This paper tells the story of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s efforts to improve policy quality and capability. The purpose of the paper is to outline the key elements that have underscored MCH’s success as a top performing policy shop. There is no single formula for this, so what the author describes is one approach that has proven successful within the MCH Policy Branch which he leads. There may be elements which other policy leaders might wish to share alongside this experience. To the extent that much of the experience is transferable to other organisations, the author hopes other policy leaders might find the MCH approach of interest.
High performing policy shops are dynamic systems which tend to be driven by strong leadership and the dedication and professionalism of staff. MCH had some very talented policy staff, particularly the policy managers and principal advisers who were committed to policy quality improvement. It requires an unrelenting focus on quality improvement which can’t be eased up. With relatively high policy staff turnover, including policy managers, policy shops are in constant need of recreating and regenerating themselves.