News and Comment

Understanding the impact and value of public services

Monday 18 March 2013


Under the public spending cuts and the continuing austerity drive service improvement requires not only a good understanding of how to achieve positive impact, but also how these can be maintained or enhanced in more efficient ways. It therefore follows that those working in public services will benefit from being supported to understand the impact and value of what they do. Furthermore, quality and efficiency drives that are workforce-led are more likely to make a difference and to be sustained.

At OPM we have developed an innovative programme aimed at building the capacity within the public service workforce in clarifying the financial costs of services and assessing what economic and social value they generate. Of course, definitions of ‘worth’ and ‘value’ are not straightforward, but it is right that people who deliver services should have a role in demonstrating their economic and social value.

The programme helps trainees understand the core requirements and principles of conducting economic assessments in an accessible way; raises their awareness of different techniques and their relative strengths and weaknesses; provides them with tools and templates for organising material systematically; and bespoke support to help them take the lead in working through their own data to produce an output. Trainees are required to identify, from the evidence, how the service may be improved in a way that improves efficiency while maintaining or enhancing quality.

Since 2012, we have been delivering this programme to cohorts of nurses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In July 2012, the programme achieved endorsed award status from the Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM). This month, we are delighted to be presenting certificates to the first three trainees who have completed the programme successfully. Independent assessment by ILM reported that the programme “generated high quality work from the learners”.

Ongoing evaluation of the programme found that all trainees reported acquiring new skills and understanding how understanding the economics underpinning their services is an integral part of their role. Feedback shows that trainees have started using the evidence to improve their own practice:

“I have been able to analyse our service delivery and analyse outcomes to ensure an improved balance between patient and organisation”.

A trainee who recently achieved certification reported that she has been able to mobilise other colleagues, leading to:

service expansion to improve patient referral, thus improving wider patient symptom burden and ultimately reduce unnecessary admissions further. The project supported potential further savings hence managerial interest”.

Evidence can only be impactful if people with responsibilities for using it feel a sense of ownership, and know what to do with it in order to continuously improve services. This programme demonstrates how investing in developing the competencies of the public service workforce can reap dividends for them, for organisations, and for service users.

As a public interest organisation, OPM has a role in engaging and shaping conversations relating to the future of public services. Few topics could be as crucial to get right as how we make decisions about which aspects of public services are more and less valuable. We are publishing an edited volume, Valuing Public Services, that offers practical ideas about how we measure and demonstrate the value of our public services, based on OPM’s real life experiences of working with a broad range of public organisations, including charities and professional bodies to achieve this.

If you’d like to receive an advanced copy, please email