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Submitted by Mark Robinson on
The Bank's updated approach to public sector management is very welcome. Four elements of this approach stand out for particular attention. First, the emphasis on links between institutional reforms at the centre of government with durable results in sector line ministries through improved service delvery outcomes and fiscal stability. Second, the recognition that incremental approaches focused on a more manageable set of objectives and reforms stand a better chance of success than complex and overly ambitious reforms across the whole of government. Third, the move away from best practice approaches to careful and continuous diagnosis of context and client needs as the basis for best fit approaches. Fourth, recognition of the importance of more systematic research and impact evaluation to inform the design and potential success of country operations. The approach could usefully be refined in a number of respects. First, as already noted by several commentators, it could highlight the importance of political factoes in shaping reform outcomes more directly. The experience of the Bank and other donors has repeatedly shown how the best designed reforms can founder in the face of political resistance and bureaucratic opposition. Making the right decisions about political buy-in and organisational leadership are central considerations in the design phase of PSM reforms and have a critial bearing on risk assessment. Second, the revised approach could be more explicit about reform trajectories in fragile states and in countries emerging from protracted conflict, thus providing an important bridge with the 2011 WDR. Some of the most ambitious reforms are currently being planned in the most challenging institutional environments as an integral element in a broader state-building approach. The revised PSM approach might usefully highlight lessons learned from PSM reforms in fragile states as distinct from other LICs and MICs as this is a major gap in existing knowledge. Third, clearer distinctions between the different components of PSM reform are essential for designing more effective interventions. The IEG evaluation highlights the better performance of PFM and taxation relative to civil service reforms and anti-corruption. This is also borne out by the experience of other aid donors. It is striking that client demand and lending for the more successful areas continues to increase while the share of civil service reform has been declining. Bank leadership in public sector management is both acknowledged and welcomed by many in the donor community. Developing better evidence through improved research and evaluation is clearly a shared agenda with other donors and an area ripe for stronger partnerships and lesson learning. Another area that has considerable potential for joint approaches and mutual learning lies in enhancing the knowledge and skills of specialist staff in donor organisations founded on stronger communities of practice that learn from each other and are not solely internally-focused. Better evidence and deeper skills in the most challenging areas of public sector management reform are integral to the success of the revised approach.