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Decision making in the public sector


A government department wished to contract for the provision of property management services for two areas of its portfolio.


There were differing views as to the best way to proceed because the outcome was politically sensitive, the decisions had the potential to establish important precedents and operational, headquarters and policy staff of the department were driven by different priorities. Repeated attempts to reach a conclusion over several months had failed because of the difficulty of reconciling these competing priorities.

In each case, there was a myriad of issues to be considered and, as well as struggling with differing priorities, the participants in the studies were overwhelmed with detail.

Services provided

For each location, Broadleaf constructed archetypal options that encapsulated the distinctions between the alternative proposals. It was understood that none of these would be implemented precisely as they were drawn up since many minor factors would need to be clarified and defined more clearly. However, the options served to expose the major choices open to the government.

In each case, a comparative qualitative risk assessment was carried out and the risk profiles of the options were compared with one another. The risk assessment framework in each case expressed the consequences of risks in terms of high level objectives and the purpose of the Department, which raised the discussion about the options above the fine detail in which it had been bogged down.

At one site, the analysis made it clear that there was a clear choice between:

  • Short term challenges with external stakeholders objecting to a pragmatic approach that, for good reason, required exemptions from some of the usual formal procurement processes; and,
  • The danger of continual administrative dysfunction if the formal process produced the result that everyone expected.

The decision was made to recommend the pragmatic approach, with appropriate risk treatments to deal with the short term risks. This was accepted at the next steering committee meeting without further debate.

At the other site, the decision resolved into two major dimensions, one being the scope of the service that would be outsourced and the other being whether this contract would pre-empt policy developments that were known to be in the pipeline but were not yet settled let alone announced. Despite it being marginally less cost-effective to do so in the short term and despite pressure to use the project to establish certain precedents, the decision was made to adopt a cautious approach and let a contract of limited scope for a fixed period of a few years so as to leave the way open to implement a more far reaching approach when the emerging policy had been settled. This decision was accepted at the next steering committee meeting.


In both cases, an extended period of indecision was brought to a close and the participants in the exercise reached a shared view of the optimum way forward and the challenges they would face. For the chosen options, each team had not only a clear view of the most significant risks but also where risk treatment was most likely to yield benefits and where control assurance was required to ensure that risks already under control would not break out and undermine their project.

State public service
Public sector and government business
Services included:
Project risk management
Risk assessment