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PIAO: a chance to rethink PA

Decree Law 80 of 9 June 2021, converted into Law 113 of 6 August 2021, introduces an integrated plan for the organization and activities all public administrations (PAs) in Italy with the exception of schools. (The Italian acronym for this plan is PIAO.) The basic idea is to effectively address the excessive array of planning tools currently in use and remedy the resulting fragmentation.

As of today, in fact, planning processes in Italian PAs are not effectively integrated. This according to a sample of 80 government managers and employees at various levels who were polled at a recent SDA Bocconi event. In most cases (53%), the level of planning integration in the respondents’ organization is only partial, while 18% of the time integration is very limited if not absent entirely. Only three people out of ten say that the planning in their administration is effectively (4%) or generally (26%) integrated. The underlying reason is that only in about half of all cases (52%), the strategy of the PA is formulated based on the dynamic of the needs to be addressed; but often (48%) this strategy is apt to reiterate the positioning of previous years. It’s even less frequent for strategy to reflect selectively identified priorities to pursue (33%); instead, PAs prefer to describe their sphere of intervention in general terms (67%). If we consider the process of allocating economic-financial resources, in only one organization out of four do planning choices derive from objectives centering on the public value that the PA intends to realize. In contrast, in 75% of the cases, these objectives often seem to follow traditional approaches. The only accountability tools utilized by PAs are mandatory ones (78%), and hardly ever concern internal or external stakeholders (22%). This means losing out on potentially interesting information that could serve to interpret stakeholder needs and chart the trajectory of intervention accordingly.


The most recent example can be found here

In light of these initial considerations, the PIAO appears to offer a valuable chance to rethink the approach to planning used in the public sector. Although we do not yet know the official details as far as implementation, the content of the draft discussed at the conference held on 2 December 2021 provides a fairly clear idea of the general objectives, giving rise to at least three opportunities.

The first is to ensure a single standard in planning processes. The PIAO should combine the objectives of creating public value and performance (that is, medium-term results produced directly by PAs), planning and managing resources, upgrading organizational and work models, streamlining the digitalizing processes, achieving greater gender equality and implementing measures for improving transparency. In other words, the PIAO represents a sort of roadmap for standardizing planning, with an eye to integrating the basic development choices of PAs. This means that first and foremost the plan offers PAs the chance to look beyond the individual tasks that they are required to perform and build an overarching vision of all planning and management decisions. The aim here is to foster logical and operational continuity in terms of the trajectory of strategic planning, budgeting, and interventions to translate strategy into managerial practices and operational activities, as well as decisions regarding people strategy. In other words, the idea is to tear down organizational silos (wherever they are found) and provide a practical tool for harmonizing all the components of planning.


Building programming from impact objectives

Second, the PIAO’s clear outcome orientation underscores the need to measure if and how the performance of various organizations can make a difference as far as the needs of citizens and companies. PAs have to go beyond their tendency to be self-referential, and instead encourage an inter-institutional approach to governance, where each component contributes to the final result, fully aware that when we refer to public value, no goal can be achieved by working alone. This push to measure outcomes should also be interpreted in light of the managerial methods of the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience (PNRR). In this regard, resources from Europe are contingent on the capacity of the public system to measure the impacts that these funds generate. So for PAs, the PIAO represents a chance to adopt planning principles that are consistent with reporting requirements that extend over the next five years.


Expanding the use of performance information beyond the exclusive focus on individual assessment

Lastly, the PIAO would offer PAs the chance to dispense with that reflex reaction linking performance measurement and individual assessment (and the consequences in terms of awarding bonuses) found in the majority of PAs from 2009 until today, albeit to varying degrees. Freeing performance measurement tools from the dead weight of bonuses could help PAs set somewhat loftier goals, clearly distinguishing between what the organization itself is called on to do, and what it in turn asks individuals to commit to personally.

As always, a new planning roadmap might simply be the umpteenth case of compliance - or a real chance to rethink how work is organized and managed in PAs, which serve the needs of citizens and companies every day. If PAs are able to seize these three opportunities, and adequately adapt them to the internal and external conditions of the organization, the PIAO may be an important piece of the puzzle that is the recovery of the country.