The announcement of an economic and evaluation capacity for the public sector has the potential to be a transformative venture and should be welcomed in my opinion.
I think this is far more than just filling the public sector with economists as a matter of optics – at least I hope so. It is worth noting that this is just one initiative pointing in the right direction – for example, the D-PER recently convened a working group that brings expertise (academic, commercial etc) into the room to review major policy domains including nitty gritty things like how major capital projects are valued (Disclosure – I was asked to participate in this and was glad to).
Some things I hope will happen:
- I hope the service evolves as an identifiable entity within the public service and not just buried in one Department – from what we can tell so far spreading the economists to wherever demand and skills are matched is the plan.
- I hope to see a ‘Chief Economist’ role evolve – a visible, public facing role who is an advocate for what the service produces and is strong on communication. Someone needs to be seen in public!!
- It is very important to see ‘evaluation’ flagged explicitly and this is again a positive move – it suggests microeconomic policy will evolve as a domain and rightly so.
- We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in a costly fashion with respect to training and ongoing development of the recruited economists – I hope to see routine movement between academic institutions and the service, and between the services and major policy research groups like the ESRI.