New Book Explores Using Performance Targets to Solve Public Challenges

March 8, 2022
Targeting Commitment: Interagency Performance in New Zealand

Cambridge, MA. – The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School and Brookings Institution Press are pleased to announce the publication of an important new book from public-sector performance experts Ross Boyd and Rodney Scott, "Targeting Commitment: Interagency Performance in New Zealand".

New Zealand has long been considered at the forefront of public administration, experimenting with new ways of organizing and delivering public services. Even so, successive New Zealand governments had mixed results from using traditional public management tools to lift the performance of the public service and address persistent problems that required multi-agency action.

In 2012, New Zealand adopted a reform package, Better Public Services, which challenged agencies to achieve ten results over five years in areas that would improve the lives of citizens, particularly for those in need. This book explores how and why the New Zealand government made progress and how the program was able to create and sustain the commitment of public servants and unleash the creativity of public entrepreneurs.

In Targeting Commitment, Boyd and Scott combine case studies based on the experience of people involved in the change with public management research to explain how ambitious targets and public accountability were used as levers to overcome the bureaucratic barriers that impeded public service delivery. They further detail how data, evidence, and innovation were used to change practice.

As illustrated by the book, New Zealand experimented, failed, succeeded, and learned from experience over five years. Now, the authors contend, New Zealand stands as an example to government agencies worldwide that interagency performance targets are a potentially powerful tool for fostering better public services and thus improving social outcomes.

“Ross Boyd and Rodney Scott do a marvelous job of charting a pragmatic, agile process and turning it into a unique textbook for policy in these COVID times. Their unique combination of practical experience and intellectual frameworks makes a powerful explanatory tool for probing the strengths and weaknesses of the approach.” – The Right Honourable Sir Simon William English KNZM, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

About the Authors 

Rodney Scott is an Associate Professor of Public Management at the University of New South Wales. He has a PhD in Public Administration from the University of Queensland and research fellowships at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. As Chief Policy Advisor at New Zealand’s State Services Commission, Rodney was responsible for the commission’s research program.

Ross Boyd is an Adjunct Research Fellow of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government. As Principal Policy Analyst in New Zealand’s State Services Commission, Ross led thinking on the Better Public Services Results program, and was responsible for design, implementation, reporting, and evaluation.

About the Ash Center 

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens.

About the Brookings Institution Press 

The Brookings Institution Press helps bring the knowledge and research by scholars from within and outside the Institution to a wider audience of readers, researchers, students, and policymakers through its books and journals. The Press publishes about forty books a year that harness the power of fact and rigorous research to start conversations, inform debates, change minds, and move policy. For more information, visit

Daniel Harsha
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

Sarah Grucza
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation