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This article is taken from the September 2005 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

Transforming the fragmented state

Matthew is currently working with a number of different provincial governments to help them improve their service delivery. In this article he outlines some useful lessons that can be learnt from other countries who have improved the delivery of services to citizens.

There is growing realisation within government at all levels in South Africa that there is an urgent need to accelerate the delivery of services to all citizens. President Mbeki emphasises this message constantly, but he is also aware that the public sector does not necessarily have the capacity to bring about his vision for the creation of a developmental state.

Key features of the developmental state include “working with citizens rather than working for them”, building partnerships with non-state actors to enhance delivery, it intervening to protect marginalized and vulnerable groups, practicing good governance, and delivering effective and efficient services1. Transforming the much maligned and fragmented public sector into one that achieves these features and thus becomes integrated, cooperative and responsive is clearly going to be an enormous task.

There are lessons that can be learnt from other countries who have attempted to create both vertical and horizontal integration within government departments. Not all the lessons, however, are positive but we shall return to these below. Since the early 1990s a number of countries (including South Korea, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the USA) initiated processes to ‘reinvent’, ‘transform’ or ‘reengineer’ their public sector. Reasons for these initiatives included:

  • A strong desire to overcome fragmented coordination and implementation at different levels of government.
  • Wanting to improve the effectiveness (particularly timeliness and quality) of the public service
  • Fiscal ‘belt-tightening’, which in turn led to a greater need to improve the efficiency of service delivery
  • Citizens pushing government to improving bureaucratic accountability and thus become more responsive to ensure ‘citizen-focused services’
  • Growing realisation that government’s priorities cannot be met by single departments

The critical challenge for those driving these changes was the observation that it is the day-to-day realities of trying to work across different departments that pose the real challenge to integrating government. So whilst it is helpful to have a clear vision of what one wants to achieve by the transformation process it is quite another to change existing practices within departments.

Three key change levers used by those their public sectors were:

Building a Supportive Culture: This was achieved by emphasising the role of leadership in shifting attitudes and behaviour, focusing on staff’s expertise and relationships as opposed to their status/rank, and by maximising information sharing at all levels.

Improving governance and incentives: This ranged from governments reforming their Public Service Acts, implementing a code of ethics and revising salary structure, reward and promotion systems. It also involved putting in place performance management systems that actually worked, that embraced the notion of 360° reviews, and used appropriate indicators which held managers to account.

Introducing new ways of working: This involved making sure that the right skill sets and capabilities were developed amongst staff and by focusing on flexible team processes rather than on structures and rules.

With these three change levers in mind, most successful attempts to improve the public sector have typically used a variant of the following model:

Level

Key Features

Individuals     

Change attitude & behaviour: Impart knowledge, develop skills, promote ownership, build morale

Organisation

Focus on overall performance & functioning: Develop mandates, tools, guidelines, information systems

System

Create enabling environment: Improve regulatory & accountability framework, and relationships & processes between institutions

Nevertheless, change has come at a price in these countries. Three common phenomena observed were:

  • Stressful work environments: e.g. lines of responsibility/reporting can be blurred if there is confusion over who is the lead department
  • Job insecurity: e.g. jobs are often cut as processes are streamlined
  • Fragmented service delivery: e.g. When governments chose to contract out services, such as health provision and pension payments, accountability can become problematic
Ideas taken from the Western Cape’s IkapaStrategy, 2004.
 

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