There’s an old saying: the operation was a success, but the patient died. It arose in medicine but thrives in bureaucracies, which often drive programmes long after their irrelevance to national goals has become undeniable. This is a systemic problem. Governments must manage large systems while pursuing not a well-defined target like profitability, but broad, complex outcomes such as GDP, jobs growth and greater economic equality. In these circumstances, it is fatally easy for officials to focus on just doing their jobs irrespective of the ultimate social and economic benefits. In 2010, the government transformed its management systems to address this challenge by combining the five-year medium-term strategic framework (MTSF) for the government as a whole with annual performance plans (APPs) for individual departments. In theory, the MTSF sets targets for priority outcomes while the APPs indicate how departments will achieve them. If core outcome targets are not being met — if econo...

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