The Bank's Public Sector Management Approach in practice

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ImageLessons from China, Brazil, Ukraine, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, and looking empirically at fragile states and budget execution

The World Bank's Public Sector Management (PSM) Approach will be the subject of discussion at the forthcoming conference of the International Research Society for Public Management in Rome, 11-13 April 2012. There will be four panel discussions on the Approach: the political economy of public sector reform; public sector reform in Asia and central Europe; public sector reform in fragile states; and public sector reform at the subnational level. Some papers from the conference will be included in a special issue of the International Review of Administrative Science journal focusing on the approach planned for early next year.

Initial papers for the conference are now available, and the results highlight the centrality of the themes addressed in the PSM Approach.

The papers received already support the perspective which the PSM Approach offers on public sector management as a problem-solving, best-fit hunting, activity. “Lessons in Public Sector Reform from China” uncovers the iconoclastic, distinctly best-fit approach followed in China, pragmatically disregarding usual strictures about sequencing. Similarly, “Public Financial Management: An Analysis of the Zero Deficit in Minas Gerais” highlights the very context-specific emphasis on revenue increases in the remarkable success story of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Other papers show how hidden political economy factors, a major emphasis in the PSM Approach, are key to blocking or enabling improvements in public sector performance. “State Secretaries Reform in Ukraine: Attempt to Delineate Responsibilities between Ministers and Senior Civil Servants” identifies the part played by the political struggle played out between ministers and state secretaries, and the routes used to insert political considerations in senior staffing decisions.

An Exploration of the Limits of Participatory Governance Policy in Service Delivery in Poor Areas of Cape Town, South Africa” offers some insights into the importance of careful, structured diagnostics in designing PSM reforms, in this case in relation to the empirical distinction between community interests when designing local institutions.

The PSM Approach also identifies the need to design reforms on the basis of comparative empirics ("what do we know about works in general?") and careful diagnosis including an explicit theory of change ("what is likely to work here?").  “Transforming the Public Sector in Indonesia:  Delivering Total Reformasi” provides an example of a reform playing out with a strong and continuous steer from key performance indicators.  A second paper on Indonesia, “Performance-Based Public Management Reforms: Experience and Emerging Lessons from Service Delivery Improvement in Indonesia” tracks the various pathways to reform in Indonesia, and analyses the significance of decentralization in that context. “Getting Beyond Capacity - Addressing Authority and Legitimacy in Fragile States” draws on a comprehensive array of comparative experiences which point to authority and legitimacy as the binding constraints which have blocked improvements in capacity in many fragile settings. “HRM Reform in Decentralized Local Government: Empirical Perspectives on Recruitment and Selection in the Philippines and Thailand” continues the empirical and decentralization themes in examining the incentives for politicization at the local level, and how these can be mitigated. “Institutions Taking Roots: Building State Capacity in Challenging Contexts” draws on new detailed case study data to illustrate the different ways in which public agencies can survive in tough environments. Finally, “The Quality of Budget Execution and its Correlates” shows the power of data in unpacking the institutional roots of deviation in budget execution.

More papers on these key themes in the World Bank's Public Sector Management Approach are on their way.

Further articles for consideration for the special edition of the International Review of Administrative Science are welcomed.  Please submit papers via the journal's website, referencing the World Bank's Public Sector Management Approach, before May 11th: with a copy to Nick Manning ( and Willy McCourt (

Photo Credit: IRSPM Website

NOTE:  This post has been updated (October 17, 2013)  to reflect the latest version of the paper, Cross Country Correlates for the Quality of Budget Execution: Political Institutions, Fiscal Constraints, and Public Financial Management.


Nick Manning

Retired Head, Governance & Public Sector Management group World Bank and former Head of the Public Sector Management and Performance Division at the OECD

Willy McCourt

Senior public Sector Specialist

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