What's Brad Pitt got to do with managing public money?

I recently saw the film Moneyball and I enjoyed it. Brad certainly deserved the award nominations. I also like baseball (at least, I like it as much as a non-American might like it) but the film's not really about baseball. It's about how Billy Bean, the general manager of the Oakland A's, figures out how to make his team competitive even though he has a much smaller budget than the others. First, he does what anyone would do and asks the owner for more money. He's told he's got to live with the money he's got. He realises he can't carry on doing things the old way because he can't get players on high salaries. Instead, he looks for players who are cheap but good at getting on first base (ie they are undervalued). This is based on the idea that the more that players get on base the more runs will be scored and the more games won. There was no fairytale ending with the team winning the World Series but they came close and on the way they managed the longest winning streak in history.

So, what has all this got to do with managing public money. Well, public managers are in a similar position to Billy Bean. Their budgets aren't big enough. They've tried asking for more money but the government has been clear that it is not changing its spending limits. So now public managers have got to accept that they can't continue doing things as they've always done. If they were being asked to find efficiency savings or two or three percent then they might be able to meet the target by belt-tightening, etc but reductions of 10 to 20 percent require radical thinking.

In the film Brad Pitt is advised that he doesn't need to buy players, he needs to buy wins. Translated to public services, managers don't need to buy inputs, they need to buy results (outcomes is the usual jargon). When services are looked at from the point of view of the end user and results that are needed it becomes possible to think of alternative ways of achieving the results and some of those will be cheaper than others (ie undervalued).

There won't be any fairytale endings for public managers but I think it would be helpful for them to think in terms of buying results rather than just managing expenditure.