Improving Civil Service Systems
Despite the significant challenges of civil service development in Latin America, the progress achieved and lessons learned about the dynamics of reform give rise to optimism about future modernization. This would advance a key component of economic and democratic development in the countries in the region.
In a recent book from the Institutional Capacity of the State division at IDB, lead specialists in modernization of the state and public policy report the results of research on civil service systems across sixteen different countries in the region. The book includes thorough analysis of these cases and ends by promoting a specific strategies for improving civil service systems.
One important takeaway, as explained by Francisco Mejía on his piece about the book, is that evidence links specific benefits—such as economic growth, poverty reduction, control of corruption, increased confidence in government, improved service delivery and more efficient budget spending and investment—to the professionalization of civil service (remembering, of course, that correlation is not causation). Another, is understanding that the efficiency of public sector institutions depends not only on meritocracy, but also on how human resources are planned, motivated and managed.
Throughout its chapters, the book examines sixteen cases in which the advances in improving civil service systems varies among countries—while there are improvements, there are also countries in stagnation, as can be seen in the figure above. Collecting from the conclusions of these cases, the book ends with a chapter dedicated to next steps. It provides six strategies to multiply the impact of any intervention to improve civil service systems countries in the region can adopt:
- Promote cooperation between the civil service agency and the fiscal institutions, and build broad pro-reform coalitions in the Executive branch.
- Design gradual reforms that take into account both the possibilities and the technical and political limitations that exist within each national context.
- Prioritize effective improvement of HRM, rather than merely perfecting the legal framework.
- Enhance the technical capacity for reform, both in the central civil service agency and in the HRM units of the sector agencies.
- Promote pro-reform political incentives.
- Promote learning through continuous review and adjustment of reform measures.
In addition, ten tasks are recommended that can be applied differently to each country according to their context and needs. The book explains the level of relevance of each task according to the level of civil service development.
- Reduce excessive reliance on generic measures of merit, and introduce more flexibility into HRM (Human Resource Management).
- Reduce the emphasis on uniform and centralized procedures for the entire administration and allow institutions to take measures to attract, recruit, motivate and retain staff with the appropriate skills for their organizational needs.
- Gradually and selectively introduce characteristics of employment systems for certain sectors or positions, thereby complementing existing career paths.
- Professionalize the senior civil service.
- Institutionalize management and information systems.
- Implement competency-based management, avoiding overly complicated designs.
- Improve performance appraisal by developing a realistic and strategic vision.
- Enhance pay policy to attract, retain and motivate human capital.
- Improve compensation management to contain the wage bill.
- Attract and retain young talent in the public sector.
You can download the complete book, in English or Spanish, at IDB’s site to learn more about the case studies and the recommendations