Headlines: February 22nd, 2012

Government departments have become overly complicated and this is stalling the coalition government’s efficiency drive. Departments are on average 30 per cent more complex than their largest private sector counterparts.

These are the main findings from The Public Sector Complexity Review, which also found that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is by far the most complex, followed by the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence. The Review surveyed over 150 civil servants across the major central government departments to assess the impact of a range of over 100 different complexity drivers on performance in their departments.

Strategy is the biggest driver of harmful complexity in public sector organisations, which includes the strategy itself and changes to it, the strategic planning process and the number of strategic initiatives being pursued. The report says that this is ironic, given that the role of strategy is to provide clear and consistent guidance on what an organisation needs to do to achieve its objectives.

Changes in policy are the biggest external factor driving harmful complexity. The report says that overly-complex organisations may find it particularly difficult to adapt to a change in government or a shift in policy; but by reducing harmful complexity, public sector organisations can improve their agility.

There is also a cultural problem. A significantly greater degree of harmful complexity arises from culture in the public sector. Cultural complexity stems from public sector leaders and managers failing to create a culture of simplicity, allowing people to routinely overcomplicate work, to over-engineer processes, structures, communication, products and systems.

Simon Collinson, Research Director of the Simplicity Partnership, said: “Most of the government organisations we have analysed are not coping with the dangers of complexity; any additional complexity in the form of new initiatives, an extra layer of management or another IT system will further undermine their capacity to add value to the taxpayer. This makes it that much more challenging to deliver improvements in public services at a lower cost.”