Medium-Term Economic Strategy Conference

The Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service recently staged a conference on the Medium Term Economic Strategy. It gathered together policy makers and analysts from across the Public Sector, along with academic experts from here and the UK, to discuss the challenges we will face over the next seven years.

This event was a landmark in the development of IGEES, which will play an important role in supporting evidence-based policymaking. IGEES was formed by restructuring our existing economic and evaluation resources into a coherent inter-departmental network, with common training and support structures. Already, a number of reports prepared by the Service have been published in last year’s Expenditure Report, with more to follow this year, and at regular intervals thereafter. These reports will objectively and critically examine various aspects of public expenditure, and publishing them is an important step in increasing the transparency around decisions on the use of public funds.

Last year we recruited the first wave of 30 new economists, which strengthened the economic and statistical capacity of my own Department, as well as the Departments of Finance and of the Taoiseach. This has proven to be a great success, and some of these new recruits have already moved into dedicated analytical units in spending Departments, having completed a year of training and orientation.

These units will provide valuable economic expertise at the coal-face of policy creation and ensure that evaluation is embedded at all levels of policy development. We have already advertised the next recruitment campaign, so that this programme can be extended right across the Civil Service.

Events like this — and other networking aspects of the Service — will help to ensure that all resources available to us will be utilised. This will be of great benefit to the State, as well as providing opportunities for individuals to contribute to policy areas which they may have a deep interest in.

The conference also signifies the determination to engage with the wider policy community, both to avail of its knowledge, and also to submit our own analyses and opinions to outside scrutiny. The frank discussion of a number of important topics is healthy and will contribute to better policymaking.

The sessions included examinations of both macro and micro topics. Overviews of the likely path of economic growth and the constraints within which we are operating were presented and debated, and there was detailed discussion of the most effective policy options in the labour market, industrial policy, and competition and regulation.

A recurring theme of the conference was of how constrained public finances will be over the next seven years at least, and that all resources must, therefore, be used wisely. It is critical that we can identify which programmes are effective and which are not. Which leads directly to the second common theme — the importance of building programme evaluation into policy making from the very beginning of the process.

This resonates with my own commitment to making evaluation a core component of the public spending process by, among other things, establishing IGEES and promulgating best practice through the Public Spending Code.

Robert Watt
Secretary General
Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

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Cross-posted from As PER blog

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