Understanding the interplay between public organisations and the surrounding social context is fundamental to developing a reform strategy (Andrews, 2008). Evidence indicates that successful reform requires strong domestic political leadership. Political economy analysis tools can be useful for understanding context.
In an evaluation of 19 cases where the World Bank was involved in civil service reform, Evans (2008) finds that generally reform efforts have not been successful and argues for a more coherent strategy, but also for more coherent technical and contextual analysis provided through clear diagnostic tools. She notes that analytical tools in the area of civil service reform are relatively underdeveloped and underused, partly due to a lack of international consensus around the ‘right’ civil service reform.
Successful reform requires strong domestic leadership (Scott 2011). In a study of seven Sub-Saharan African countries, Kiragu and Mukandala (2003) found that where political groups (e.g. parties, civil society, media and trade unions) were vying for power and influence and competing effectively (competitive pluralism), this meant chaotic, stalled or reversed reform. However, when one group was dominant (uncompetitive pluralism), there was systematic and effective reform. Countries that fell in between underwent ‘on-and-off’ reform.
In a case study in Ghana, Roberts and Andrews (2005) find that political support and ownership must be established in a recognised form and must last beyond the initial motivation and the painless parts of the reform, so as to garner support from the development community. Reforms will only be sustainable if they demonstrate early benefits to key players in the process. The study also highlights the importance of the organisational dynamics within the civil service; in this case, interagency rivalry meant that agencies failed to work together, and the reform fell apart.
Morgan and Baser (2007) identify a case in Tanzania where reform has progressed, in part due to the actions of government officials and governing elites that were broadly supportive of the need to improve public service performance. In particular, they highlight the role of the President’s Office – Public Service Management (PO-PSM) unit as particularly important in catalysing change.
Political economy analysis tools (such as power analysis, drivers of change, strategic corruption and governance analysis, poverty and social impact analysis, and problem-driven political economy analysis) can be used to better understand country context (Haider and Rao 2010). They can also be used to evaluate capacity gaps, governments’ ability to enforce the discipline necessary for reform, governments’ level of commitment to reform, and the constitutional foundation for reform (Turner 2013). In a ten-year review of World Bank public sector operations, Bunse and Fritz (2012, p. 37) find that “investing in more explicit attention to political economy and developing more political economy responsive approaches to public sector reform support can pay off”, although they describe the evidence as “tentative”.
- Scott, Z. (2011). Evaluation of public sector governance reforms 2001-2011: Literature review. Oxford: Oxford Policy Management.
- Andrews, C. (2008). Legitimacy and context: Implications for public sector reform in developing countries. Public Administration and Development, 28, 171-180.
- Bunse, S., & Fritz, V. (2012). Making public sector reforms work: political and economic contexts, incentives, and strategies. Policy Research working paper no. WPS 6174. Washington D.C.: World Bank.
- Kiragu, K., & Mukandala, R. (2003). Public service pay reform: Tactics sequencing and politics in developing countries: Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa (draft report). PricewaterhouseCoopers and University of Dar es Salaam.
- Roberts, J., & Andrews, M. (2005). Something funny happened on the way to reform success: The case of budget reform implementation in Ghana. International Journal of Public Administration, 28, 291-311.
- Morgan, P., & Baser, H. (2007). Building the capacity for managing public service reform: The Tanzania experience. Discussion Paper no. 57Q. Maastricht: European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM).
- Evans, A. (2008). Civil service and administrative reform: Thematic paper. IEG Working Paper 2008/8. Washington D.C.: World Bank.
- Tendler, J. (1997). Good government in the tropics. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press.
- Turner, M. (2013). Summary report of the public sector governance reform evaluation. DFID, Sida, Irish Aid and Oxford Policy Management.
- Haider, H. and Rao, S. (2010). Political and social analysis for development policy and practice: An overview of five approaches. Issues Paper. Birmingham, U.K: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.
- Mcloughlin, C. (2012). Topic guide: Political economy analysis. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.