Improving decision-making in Public Administration: what concrete solutions?


The work of Public Administration must observe the principles of nondiscrimination and fairness. Often, when thinking about the decisions of public entities, we tend to take for granted that these principles are ensured through compliance with regulations. However, just as often, it is forgotten that regulation marks the boundaries of what is permissible; not everything, however, is defined by the law and, frequently, public management is required to choose--among several possible alternatives--which one to follow in order to best protect public value.

The research "La PA come motore della ripartenza”, which was carried out thanks to the support of the Romeo and Enrica Invernizzi Foundation as part of SDA4Gov, SDA Bocconi's initiative at the service of the Public Administration, directed by Giovanni Valotti, focused on the paring of discretion and accountability. The results of the research were presented on July 12th, in a workshop attended by about 50 civil servants and public managers, and point to some specific solutions to (i) reduce the decision-making bias of public managers and thus improve the ability to manage organizations and (ii) foster the ability to build quick and effective solutions under conditions of particular uncertainty.


Reducing the decision-making bias of public managers

When making decisions, public managers are subject to the existence of inherent anomalies that can affect and sometimes impair their decision-making ability. These anomalies can be systematic (biases) or erratic (noise): either way, it is imperative to reduce their potential effects in order to leave room for "desirable" discretion, that is to say, the one which reflects the management's conscious choices. The research discusses the implications of these phenomena and proposes some practices to contain their effects. It was conducted with the support of Agenzia delle Entrate and Inps, and was presented at the July 12th workshop held by Giorgio Giacomelli and Francesco Vidè. For example, when evaluating employee performance, the use of judgment scales anchored to behaviors dramatically reduces the variability of scores: when expected behaviors are made explicit, leaving less room for free interpretation of the meaning of evaluation criteria by individuals, the "undesirable" subjectivity of evaluators is limited. In other words, the risk of two evaluators developing different interpretations-and thus assigning different scores-when faced with similar work situations is reduced. Similar mechanisms are also observed in personnel selection processes, as well as in the area of quality evaluation of services aimed at stakeholders.  


Summary of research results


Robust governance to achieve both speed and effectiveness

The pandemic-induced crisis has highlighted the need to be able to "get it done quickly," providing rapid and effective responses to constantly evolving situations. This requires the development of a new skill on the part of PA: the ability to continuously and quickly invent and re-invent its decisions, adopting "robust" decision-making models in both the turbulence and the day to day emergencies that PA faces. The research developed through the participation of several regional bodies in Italy including Regione Lombardia and presented by Marta Micacchi and Benedetta Trivellato, highlights the need to develop a new mindset to facilitate decision-making processes that are rational, flexible, dynamic and pragmatic. What does it take to do this?

  1. Promote the use of real-time data collection and analysis techniques to support decision making and continuous review
  2. Use digital platforms for the rapid coordination and transfer of information
  3. Implement network structures that are both stable and flexible

Implement "energizing" leadership, working on a new public manager figure capable of motivating employees and stakeholders and forming a sense of team spirit around the goal to be achieved.


Summary of research results


SDA Bocconi School of Management



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