1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Governance

Public Sector Reform and Crisis-Ridden States

  • Project from: 2000 to 2004


This project examines public sector reforms in developing and transition countries, especially those that have been exposed to protracted economic and political crises. Unlike the 1980s when the state was seen largely as a constraint on development, current mainstream development policies accept the need for an effective state in regulating development and managing conflicts associated with processes of democratization and adjustment. Two main reform initiatives constitute an essential backdrop for organizing the project.

The first deals with efforts to introduce market-based incentives in the recruitment, retention and reward of individuals who work in the public service. It has focused on issues of downsizing, privatization, decentralized management, pay and employment reform, and use of output indicators to assess staff performance. Such reforms seek to create a flexible labour market in the public sector to improve service delivery. Work in this area began in January 1998 when papers on various aspects of public sector management reforms were commissioned. Several papers on these issues have since been published by UNRISD, and they can be viewed under the section on "publications". An edited volume entitled "Public Sector Reform in Developing Countries: Institutional and Social Constraints", which contains most of the commissioned papers, is being reviewed for publication.

More in-depth research is planned on this first area of reform initiatives in order to examine how public sector employees respond to changes in incentive structures brought about by these reforms, as well as their effects on service delivery. More information will be posted as work in this area progresses.

The second main reform initiative deals with issues of diversity, inequality, representation, cohesion and consensus in the public sector. Efforts to promote efficiency in service delivery, sound social policies, or development more generally, are unlikely to succeed if the public sector is riddled with conflicts, elites are dissatisfied with the rules that determine selection to public institutions, or if they hold or express fears about exclusion. A full description of the research in this area will be found under the project titled "Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance of the Public Sector", which got under way in early 2002.