The five drivers for improving public sector performance

Lessons from the new World Bank Global Report: “Almost daily, headlines in the world’s leading newspapers are full of examples of public sector failures: public money is mismanaged or outright misused; civil servants are not motivated or are poorly trained; government agencies fail to coordinate with each other; and as a result, citizens are either deprived of quality public services, or must go through a bureaucratic maze to access them.

These public-sector challenges are often present even in the world’s most developed countries. They are of course further exacerbated by lower levels of development.

So what hope do low and middle-income countries have to make their public sectors function more effectively? Is this just a futile enterprise altogether?

We believe it is not. Our new Global Report, Improving Public Sector Performance Through Innovation and Inter-Agency Coordination, argues that positive change is possible in many low and middle-income countries. The report collects 15 inspiring country cases of such reforms and shows that such change does not necessarily require huge financial investment or complex IT systems. What seems to be required, instead, are five interconnected drivers of success:

  • Political leadership is needed because few, if any, of the innovations are a purely technocratic exercise.  Leaders need to find ways to collaborate with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders to overcome inherent opposition.
  • Institutional capacity building of existing bodies is a common element across many of the 15 cases. For reforms to endure, one ultimately needs to create sustainable institutions.
  • Incentives matter, both at the institutional level (e.g., through government-wide policy, creating systems and structures that shape institutional objectives, and program monitoring systems) as well as at the level of civil servants (e.g., through performance targets and reward systems).
  • Increased transparency can help deliver change in public sector performance by breaking down government silos and ensuring inter-agency information-sharing, and publishing or disseminating performance information.  Transparency can also be a powerful driver for changing incentives.
    • Technology, while not a panacea, is present in two-thirds of the featured cases. The reformers applied relevant, even basic, IT tools and know-how to their specific functional requirements and did not over-design their efforts.  Furthermore, the technology application is rarely a stand-alone solution; rather, it is accompanied by policies and procedures to change behavior….(More)”.