The focus of civil service reform has changed over time, and opinions differ about the goals and objectives of civil service reform. McCourt (2013, below) identifies six major problems faced by the civil service, and six major approaches to reform. These challenges and types of reform can overlap and are not mutually exclusive.
Table 1: Civil service reform problems and approaches
|Problem||Approach||Main action period|
||‘Weberian’ public administration and capacity-building||Post-independence period in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa|
||Decentralisation||1970s to present|
||Pay and employment reform||1980s and 1990s|
||New Public Management||1990s to present|
||Integrity and anti-corruption reforms||1990s to present|
||‘Bottom-up’ reforms||Late 1990s to present|
Source: McCourt, W. (2013). Models of public service reform: A problem-solving approach. Policy Research Working Paper 6428. Washington D.C.: World Bank.
There is no single globally-recognised conceptual framework for civil service reform, so reforms often lack a robust and explicit theory of change (World Bank 2011b; Scott 2011). Each of the six approaches to reform described here is based on an implicit theory of change, and can help clarify underlying assumptions.
‘Weberian’ public administration and capacity building
Max Weber’s studies of bureaucracy advocate efficient, rational and hierarchical organisations (see Weber 1978). A ‘Weberian’ approach focuses more on administration and the creation of a functioning bureaucracy than on politics and elected politicians. It emphasises hierarchy and inputs, specifically efficient resource management. Minogue (2001, cited in McCourt 2013) identifies the main features of this approach as:
- A separation between politics and elected politicians on the one hand, and administration and appointed administrators on the other
- Administration that is continuous and rule-governed
- Administrators who are trained professionals, appointed on the basis of qualifications
- A functional division of labour, and a hierarchy of tasks and people
- Resources belonging to the organisation, not the individuals within it
- Public servants serving public, not private, interests.
To a certain extent, these ideals underpin any reform that implements a hierarchical, rule-based system. However, a Weberian approach is distinguished by an emphasis on centralised administration, a focus on structure rather than outputs, and the replacement of patronage by a rational, orderly system. It is, though, becoming increasingly clear that reforms are dependent on political and social dynamics (Unsworth 2007) – a point overlooked by the Weberian approach.
Decentralisation – the transfer of power from central to lower levels of government – can include responsibility for planning and managing various government functions, as well as for resource-raising and resource allocation. Scott and Rao (2011) identify three main types of decentralisation:
- Administrative decentralisation: Transfer of authority, resources and responsibilities from central government to field offices and agencies through deconcentration or delegation. Deconcentration is the transfer of power to local officials who are dispersed across the country, but with hierarchical accountability maintained between local units and the central government. It is often seen as the first step for countries wanting to pursue decentralisation. Delegation refers to the transfer of authority and responsibility from central government to specialised local agencies, such as hospital boards or project implementation units, which have greater independence but still remain accountable to the central ministry.
- Political (or ‘democratic’) decentralisation: The transfer of power to lower levels of government, which are elected by local citizens and are accountable to citizens rather than to central government. Political decentralisation requires a constitutional, legal and regulatory framework to ensure accountability and transparency. Devolution is the transfer of substantial responsibility, decision-making, resource and revenue generation to a local government that has significant autonomy. Devolved units are normally independent legal entities and fully elected.
- Fiscal decentralisation: Transfer of funds, and sometimes revenue-raising powers, from central to lower levels of government; part of both administrative and political decentralisation. Resource allocation is often negotiated based on factors such as interregional equity, availability of resources and local capacity.
In any country there are likely to be both deconcentrated and devolved systems operating in parallel (e.g. centrally appointed district officers and elected local governments) and within the same locality. Decentralisation can be pursued for a number of reasons: for example, to bring decision-making as close as possible to the people affected, or to respond to political and geographic tensions (McCourt 2013).
The transfer of authority and responsibility, which administrative decentralisation entails, is also a component of New Public Management (NPM) (Polidano 1999) – such as in its focus on creating smaller management units with decentralised budgets (Hood 1991; see NPM section below).
Pay and employment reform
McCourt (2013) notes that pay and employment reforms, common in the 1980s and 1990s, have sought to reduce the fiscal burdens that have arisen from public sector development. Nunberg (1994) gives examples of some of the many civil service reform initiatives that affect pay and employment conditions:
- Employment reduction mechanisms such as voluntary departure and early retirement
- Retraining, redeployment, credit and public works programmes for redundant employees
- Cost-of-living salary supplements or top-ups for specific roles
- Attempts to make wages more equitable, and the pay system more efficient.
These initiatives have tended to prioritise short-term cost reduction, but they have also aimed to make the civil service more effective and efficient (Nunberg 1994).
New Public Management (NPM)
New Public Management (NPM) is a loose term for a set of broadly similar administrative doctrines popular in many OECD countries from the late 1970s (Hood 1991). It builds on other approaches such as ‘Weberian’ public administration and makes use of administrative (but not political) decentralisation and pay and employment reform techniques. The overall approach, however, has a different focus: NPM essentially consists of changing from a public administration doctrine of regular, predictable behaviour to behaviour driven by performance. There is no defining set of ‘NPM reforms’, but the following seem to be key components of NPM (Hood 1991; Dunleavey et al. 2006; McCourt 2013):
- Hands-on professional management: Active, visible, discretionary control of organisations from people at the top of the hierarchy.
- Explicit standards and measures of performance: Defined goals, targets, indicators of success, preferably expressed in quantitative terms, especially for professional services. Moving towards a greater emphasis on speci?c performance incentives and responsiveness to clients.
- Greater emphasis on output controls: Resource allocation and rewards linked to measured performance. Break up of centralised bureaucracy-wide personnel management.
- Shift to disaggregation of units: Unbundling of management systems into units built around products, operating on decentralised budgets and dealing with one another on an ‘arms-length’ basis. Effectively splitting up large public sector hierarchies with delegation of responsibilities.
- Shift to greater competition: Moving to defined-term contracts and public tendering procedures. Introducing purchaser/provider separation into public structures so as to allow greater competition.
- Emphasis on private-sector styles of management practice: Moving away from the ‘military-style’ public service ethic. Greater flexibility in hiring and rewards. Greater use of public relations techniques.
- Emphasis on greater discipline and parsimony in resource use: Cutting direct costs, increasing labour discipline and resisting union demands, thus limiting ‘compliance costs’ to business.
In general, there has been little implementation of NPM in developing countries (McCourt & Minogue, 2001; McCourt, 2013). Dunleavy et al. (2006) argue that NPM is “dead”, as it has come to involve a policymaking process that is too complex and less able to respond effectively to social problems. McCourt (2002) argues that, while there is scope for more use of NPM in developing countries, there should be greater effort to develop approaches from existing structures so as to be better suited to the context.
Integrity and anti-corruption reforms
An anti-corruption approach aims to reduce opportunities and incentives for corruption, rather than to increase performance. The World Bank (2000; 2011a) suggests that anti-corruption reforms require:
- A meritocratic civil service with monetised, adequate pay: Eliminate patronage by instituting meritocratic systems for appointment, promotion, and performance evaluation and, where feasible, establishing an independent civil service oversight body.
- Enhanced transparency and accountability in budget management: Reduce the diversion of resources into off-budget accounts.
- Enhanced transparency and accountability in tax and customs: Simplify tax policy and eliminate discretionary exemptions. Professional staff, standardisation of forms and procedures, and transparent systems can help.
- Policy reforms in sectoral service delivery: Privatisation of service delivery processes can improve delivery, as long as tendering and contracting are transparent and contract execution can be monitored. Reducing non-cash transactions, including barter and arrears offsets, can also reduce private profiteering.
- Decentralisation with accountability: Decentralisation of service delivery can make the state more responsive to people’s needs and improve service delivery once there has been sufficient reform to boost regional/local capacity in auditing and financial management.
In parallel with reforms in sector policy and practices, strengthening public oversight of the quality of service delivery can promote improvements.
In this approach, citizens set civil service priorities: it involves more than isolated bottom-up interventions such as citizens’ charters that are mandated by public managers (McCourt 2013). Rather, organised communities participate in devolved authority structures and keep local governments accountable. Community-driven development, citizen report cards, citizen score cards and participatory budgeting are examples of how reform can be initiated from the bottom up.
- ^ For further information on decentralisation see the GSDRC Topic Guide on decentralisation and local government. This Topic Guide explores the design, implementation and evaluation of decentralisation reforms and local government practices. It synthesises current debates on the impact of decentralisation and local government on poverty reduction, service delivery and conflict, and it includes summaries of key texts.
- ^ For further information on integrity and corruption see the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, for example their work on PFM and Procurement; and Transparency International’s Gateway Project, which provides Topic Guides.
- ^ For further information on types of accountability interventions see the GSDRC Topic Guide on Empowerment and Accountability.
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