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Governance Themes Information Database Organisation Database Training and Events
Governance Themes Information Database Organisation Database Training and Events

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Public sector reform

Public sector reform usually refers to interventions that affect the organisation, performance and working conditions of employees paid from central, provincial or state government budgets. This page contains information on pay and conditions, recruitment and retention of staff, and performance management in the civil service.

Page contents

Definition of topic and content

Where is a good place to start?

Performance orientation in delivery agencies

Influence on performance of pay and conditions in public service
Recruitment and retention in public service
What other resources are available on the GRC Exchange?
Additional information resources

Definition of topic and content

The core of government, the civil service, must ensure that public institutions function effectively and efficiently to promote economic development. But in many developing countries, civil services frequently lack the capacity to carry out this mandate. They are overstaffed, underpaid, and unable to function effectively. These deficiencies have become key targets of structural adjustment programs supported by international donors, under the heading of public sector reform.

Where is a good place to start?

Some general key texts in public service reform are:

Nunberg, B. and Nellis, J. 1995, 'Civil Service Reform and the World Bank', World Bank Policy Paper, WDP-161, May 1995.
This paper surveys the World Bank's (WB's) efforts to assist with civil service reforms.
Full document available online

Performance orientation in delivery agencies

Civil service management (CSM) practices, used in advanced industrialized countries, may provide guidance for developing and transitional country governments that face the dilemma of how to recruit, retain, and motivate appropriately skilled staff at affordable costs, given a limited human resource base. This section includes resources covering the assessment of performance of civil service personnel.

Nunberg, B. 1995, 'Managing the civil service. Reform lessons from advanced industrialized countries', World Bank Discussion Paper 204, World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Advanced industrialised country administrations are following two distinct paths to improving civil service management practices (CSM). This study by Barbara Nunberg for the World Bank assesses them both and offers pointers for developing and transitional country administrations.
Full document available online

World Bank: Individual performance management
This page recommends key readings including 'Professionalism in Public Service Management: The Making of Highly Qualified, Efficient and Effective Public Managers' by Staffan Synnerstrom, from OECD. This is available online at http://www.oecd.org/htm/M00026000/M00026260.htm

Influence on performance of pay and conditions in public service

Closely related to the issue of performance orientation in the civil service is the problem of rewarding good performance, and of determining the outcome of increased pay - does increasing pay always lead to better performance? Large amounts of Aid are aimed at stimulating reform in recipient countries. Results have however been varied, from significant and minimal positive change to negative changes. The documents below provide discussion of some of the reform processes relevant to the aid sector:

Schiavo-Campo, S., de Tommaso, G., and Mukherjee, A. 1997, 'Government employment and pay: a global and regional perspective', prepared partly as background to the World Bank's 1997 World Development Report (The State in a Changing World), World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. WPS 1771, The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
This study of government pay and employment is based on a survey of about 100 countries. The report outlines the nature of civil service problems in different regions. It also makes suggestions about the necessary conditions for reform. However, it emphasises that while the data are useful to highlight possible problems, recommendations must be based on country-specific analysis.
Full document available online

Nunberg, B. 1989,'Public Sector Pay and Employment Reform : A Review of World Bank Experience', World Bank discussion papers 68.
As developing countries began to feel the economic squeeze of the 1980s they moved to address excess public expenditure. One area which the World Bank (WB) and the IMF have sought to reform is disproportionate spending on civil service wages. The rapid expansion of WB attention to this area left a paucity of analysis of lessons learnt or the effects of reform. In 1989 Barbara Nunberg attempted to provide an interim review of the Bank's experience from 1981-1987, concentrating on pay-reform in central government.
Full document available online

Stevens, M. 1994, 'Preparing for civil service pay and employment reform: a primer', in Lindauer, D.L. and Nunberg, B., Rehabilitating Government: Pay and Employment Reform in Africa,World Bank, Washington DC, USA.
This chapter of a World Bank publication on pay and employment reform examines the steps to designing a successful civil service reform programme.
Full document available through: BLDS document delivery service. Please access full summary and then click on the link for "BLDS Document Delivery Service".

McCourt, W. 2000, 'Pay and employment reform in developing and transition countries', UNRISD, Geneva
Pay and employment reform has been adopted, usually within a wider programme of microeconomic reform, throughout the world. Has it succeeded in meeting its targets, and what are the consequences of pay and employment reform? A paper published by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) examines these and other questions.
Full document available online

Recruitment and retention in public service

In many countries, qualified personnel are difficult to recruit and retain because the private or overseas labour markets offer better alternatives. The source below details experience from the private sector, applicable to the public service context:

Stratton, M. 'Challenges for Public Sector Human Resources Management: Competitive Recruitment & Retention Strategies in a Challenging & Dynamic Labor Market'
This paper is based in a developed country context, but has relevance for developing and transitional countries
Full document available online
(document summary available shortly)

What other resources are available on the GRC Exchange?

Key texts
This resource does not attempt to provide an exhaustive list of documents relevant to civil service reform. For a thorough search of the whole GRC Exchange site please refer to the Information Database.

Training and events
A searchable database of courses and conferences in each of the governance themes is available on the GRC Exchange site.

Additional information resources

World Bank's Administrative and Civil Service Reform site
This website aims to balance cutting-edge thinking about reform with cautions about basic principles, and to substantiate claims with cross-national data whenever possible. There is extensive literature and analysis of country experience; but this site does not advocate particular administrative models or reform approaches. The aim is to expose the user to the main debates in the field and facilitate an informed evaluation of policy options.
Full summary of WB Public Sector Governance Group is available through the Organisation Database

The UK Cabinet Office's PSR page
This website sets out the Government's delivery and reform agenda and explains what is happening to achieve this key goal. Here you can also access other Government websites which deal with delivery and reform, read the latest news and download useful reports and tools.

CARICAD, PSR in the Caribbean
CARICAD is in the vanguard of efforts to implement Public Sector Reform initiatives in the Caribbean, and this has been one of its main areas of focus throughout its existence.

Asian Development Bank's PSR Working Group
This informal aid-donor working group tries to achieve more ownership and more consistent donor coordination in assisting Public Sector Reform.

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