Working in the Cabinet Secretariat in Antigua and Barbuda is a challenging yet invigorating role in which no day is quite like the other.
One day I am participating in a committee meeting on developing government support for young entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector. The next day, I am at reception where the minister of tourism welcomes one of the largest cruise ships in the world to Heritage Quay in St. John’s, and outlines his plans for the cruise sector - a vital part of Antigua’s tourism.
The days are often long, consumed by the production of cabinet papers, devising training materials, and attending meetings and conferences. The Secretariat is in the same building as the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a buzz of activity with ministers, government officials, foreign dignitaries, private sector leaders, and members of the public coming and going for meetings and ceremonies.
In this fast-paced environment, the job of the cabinet’s policy analysts is to understand the strategic vision and direction of government ministers and translate this into practical, sustainable and monitorable strategies that result in positive outcomes for the people of Antigua.
Five training workshops have been held thus far, supporting more than 40 participants. The training was developed using a common tool in policy analysis - the four E’s Framework: economy (is the cost justifiable), efficiency (is the level of output to input right), effectiveness (will it work) and equity (is it fair to different groups affected).
At the beginning of my project, I worked with the team to determine what change is required to improve the effectiveness of policymaking. A functional review helped us to redefine the purpose of the Secretariat. Its role would shift from the simple administrative process of receiving correspondences and cabinet papers, preparing agenda items and forwarding decisions of the cabinet, to providing the cabinet with information and guidance, so it can make solid decisions through the routine application of the four E’s.
In order to deliver our new vision of being a ‘leadership model in the creation and execution of policy solutions’, the size and capability of the staff will be increased. A mix of recruitment and staff development through a professional development plan, linked to outcomes identified in the Secretariat Business Plan, has already been agreed.
A very different kind of recruitment process - competency based - was used to identify a policy analyst to support continuation of these changes after the end of my project. In order to deliver the outcomes of policies, the government has to have the right people with the right skills, knowledge and abilities. These changes have been included in the budget submission for the 2017 Financial Year, which in Antigua begins on January 1.
We then had to turn our attention to defining the policy process outside the Secretariat. There may be many different reasons why governments do not always yield the expected benefit of a policy. At a senior leader’s forum held in July, the minister of health, unsurprisingly but quite aptly, used a medical analogy to describe our task: the right diagnosis has to be made or the patient may be made worse by the medicine.
The rounds of consultations with ministers, permanent secretaries and other government officials revealed an important truth; the desire to change the way things are done is not enough, there must be consensus about the means through which the change can be effected. That is, we needed to create a nexus between desire and action.
All stakeholders agreed that increasing the flow of information and improving the policy skills mix in the wider government could result in considerably improved policy outcomes. Information needs to be made not only more available, but more accessible. Technological tools will be used to enable improved monitoring and reporting of decisions of the cabinet. Ministry websites will be better utilised to provide the public with on-demand information on government policies.
To improve this policy skills mix, we developed a Cabinet Liaison Officers Corps. This is a group of already serving officers who will assist ministries with adherence to the quality standards for cabinet documents, especially cabinet memos. Along with planned training for other ministry staff, this will speed up the policymaking process by improving the quality of proposals that come to the Secretariat for review and advice.
After one very long day, I decided to get dinner at a local deli where high school students had come from the career fair being held by the Ministry of Agriculture. They were busy asking everyone in the queue what they did and why they did it. It forced me to reflect on the journey I have been on thus far in Antigua, and the road that has led to this point – after having supported policy reform efforts elsewhere in the region. Policy matters, not simply because of the need for a ‘right answer’ to a policy problem, but because it impacts people’s lives.
Decisions by government on policies shape and affect issues as diverse as the quality of education to whether entrepreneurs are able to access financing to start a business. I told the students that I was passionate about policy because I get to work with many different types of inspiring people to shape a country’s future for the better.
The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation is a vital part of this pro-change constituency. Its critical support to the Cabinet Secretariat is being translated into real change.