From paper to practice: Implementing civil service reform in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia

This project aims to document and explain the implementation record of performance-oriented civil service reforms in Africa. It will use Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia as case studies. Most recent research on state effectiveness has focused on identifying the causal effects of particular management practices or experimental interventions. However, most large-scale changes to how governments work occur through discrete episodes of reform.

Despite the importance of functioning civil services, the record of actually implementing civil service reform in African countries is dismal (e.g. World Bank 2008, DFID 2013). The handful of systematic studies that exist on such reforms paint a picture of costly reforms that look good on paper but usually fail to be translated into practice. Countries seem to be repeating the same mistakes by approaching reform in the same way and falling into the same traps. Yet, these patterns of implementation have never been systematically documented and explained.

To fill this gap, the project will document episodes of such reforms in the past two decades by collecting primary and secondary data on their characteristics and implementation outcomes. It will also seek to explain why some reforms are implemented and change the way civil servants work, others are abandoned prior to completion, and (perhaps most commonly) other reforms are implemented on paper but not in practice. This comparative research will help provide evidence about why governments’ efforts to implement major reforms so often fall short of their objectives.

The resulting dataset will be made publicly available as a resource for policymakers and researchers. The findings will also be summarised in a policy brief and blog post and written up in an academic working paper. The results from these three countries will also be an input into the researcher’s broader book project on civil service reform in Africa, so it will serve as a pilot for this longer-term project.

Outputs