Roadmap for Public Service Reform Rooted in Behavioral Science

Press Release by ideas42 and The Asia Foundation: “….a new report, Official Action: A Roadmap for Using Behavioral Science in Public Administration Reform. The insights in Official Action combine more than a decade of experience applying behavioral science to public policy with a deepening but still relatively new scientific literature.

Complexity is at the heart of public service reform. Such systems are characterized by being underbudgeted, limited by difficult power balances that don’t always lend themselves toward collaboration, hierarchical performance systems that serve the present not future, inter-agency territorial barriers to cooperation, among other issues. In the limited space for feasible reform within this complexity, behavior change may be the nudge required to wiggle open further efficiencies to change-minded alterations with potentially significant knock-on effects.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for innovative approaches to government reform as public institutions around the world struggle to perform basic functions like coordinating timely public information campaigns, steering economic resources to those who need them, and procuring essential medical and protective equipment and supplies. Official Action shows that these failures are not simply due to a lack of resources, accountability, competence, or motivation; but that they may be symptoms of the unique stresses that public servants face which, if left unchecked, can derail even the most dedicated officials.

The report offers new solutions to every day challenges, such as ensuring that all complaints and requests receive equal treatment; helping front-line bureaucrats operate efficiently despite increasing workloads; and fighting corruption within public institutions by demonstrating that governance failures are in large part due to the situations that public servants find themselves in, rather than individual shortcomings.

When barriers like constant changes in work environment, unrealistic workloads, and parallel systems for getting things done exist, the best policies to improve government performance will be those that support better use of public servants’ limited time and realign institutional incentives to encourage behavior change….(More)”.