Book Project

From Paper to Practice: Implementing Civil Service Reform in Africa

Effective bureaucracies are crucial for development, and many countries in Africa (and beyond) have spent the past three decades attempting to implement large-scale, systemic, performance-oriented civil service reforms. These reform efforts are widely perceived to have had disappointing outcomes in general, but there has been little systematic study of what reforms countries have actually tried to implement or the extent to which these reforms have been implemented and affected day-to-day work practices.

In this book project, I identify patterns in how governments have approached reform, trace the consequences of these patterns on reform implementation and outcomes, and suggest alternative ways for governments to think of reform. I then comprehensively catalogue dozens of civil service reform episodes across several countries in Africa since the early 1990s. I analyze these patterns of reform within a theoretical framework that views civil service reform as an effort to implement organizational change within a broader bureaucratic system, grounded in a wide range of evidence and theory on performance. I argue that performance-oriented reforms have generally failed to achieve their goals because they are overly focused on formal structures, and because they approach reform as a time-bound project. I demonstrate how these approaches undermine reforms’ ability to meet their goals, suggest an alternative approach to reform, and discuss how governments can navigate through the myriad constraints they face in adopting new approaches. 

This project is currently in progress. The first working paper linked to this project, on patterns of performance management reforms in Ghana and Zambia, is available here (co-authored with Liah Yecalo-Tecle).