Going ‘Inside Government’ to Advance Public-Sector Reform

February 11, 2016


Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Pursuing a full-day program that brought together seasoned governance practitioners and leading academic scholars, the Governance Global Practice (GGP) and Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) program on February 5 convened a wide-ranging conference that explored the critical ideas that are helping shape public-sector reform.

The research conference, Inside Government: Developing the Evidence Base for Public Sector Reform, included plenaries and seminars that considered the latest research on governance as well as recent results in the field – exploring such vital governance – focused issues as civil-service effectiveness, domestic resource mobilization, procurement reform and access to justice.

The conference aimed to review and deepen the GGP’s and DIME’s work on understanding what works, and why, in public-sector management and to develop a forward-looking research agenda. The scholars at the conference – includingProfessor James Robinson of the University of Chicago and Professor Sir Paul Collier of Oxford – underscored that the World Bank Group is bringing world-class knowledge and indispensable resources to its client countries, helping them gain better development outcomes by building stronger institutions.

As one of the GGP’s senior leaders, Jim Brumby, noted in his opening remarks, collaborative across-the-Bank efforts – like the GGP-DIME alliance – are central to advancing the work of the Equitable Growth, Finance & Institutions (EFI) Vice Presidency, which aims to be a “one-stop shop” to deliver solutions to the WBG’s client countries.

“Good governance and effective institutions are at the heart of the development agenda – for EFI and for the World Bank Group as a whole,” said Brumby. “Upholding strong standards of governance is critical for facilitating private-sector growth; promoting effective service delivery; earning the confidence of citizens; and achieving the Bank Group’s twin goals – eliminating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity.”

Maximizing the effectiveness of public-sector institutions will be all the more critical now that the global adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has added a new sense of urgency to the post-2015 development agenda – including SDG 16, which includes the broad priorities of strong governance amid its focus on “peace, justice and institutions.” One key priority, noted Brumby, is helping client countries undertake more effective Domestic Revennue Mobilization – an indispensable factor in, as WBG President Jim Kim has emphasized, “moving from billions to trillions” to finance the ambitious SDGs.

The Bank Group’s projects provide a rich source of learning about “what works” in Public Sector Management reform, since the Bank Group, among all the world’s development institutions and actors, has the largest PSM lending portfolio. Yet the evidence base that would allow for a fuller understanding of what works – and why, and how – in public-sector reform deserves continuous upgrading, aiming to reap the full learning potential from our project portfolio.

As Arianna Legovini, the leader of DIME, emphasized, the research now being generated by the GGP and DEC will allow development practitioners and their partners to go deeper inside government processes and procedures, helping them gain a stronger understanding of the mechanisms of and opoportunities for reform. That effort includes a portfolio of more than 20 rigorous Impact Evaluation initiatives – across the sectors of civil-service reform, tax, procurement and justice – which allow project teams to “experiment” with different intervention designs.

The effort also includes the recently launched Strengthening Research on Civil Service program, which is pioneering a program of civil-servant surveys and administrative data collection, shaping a better knowledge of the ways in which civil servants (and the organizations in which they work) actually function.

The wide-ranging research conference – featuring detailed analytical papers in results-focused breakout sessions – underscored the productive collaborations among WBG operational staff, academics, external donors and client countries.

The latest in a series of research conferences on building stronger public-sector institutions, the midwinter conference showcased the development community’s achievements so far – even as it clarified the many areas that governance practitioners must continue to explore, as they shape initiatives to strengthen public-sector efficiency and effectiveness.