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Public Sector Reform

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Practice Advice on Strategy and Structure

Public Sector Reform (UNDP)

Summary Advice: Public sector reform is essential for achieving good governance and improving the capacity of the state to fulfil its obligations and role. There is no single, standard approach to public sector reform. However, the UNDP states that there are several lessons that can be learned from past experience that can be consulted for future public sector reform initiatives.

Main Points: According to UNDP, public sector reform is one of several key drivers for achieving good governance and economic prosperity. There is no clear roadmap in how to implement public sector reform. However, the UNDP has accumulated the following lessons learned from its experience with public sector management reform:

  • Public sector reform is a long-term effort that requires considerable financial and political capital. The success of technical assistance in support of public sector reform depends on the countries’ commitment to change.
  • Consultation with the public is essential to appropriately designing change processes that relate to the local cultural context. With the power of culture in influencing the process, UNDP’s experience supports the assertion that there is no standard model of public sector reform.
  • Successful public sector reform requires effective political leadership that will bring civil society and private sector actors into the reform process. Leadership in the private and civil society sectors is also essential to managing systemic changes in unpredictable political and economic situations.
  • Constructive change can only succeed if there is a) a clear vision of goals and a method of how to reach them; b) support to people who can lead and help reach these goals; and c) the development of strong, effective and accountable managerial capacities and institutional structures that can implement the change.
  • Achieving change requires clear prioritisation of reform objectives and their sequential implementation. Thus, a comprehensive reform strategy which addresses the main constraints in an integrated way and sets specific objectives with targets against which progress can be measured should be developed.
  • Ownership of the reform process is critical. The process should involve political and administrative leadership, public employees, the private sector, and civil society. Given that public sector reform touches on all these constituencies, their support and ownership of the programs is vital to the reform’s success.
  • Improved accountability and transparency of public sector organizations is essential for the perceived success of public sector management. Unless financial, personnel, and other management systems have sufficient controls and opportunities for public scrutiny, the sustainability and good governance aspects of public sector management and reform cannot be sufficiently demonstrated.
  • Administrative reforms are a necessary complement to investment programs in attracting private sector partnerships.
  • Human resource development in both the public and private sectors are vital for the sustainability of administrative reforms. Training initiatives to improve management development should focus on an integrative approach encompassing leadership development, skills training, and organizational structure and design.
  • The socio-economic impacts of overall public service reform and civil service downsizing must be considered, particularly due to its impact on the private and informal sectors.
  • More participatory and gender-specific methods should be used to develop and design public sector management programs.
  • Simplicity in the design and conceptualisation of public sector reform initiatives is desirable. For governments to increase their capacities to react to changing market demands, they require simple and efficient procedures that can be easily adapted.
  • Time-frames for institutional reform and economic transitions must be realistic, as attitudinal and cultural/institutional values are not easily shifted.
  • Administrative and economic reform efforts must be linked.
  • Technical assistance should serve the larger governance system and not simply the executive branch of government if it is to support changes in governance systems and the development of democratic values. 

Source: UNDP (1997). Management Development and Governance Division, "UNDP AND GOVERNANCE: Experiences and Lessons Learned" Lessons-Learned Series No. 1 at (accessed 01 November 2012).

Page Created By: Ruby Dagher. The content presented on this page is drawn directly from the source(s) cited above, and consists of direct quotations or close paraphrases. This material does not necessarily reflect the official view of the publishing organization.


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