A few months back we shared some disheartening results in this blog: kids didn’t improve their test scores if taught by teachers from the Kenyan Ministry of Education but did better if the teachers were managed by an NGO. Although the results were striking, the policy implications were non-starters. Even if it were politically feasible, which NGO in the World is capable of managing all of the teachers in Kenya?
So the more relevant question –from a policy perspective – is not how poorly public sector workers perform when compared with some NGOs or private sector entity. The question rather should be: Which managerial practices improve public sector delivery? The challenge is that for this very large question, we know very, very little
A new paper attempts an answer.
We have studied whether management practices for bureaucrats correlate with effective public service delivery in an important developing country context: Nigeria. We do so by combining novel project level data measuring the completion, quality and complexity of over 4700 projects implemented by various civil service organizations, with a management survey in each organization.
Our primary contribution is to provide among the first evidence on whether and how the management of bureaucrats matters for public service delivery. The relevance of such investigations is first order, given the large number of developing countries engaged in reforming public bureaucracies along the lines of the ‘good governance’ agenda of the World Bank and United Nations
[ … ]
Our findings provide support to the notion that public agencies ought to delegate some decision making to bureaucrats, relying on their professionalism and resolve to deliver public services. […]
- a one standard deviation increase in autonomy for bureaucrats corresponds to significantly higher project completion rates of 18%;
- a one standard deviation increase in practices related to incentives and monitoring corresponds to significantly lower project completion rates of 14%
The backdrop to these results, where 38% of projects are never started, implies there are potentially large gains to marginally changing management practices for bureaucrats.
And yes, teachers are not bureaucrats.