There are no clear or agreed definitions for comparative ranking of public administrations. However, there is widespread agreement that a number of elements should be included in any assessment:
- The size, cost and inputs of the public sector. While size of the public sector, its cost and its inputs are not the sole or even main determinants of good public administration, nevertheless in terms of value for money in the delivery of public services, keeping check on the size, cost and other inputs of the public sector and public service is an important consideration.
- The quality and efficiency of public administration. Public administration includes policy-making, policy legislation and management of the public sector. Such dimensions of public administration are frequently measured by subjective indicators of quality, which give a sense of how good the public administration is. There is also an onus on public administration to deliver services efficiently.
- Sectoral performance. The delivery of social, economic and environmental outcomes in an efficient manner is central to an effective public administration.
- Trust, satisfaction and confidence in public administration. The public ultimately must have trust, satisfaction and confidence in the public administration of a country if it is to be effective.
In this study, we examine indicators for each of these four elements of public administration. Where possible and appropriate, data is included for other European countries, in order to enable comparisons. In addition, where data are available, we have provided trend data going back over the last decade. The intention is to provide a snapshot of trends in public administration performance in Ireland, to highlight where we are doing well, what challenges are present, and where improvements can be made.
In a number of charts, as well as showing Ireland’s rating relative to the European Union (EU) plus the UK averages, the top ranked and bottom ranked country as at the time of the most recent data gathering are included for comparative purposes.
In its style and content, the format for the report, which has remained largely unchanged since 2010, drew on a number of efforts to benchmark and compare public sector efficiency and performance. These include a European Central Bank (ECB) international comparison of public sector efficiency sector performance.
Climate change and environmental degradation represent significant existential threats to how we all live. The European Green Deal sets out to address these challenges, and how we tackle these challenges here in Ireland will also have a significant bearing on how successful we are in delivering social and economic outcomes which are both effective and sustainable. For this 2022 report we have therefore included some new indicators to try and assess performance across climate and the broader environment.
A word of caution about data limitations
The data presented here should be interpreted with great care. First, there is the issue of whether the indicators used to represent public administration provision and quality really captures what public service is about. Indicators, by their nature, only give a partial picture. Second, much of the international comparative data in this report is qualitative data derived from opinion surveys. Some of this survey data comprises small-scale samples of opinion from academics, managers and experts in the business community. The survey data is thus limited in terms of both its overall reliability and the fact that some surveys represent the views of limited sections of the community. Third, the point scores arrived at on some indicators (for example, on a scale from 1–10 for the IMD data and between –2.5 and +2.5 for the World Bank governance indicators) should not be interpreted too strictly, as there are margins of error associated with these estimates. Fourth, changes over short periods should be viewed cautiously. Many of the indicators assessed represent ‘snapshots’ at one particular point in time. Small shifts in annual ranking are not particularly meaningful.
In all, when interpreting the findings set out in this paper, these limitations should be borne in mind. In particular, small variations in scores should be interpreted cautiously. These may be no more than random variations to be expected given the data being used. What is of interest is to identify broad patterns and trends emerging from the data.