality on the ground, and civil servants’ buy-in, where officers need to understand and share the policies without feeling personally threatened by measures such as budget cuts or headcount reductions. Process factors include the availability of the right talent, sufficient financial resources and an efficient bureaucratic structure. In other words, an operational framework is needed at an individual agency level to drive policy execution across core government functions, such as the optimization of delivery channels or services consolidation, and support functions, such as strategic sourcing or workforce development.

The implementation process will demand a tremendous effort from the Kingdom’s public sector, which has grown accustomed over time to abundant resources and little pressure to deliver, to the detriment of its efficiency and effectiveness.

The next critical step for the success of the Vision’s implementation is to raise the operational capabilities of government to the minimum level required to deliver the reform. What are my processes? Who is accountable for their execution? How do I measure their performance? Do I have the right people, funds and infrastructure to deliver my mandate? If not, what do I need to get there? These are the questions public sector leaders in the Kingdom need to answer.

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