Reforms will fail with one-size-fits all approach, says think-tank

14 Jun 16

Efforts to replicate successful UK reforms elsewhere often fail because global consultancies encourage their application without regard for local context, culture and capability, a UK think-tank has said.

A report from the Institute for Government found that when such projects fail to build trust or create local ownership and when project managers lack understanding of the original reform, attempts to mimic UK successes end in failure.

Peter Thomas, senior fellow at the IfG, said global consultancies do UK reforms a “disservice” by packaging them into “neat projects that claim universal applicability” without concern for such factors.

The report noted the demand for such services is heightened by requirements imposed by donors and other institutions, whose financial or political support is often contingent on recipient governments adopting elements of such reforms.

While there is much to be learned from the experience of other countries, that report warned that reform models should not be prescribed as “the one true solution to be adopted off the shelf”.

The IfG identified a number of interdependent success factors that should be cultivated in order to improve the “patchy” success record when it comes to exporting reforms.

First, the report notes that the “design of the change is crucial to delivery”. It argues governments should be “selective and critical” when drawing on good practice from elsewhere and adapt the model to the local context.

The project should make “careful and well-supported” use of civil servants, advisors and consultants, and those involved should “learn by doing, working and reflecting with respected peers”, the report said.

It noted that the UK’s National School of Government International, a small cross-government unit that supports civil service reform outside of the UK, had found that practitioner-to-practitioner engagement was much more conducive to team reflection and learning than when consultants or technical experts were involved.

This had been the case in both Cyprus and Ethiopia where the NSGI has worked, said Caterina Alari, the organisation’s senior advisor.

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