Benedikt Goderis

This e-report highlights some of the key findings of the study ‘Public sector achievement in 36 countries: A comparative assessment of inputs, outputs and outcomes’ published by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research | SCP.

A comparison of modern welfare states reveals similarities but also vast differences in terms of objectives, coverage, depth and institutional design (Esping-Andersen 1990, Vrooman 2009). These differences make it particularly interesting to compare public sector outcomes between countries and over time. What have individual countries achieved relative to their peers? Has their performance improved or worsened in recent years? Addressing these questions is important, particularly given current sustainability concerns: welfare states are faced with ageing populations, leading to a larger take-up of their social programmes such as pensions and health and long-term care services. The recent global financial crisis has, if anything, further added to these concerns.

Framework and scope

Inputs, outputs and outcomes of the public sector form the core of the study. The public sector provides inputs that are used to produce outputs. More output should then result in better outcomes. To give an example, investments in schools and teachers are education inputs. They enable children to enrol in school, an output which leads to the outcome of children’s improved cognitive skills. Alternatively, investments in hospitals or hospital staff are inputs, used to produce outputs such as doctors’ consultations or vaccination programmes, which in turn bring on health outcomes such as increased life expectancy.

The study examines inputs, outputs and outcomes of the public sector in the 28 EU Member States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United States.

We have examined inputs, outputs and outcomes of the public sector in the 28 EU Member States, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea[1], New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. These 36 countries are classified into seven geographical regions: Western Europe, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Oceania, Northern America and Eastern Asia. The study presented here covers the period from 1995 to 2012 and looks at nine public sector policy areas. Five are included in this e-report: education, health, housing, social security and public administration.

A brief history of the report

In 2004, the Netherlands held the Presidency of the European Union. During that period, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research | SCP published the results of a major international comparative study on the performance of the public sector in various countries (Kuhry, 2004). A second edition was published in 2012 (Jonker, 2012). The 2015 report is the third edition and is intended for use as input for the Dutch Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2016. The report partly updates the previous edition, but also broadens and deepens the analysis. More countries are included, more policy areas are studied in detail, and more attention is devoted to explaining differences across countries and over time.

Throughout the study, the country name “Korea” refers to the Republic of Korea (as opposed to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).