Asserting Values

A government culture of accountability and purpose

Vivamos Juntos Nuestros Valores

three colored squaresAsserting Values

Innovation

Buenos Aires has adopted a management culture that combines highly visible commitments to the public, in-person performance updates, and publicly accessible accountability data to motivate government agencies to deliver on the city’s top objectives. As a former chief of staff and performance czar for the City of Buenos Aires, Mayor Horacio Larreta has worked to instill a culture of results-based management and public accountability across his administration. In two particularly interesting ways, the government has elevated these principles into public visibility and embedded them into the culture of the workforce.  

First, the Administration launched an initiative that publicly commits the government to specific, priority goals.  The government’s list of public commitments includes 50 objectives, each with specific metrics and timelines for progress. Fulfillment of these promises is overseen by the Secretary General, who reports directly to the Mayor and facilitates a series of monthly meetings dedicated to performance on the commitments. Significantly, the public are invited to monitor progress on the promises via an online dashboard.  

Second, in addition to the commitments, the government has identified seven core values to guide the administration’s work on behalf of the people, a concept referred to as “Vivamos Juntos Nuestros Valores.”  These values - Doing, Humility, Proximity, Austerity, Time, Teamwork, and Creativity - are posted visibly in virtually all public buildings, and municipal employees are periodically recognized for exemplary commitment to these principles.

By infusing public commitments with a culture of adherence to clear values, the city is also working to connect agencies with one another through a shared sense of purpose and accountability.

Democratic Challenge

The agility, effectiveness, and morale of large municipal governments can be inhibited by operational and cultural silos, in which departments do not feel connected to one another or to an overarching sense of mission.  Lacking mission and purpose, the municipal workforce can experience a deficit of cohesion and accountability in its approach to solving problems, serving the public, and interacting with government colleagues. Too often, political competitions in many democracies is based on personality or political posturing, rather than performance data.

How’d They Do It?

Two months into his term, Mayor Larreta publicly announced 20 commitments to the people of Buenos Aires that would be prioritized and delivered between 2016 and 2019.  To ensure accountability and track progress, the Mayor’s team in the Office of Strategic Management and Institutional Quality developed a digital platform that permits government agencies to report their updates on these priorities, which are received by the Office of the Chief of Staff.  For each Commitment, a formal meeting is convened every 45 days to review progress and evaluate resources and next steps. The progress updates are also accessible to the public by way of the online platform.

“Citizen participation in this process - not only in the monitoring, but in the development and execution on these commitments - it creates an expectation that cannot be easily reversed,” says Alvaro Herrero, Undersecretary of Strategic Management and Institutional Quality.  “What really makes this work is the mechanism for moving information from government to the people and involving citizens in the process,” added Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte, the Director of Institutional Quality.

Following the early success and positive reception of this initiative, the administration grew its list from 20 to 50 commitments.  Meanwhile, the City launched its efforts to promote its core values across the workforce, including special recognition of government employees who exemplify the values in their work.

Many cities articulate values, and even major government priorities, but Buenos Aires has undertaken considerable efforts to ingrain them into the day-to-day culture.  In conversation with municipal experts, they offered several perspectives on why the approach in Buenos Aires may be working:

It’s simple. The values are easy to understand and communicate across agencies.

They’re well marketed.  Walk into virtually any public building or office and you’re very likely to encounter color-coded posters displaying the values alongside another poster displaying progress on the Mayor’s commitments.

Resonate with core issues for city.  The commitments are viewed as priority issues of importance to residents, and are targeted toward improving quality of life in popular ways.  Similarly, the values are consistent with ideals that municipal workers are just as likely to encounter in the communities of their city; in that way, they are sensible objectives for the workplace community as well.  

Also, they’re not all necessarily easy.  Particularly, in government or political environments, prioritizing values like humility and time can be challenging.  Likewise, the Commitments include objectives and timelines that have proven elusive for past administrations. In this way, the City is signaling to residents that the government is making an effort to improve and challenge itself.  

These elements have combined to create a prominent, and highly visible effort to keep the government accountable to its promises.

How’s It Going?

Through the Compromisos initiative, Mayor Larreta’s administration has made more than 55 public commitments to date.  Progress across these commitments can be tracked online; currently:

  • 25 commitments are recorded in the category of 75% to 100% completed  
  • 8 commitments are 50% to 75% complete
  • 12 are 25% to 50% complete
  • 5 are recorded as 0% to 25% complete

In February of this year, Mayor Larreta hosted a public convening to highlight the progress on current commitments, and to announce the addition of four new objectives to be completed by 2019.  These newest commitments include:

  • A program to make home ownership possible for 20,000 families
  • Providing public school students and teachers with an access card permitting them to enjoy the public and private, commercial and independent cultural offerings of the City
  • The creation of a new public theatre space in the Arts District of the City’s La Boca neighborhood
  • The construction of eight new educational centers in the City

As new initiatives are elevated to the level of a public commitment, officials noted that it gives ministers a sense of how to structure their priorities, and has helped to order many internal processes and the allocation of resources across departments.

Furthermore, the City works to institutionalize this approach for future sustainability, the common values of the Vivamos Juntos Nuestros Valores initiative are seen as helping to establish a public expectation of accountable governance.  In particular, officials say that the “proximity” value has helped to close the gap between the government and people, and that public participation in the online monitoring makes it difficult for the government to back away from its promises. “Creating this link from internal tools to external engagement and participation - tying these things together will help lock this in for sustainability,” says Ugarte, the Director of Institutional Quality.

Considerations

It’s important to distinguish between a mere marketing campaign and an impactful approach to improving the culture and accountability within government.  For this reason, it’s important for cities to articulate clearly the ways that success will be measured, and to evaluate progress regularly.

To ensure that employees are willing to embrace these types of workforce initiatives and values, Cities should consider opportunities to involve a cross-section of municipal employees in the development and ongoing implementation and evaluation of the programs.

Innovation Point of Contact

Alvaro J. Herrero
Undersecretary of Strategic Management and Institutional Quality
The City of Buenos Aires

Who Else Is Trying This

Bangladesh

The Sirajganj Local Governance Development Fund Project began in 2000 as an effort to reduce abject poverty by implementing development projects and services that not only reform government, but improve its overall effectiveness. The initiative, with an emphasis on local government, had three main components: (1) investment in local government to improve service delivery, (2) enhancement of overall state capacity to improve local performance, (3) and the circulation of information to the public. What makes this initiative innovative, though, is that local councils were given the power to pick and choose the allocation of an annual block grant to fund development measures. To ensure these block grants were being used responsibly and effectively, this particular project pursued “participatory performance assessments of local councils”. This approach, which was essentially a public scorecard to judge officials and hold them accountable for their actions, established secure flows of information from the government to the public. As a result, this innovation led to major improvements in service delivery, as documented by the Asian Development Bank.