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Submitted by Malcolm Green on
1. Best practices, typologies, and diagnostics: how to go about PSM The report proposes a role for the Bank as ‘thought-leader’. This is critical. But what should this mean in the context of PSM reform? I very much welcome the theme emerging in the draft paper of getting the Bank to think about public management in a much more systemic way, as this will lead to wholly different kinds of intervention in different circumstances. The draft quite rightly highlights the limitations of ‘best practices’. The use of ‘best practices’, however, should not be completely abandoned. But they are really only relevant in relatively simple situations, where the issues are well-defined and are generally understood and agreed by everybody. Such situations do exist, but not that often. But there is also a danger (happily not found in the draft strategy report) of other sorts of typologies being introduced to replace ‘best practice’. All such approaches are characterized by a pre-defined set of solutions or methods being in place in advance of any data collection in the institutions being reformed. The reverse approach is what should be adopted, of undertaking diagnostic work as a first step and then deciding what might work - and this is recognised to some extent in the draft strategy. I would like to see this theme developed much more strongly. Typically, the situation in PSM reform is that the context is likely to be at least complicated – often more than complicated. In such situations it can be impossible to know in advance what intervention will work and what won’t: the range of appropriate responses is likely to be contained within ‘let’s experiment a little and see what works’ – albeit by informed practitioners operating within some sort of structure. As is noted in the report, there are now some interesting diagnostic tools available in management science to guide this kind of thinking. It would be good to think that the new lending tools that the Bank is developing could provide for an initial diagnostic (N.B. not design) phase, with considerable flexibility granted after that to permit very different solutions being tried. If such lending tools were combined with thought-leadership on the use of a preferred diagnostic tool, then this could become a powerful new approach for the Bank in PSM reform. So, there are dangers in new typologies being offered (as some bloggers have suggested). But there are considerable opportunities in using systemic diagnostic tools to approach PSM reform in a way which retains structure, but which is agnostic on the eventual solutions to be used. There are clear benefits to be realised: appropriate reform solutions based on evidence; and lower risks in implementation. Maybe an example of a systems-based diagnostic approach should be developed for this strategy paper in order to illustrate what this would mean, and how it could work? 2. Technology The word ‘technology’ literally does not appear in the draft strategy report at all, and this is surely an oversight. The delivery of many public services, and citizens’ transactions with the state, may be transformed by the use of technology. What is the significance of this for the Bank? At the very least, surely, it is ensuring that its PSM practitioners are aware of developments in this field. But also, the diagnostic tools that may play a more central role in PSM reform often depend on technology. The Bank will surely need to become much more proficient in the use of technology for public management purposes if it is to be of continued value to its clients in PSM reform. More work is required on this!