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. While these reform efforts are widely perceived as donor-driven, acontextual failures, there has been little systematic study of (a) what reforms countries have actually tried to implement, (b) the extent to which these reforms have been implemented and affected day-to-day work practices, or (c) what explains the success and failure of reforms.

In this book project, I address these issues by comprehensively cataloguing 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. I show that the design of these reforms is more nuanced and context-specific than popularly imagined, and while most reforms have failed to reach their objectives, this is as much due to unrealistic expectations and planning as to poor design or implementation. However, many reforms ignore basic insights about effective organizational change, and so many reforms efforts repeat the mistakes of past reforms. These patterns and examples of successful reform provide lessons for future reformers about how to design and implement more impactful and sustainable civil service reforms.

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