Dealing with the Messy Process of Public Sector Reform

Public sector management is at the heart of governance. The different approaches to public sector management and reforms are not only broad but highly technical. According to OECD, this is called “the plumbing,” and addresses the different ideas on models, strategies and technical assistance for public sector management.

There is some debate on whether staff of development agencies properly understand the drivers and constraints of public sector reforms. On the other end of the debate are authors who push the need to address the technical issues of the process of engagement with partners and agencies on the delivery of public sector programs. This means recognizing that successful incremental reforms can add up over time, particularly if support for reform brings measurable results that can help to inform successive generations of programs. In the OECD note referenced above, the author Lucy points out that the complexity of the public sector system is the reason people do not understand the underlying problems of its functionality, especially in developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

With this complexity, governance in developing countries become messy, unpredictable and nonlinear. Reforming the public sector in these countries would require a leverage on the competitive advantage of problem solving inherent in multilevel governance systems. However, the assumption of capacity across different levels of governments is not valid in many developing countries grappling with the dialectics of the democratic governance structure. Building capacity across each strata of multilevel governance systems is the first step in public sector reforms in these countries. These capacities might then serve to address issues of non-linearity and predictability of governance processes.

The complexity of governance processes in developing countries is a challenge that requires technical and innovative solutions. This provide opportunities for different specialisations in public sector reform, innovations, public finance management, and for service delivery. Opportunities inherent in this reform process can be unpacked through active engagement of critical actors in the public sector as well as agencies and populations whose activities might seem tangential to the governance process at first instance. Unravelling the messy process through which governance is being delivered is an urgent problem that requires immediate attention.