This case study from Anne-Marie Conlong, head of the Performance Unit in the Scottish Government, looks at the role of the National Performance Framework in guiding strategy and policy development in Scotland.

It is now ten years since the launch of the National Performance Framework (NPF), which sets out a vision of national wellbeing for Scotland and charts progress towards this vision through a range of social, environmental and economic indicators.

This sets out an overarching purpose, articulated through sixteen National Outcomes which describe what the Government wants to achieve over the next ten years. Alongside a set of 51 indicators to chart progress.

Quite simply, the National Performance Framework (NFP) transformed how we do government in Scotland – in policy terms, in partnership working and in the leadership, management and culture of our organisation. This shift still makes demands of us as policy makers, as partners, and as civil servants. This can be described in three points.

How did we prepare the ground for outcomes-focused working?

The Scottish National Party came into power in 2007 – a minority government wanting to establish Scotland’s credentials for independence through strong, competent government. Their vision for Scotland was shared ownership of a common good.  The NPF outcomes chimed well with this.

Other change flowed. We renegotiated the Scottish Government’s relationship with our key delivery partners – including all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities who signed a Concordat agreement.

Scottish Government policy-making changed. We learned the difference between inputs, outputs and genuine outcomes. Progress on the national outcomes was available for everyone through the Scotland Performs website.

But we also needed cultural and behavioural change within the Scottish civil service. We removed departments – making the whole organisation responsible for delivering outcomes. As civil servants we had to be prepared to lose control over some things and to share the risks of success and failure with our partners This meant collaborative leadership and authentic partnership both inside and outside of government.  We ran a massive education programme for senior officials over three years. A new Scottish Leaders’ Forum meant Scotland’s public and third sector Chief Executives came together as a force for change and outcomes.

The wider civil service world was fascinated – London referred to our new approach as ‘the Scottish Experiment’. Ten years on and the experiment is our reality.

Where are we now?

The NPF has led to different policy choices and application. The Scottish Government’s inclusive economic strategy is about boosting competiveness and tackling inequality, creating economic opportunities for all in society and sharing the benefits of growth, including wellbeing, more widely.

Our public sector reform policy means prevention – our work on the early years reflects this, as does Scotland’s justice system and unification of Scotland’s eight police forces into one national force. Both contribute to outcomes with wellbeing at their core.

The NPF has extended to include our use of asset-based working, co-production, and robust improvement methodologies – known collectively as the ‘Scottish approach’ to Government.

As a small country we can put everyone who can make a difference in a room together to figure things out – so we do. And we recruit open, collaborative leaders – those who see beyond their own immediate interests to the wider cause. People who can shape and effect real change by working with, and through, others.

What’s next?

Working with a maturing model means refreshing the corporate memory and skillset, we need to keep tending and growing our values-based culture of outcomes, partnership and co-production within the civil service and we need to help Ministers to stay on board with the outcomes approach.

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 means the National Performance Framework is embedded in legislation – the outcomes approach continues no matter who is in government. And The NPF is being updated to reflect our commitments to human rights and sustainable development goals. The Scottish Government is sharing our learning internationally as an open government partnership pioneer.  

The outcomes approach means crafting and co-producing policy which reflects real people’s lives with all the complexities, messiness, risk and interdependency that real life entails. If we are to succeed and help to continue to shape a country with stronger national wellbeing and sense of self then the answer will always be outcomes.