World Bank report highlights innovation in 15 case studies

By on 30/10/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Speaking at the report launch, from left, Jim Brumby and authors Jana Kunicova, Bernard Myers, and Robert Beschel (out of image)

A new report shedding light on how low- and middle-income countries can improve their public sectors and civil services was launched yesterday by the World Bank.

The report, ‘Improving Public Sector Performance: Through Innovation and Inter-Agency Coordination’, sets out 15 case studies to demonstrate how public sector innovation is working in practice.

Examples include Rwanda, which has achieved better district level development outcomes by incentivising local government employees; and Indonesia, which cut corruption in civil service recruitment by making changes to the entrance exam.

Five star factors

The four authors of the report analysed diverse success stories from emerging economies across the globe, identifying five key inter-connected factors driving their public sectors forward. These were political leadership; institutional capacity-building; incentives; transparency; and technology.

These factors were organised in order of difficulty, with countries urged to focus on easier issues such as transparency and technology in the short-term, changing incentives and institutional capacity-building in the medium to long-term; and tackling the key, but crucial, issue of political leadership last of all.

While the report acknowledges the importance and value of technological change, the authors stress complex technology is not essential.

Innovation need not be digital

They say: “While the cases give insights into the relevance of technology for public sector performance, none of them reflected the use of cutting-edge technology. Instead, they applied relevant, even basic, IT tools and know-how to their specific functional requirements and did not over-design their efforts.”

For example, a simple text messaging feedback system was put in place in Pakistan; this led to the passport office slashing waiting times from three weeks to ten days.

The authors stress that one size does not fit all, with context-specific solutions offered as inspiring examples rather than prescribed ways of changing systems.

The report says: “Understanding how other countries have tackled their public sector transformation through qualitative case studies can provide inspiration for how to go about the reform. What were the mechanics of solving the problem in a different country setting? What pitfalls could have been avoided? What features need to be adapted to the local context?”

Work together

As well as innovation stories, the researchers also found that strong inter-agency and government coordination is vital to positive change.

This report is the first in a new World Bank series aimed at policymakers, researchers and global practitioners specialising in advising governments. “The report aims to serve as a reference guide for all those involved in designing or implementing public sector reforms,” it states.

The authors hope it will also be of interest to a wider global audience. “Emerging economies have important lessons to offer not only to their peers, but to developed countries as well,” they note.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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