Managing the Public Service: Strategies for Improvement

2310-2012 (online)
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A strong and achieving public service is a necessary condition for a competitively successful nation. This series maps current and emerging best practices in public service management from across the Commonwealth. It draws on the experience of practitioners, managers and policy-makers to point the way to practical strategies for improvement.

From Problem to Solution

From Problem to Solution

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Mohan Kaul
01 Jan 1996
9781848595545 (PDF)

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This book develops a framework for productive public service reforms, based on successful innovations and practical strategies developed and implemented across the Commonwealth. The first section highlights the pressures Commonwealth countries face. The following sections draw out common strategic approaches and provide a framework of practical solutions. The final section identifies critical challenges which must be addressed to sustain public service reform and underpin accountable administration for just and honest government.

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  • Foreword

    The Harare Commonwealth Declaration identified just and honest government as a key element of Commonwealth values. Public Service Reform was accordingly included as one of the priority programme areas in the Secretariat's work plan, in recognition that an efficient public service is a necessary underpinning of justice and honest government.

  • Introduction

    This publication is the lead volume for a series which the Management and Training Services Division is producing on the subject of Public Service Management: Strategies for Improvement. So far, we have published country profiles of Canada, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Trinidad & Tobago and the United Kingdom. In addition, a number of round tables, workshops, advisory missions, training programmes, and conferences were organised, including the Inaugural Conference of the Commonwealth Association of Public Administration and Management held in Charlottetown, Canada, all of which enabled officials from throughout the Commonwealth to meet, share experiences, and learn from one another.

  • The Pressure for Reform

    Since the mid-1970s, governments have been increasingly concerned with adapting and developing the structures and values for the public service that will achieve greater efficiency, and more responsive and flexible services. This movement has been pushed largely by a combination of economic crises and geo-political changes which have led to reduced financial resources for governments. However, it has also been pulled by a sense of new possibilities: the development of a new set of managerial strategies which promise to lever greater results from fewer resources.

  • Re-Defining the Problem the Changing Role of Government

    Traditionally, the shortcomings of the public service have been seen as organisational problems capable of solution by appropriate applications of political will, powerful ideas, and managerial determination. Recent years have seen a new problem identified - government itself It has been argued with increasing force that it is the over-ambitious scale of government, seeking to intervene and provide services in areas where it has no proven track record of success, that is the problem.

  • A New Outlook Focusing on Solutions

    All governments would like to be more efficient, more cost-conscious, more responsive and more accountable. The difficulty is that although failure flaunts itself and is easily spotted, success is more modest. It is easier to identify what the public service must escape from than to point out exactly where it must go.

  • A Framework for Change

    A checklist for sustainable public service reform programmes emerges from Commonwealth experience.

  • Strategy 1 Improving Policy Development and Co-Ordination

    The ability to deliver sound and achievable policy is a key indicator of the health of the public service. Two key components of strategies for improving policy development and co-ordination emerged from Commonwealth Roundtables and advisory services. First, the need concentrate on strengthening the institutional mechanisms required for sound policy development, implementation and review and, second, the higher order need for policy frameworks for the reform process itself.

  • Strategy 2 Restructuring the Organisation

    A number of approaches are being adopted by developed and developing Commonwealth countries alike to put some distance between policy formulation and its implementation. A strengthened policy core at the centre of the machinery of government is less prone to ‘capture ‘ by existing interests within the public service.

  • Strategy 3 Re-Orienting the Organisational Culture

    Reforming the public service does not stop at restructuring the organisational environment within which public servants operate. Although this is essential, there is a limit to the gains that are to be achieved through improved structures and increasingly formalised expectations. Strategies for reform must ensure that public servants are self-motivated by a new set of values and assumptions, and most crucially that their own aspirations coincide with organisational goals.

  • Strategy 4 Managing Human Resources

    Improved human resource management systems within the public service aim to recognise, encourage and reward both team and individual performance. Recent reforms have utilised practical approaches for measuring performance and for managing under-performance, very particularly through increasing managerial autonomy at departmental and agency levels.

  • Strategy 5 Commercialising and Developing Partnerships

    Public service reform is being driven by some fundamental questions. Should a service be provided by government? Should the service be provided at all? How will the private sector respond to government ceasing particular activities? How can government carry out its remaining functions more efficiently?

  • Strategy 6 Improving Financial Planning and Control Systems

    The traditional financial concerns of government emphasise probity. Public money must be fully accounted for, and procedures must emphasise upward reporting of financial decisions, and strict enforcement of tightly specified budget headings.

  • Strategy 7 Harnessing Information Technology

    Information technology is fundamental to the strategies for public service reform, both because it is key to service improvements, and because developments in information technology are driving organisational and system change throughout the public service.

  • Future Challenges

    No public service reform programme can be complete. History does not come to an end; new challenges and new opportunities will combine with unfinished business from the past to maintain pressure for further change.

  • Conclusion

    Public service reforms have been driven by economic pressures and by increasing expectations from consumers, and have been enabled by the renewed sense of managerial possibility which has emerged internationally. Although all governments have sought to reduce the size and cost of their operations, while improving performance, individual governments have adopted a discriminating approach in seeking to enhance public service performance. Despite the common elements, frequently imposed on rather than chosen by government, reform programmes have shown a distinctive variety.

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