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What James Bond Can Teach Us About High-Performing Bureaucracies

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Imagine you wanted to build the most effective bureaucracy possible. Where might you look for inspiration? According to Daniel Rogger, a researcher at the World Bank, one of the best sources has been on our movie and television screens for over five decades—James Bond.

“James Bond is probably the most famous civil servant of all time,” said Rogger. “His approach toward officialdom is rooted in a strong sense of autonomy, a high mission orientation, a vibrant approach to seeking out detailed information on a case-by-case basis, and a culture of strong professional relationships.”

At a Policy Research Talk delivered earlier this year, Rogger unveiled the findings of a growing body of research and data that are helping identify how developing countries can create a bureaucracy that aspires to these kinds of ideals. Most civil servants will never chase villains across the globe like James Bond, but bureaucracies can still be places with a similar mission-driven orientation to serve the public.

Over the course of his presentation, Rogger took his audience on a whirlwind tour of the cutting edge of what researchers both inside and beyond the walls of the World Bank have learned about what shapes the functioning of bureaucracies. His findings fell under three broad headings: economics, politics, and culture.

One of the points that Rogger repeatedly drove home is that bureaucrats, like everyone else, respond to incentives—just not the usual ones. Rather, the incentives that lead to high-performing bureaucracies are influenced by the specific nature of bureaucratic work. Civil servants often carry out ambiguous tasks in uncertain environments and must multi-task across many types of work. In one study of the Ghanaian civil service, Rogger and his co-authors found that nearly 30 different government organizations work on policy, 23 work on physical infrastructure, and 20 work on permits and regulation.

The consequence of ambiguity and multi-tasking is that pay-for-performance incentives tied to easily measurable targets are likely to backfire. In a recent study of project completion rates in the Nigerian civil service, Rogger and his co-author found that the introduction of performance incentives actually slowed down project delivery, and this effect was more pronounced for those projects with higher complexity and ambiguity—for example, building a dam or a borehole.

Similarly, a study of government procurement in Russia soon to be published by London School of Economics Professor Oriana Bandiera and co-authors found that the introduction of performance incentives actually increased the prices paid by the government in the long run. In contrast, greater autonomy for bureaucrats sustainably reduced prices.

Instead of performance incentives, Rogger recommended two other types of reward systems that have been proven to improve outcomes. First, rewarding high-performing civil servants with their choice of posting or work program has been shown to improve outcomes in a number of settings. For example, in India promising postings to more desirable locations led police to increase the number and accuracy of sobriety checks. A second type of reward is the quality of management: staff are more motivated when their managers are effective, so tracking managerial practices across divisions could have substantial impacts on service delivery.

Yet Rogger pointed out that getting the right kind of incentives and people in place is not enough. Bureaucracies also operate within the constraints created by political systems. The key is for bureaucracies to remain responsive to political preferences without becoming politicized. A study of political interference in Nigeria demonstrates the trade-offs involved. In sectors where politicians have significant authority, projects are more likely to be started and completed. However, project quality also declines. Political pressure leads civil servants to shift contracts to companies preferred by the politician.

One remedy for this problem is greater transparency. In the United States, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey helps shine a spotlight on government departments that are underperforming. Likewise, audits in China have been shown to improve the selection of more competent mayors by utilizing more objective metrics to measure performance.

“Independent data on the public administration reduces the role for distortionary politics,” Rogger argued. Generating this independent data to improve the quality of government administration is part of the rationale for the Bureaucracy Lab that Rogger founded and co-leads.

The final piece of the bureaucratic puzzle is culture, but according to Rogger this is the area where research is still in its infancy. Creating a shared service identity with strong professional norms—think of James Bond as an exemplar of MI6—is the goal, but how best to create these norms is still an open question. Currently, a number of studies are under way in Liberia, Ghana, and Benin to find answers to this question.

“World Bank staff work hand in hand with civil servants from partner governments to end extreme poverty and build shared prosperity,” said Aart Kraay, Senior Adviser at the World Bank. “Better understanding what leads to high-performing bureaucracies is central to achieving our shared goals.”

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Health, Jobs and Environment Top Personal Risk List

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A new World Economic Forum/Ipsos survey found most adults are optimistic about accessing technology, digital tools and training in the next 12 months, but have serious concerns about the state of the climate, job market and global health. These findings ahead of the Davos Agenda week highlight the importance of leaders across the public and private sectors coming together to address the changes needed in a crucial year ahead.

According to the survey, the percentage of those expecting the availability of digital tools and technology to improve in 2021 exceeds the percentage of those who think it will get worse across geographies. This is most of all the case in Saudi Arabia (by 57 points), Peru (55 points), and India (48 points). Italy is the only country where, while the proportion of optimists is greater than that of pessimists by 3 points, the difference is not statistically significant.

Significantly larger proportions of people expect opportunities for training and education to improve in 2021 than to get worse in 12 countries — most of all in Saudi Arabia (by 45 points), Peru (44 points), Mexico (36 points), and China (36 points).

Image: IPSOS/World Economic Forum

However, there are global concerns with deteriorating health, loss of income or employment, and more frequent weather-related natural disasters – each perceived as a real threat by three out of five adults across the world.

Pessimists outnumber optimists on the other five issues measured: The pace of climate change (by 20 points); Employment opportunities (by 15 points); General health conditions (by 5 points); Inequality (by 4 points), and Relations between one’s country and other countries (by 2 points).

Expected Change in 2021 Image: IPSOS/World Economic Forum

The pandemic has accelerated systemic changes that were apparent before its inception. The fault lines that emerged in 2020 now appear as critical crossroads in 2021. The Davos Agenda will help leaders choose innovative and bold solutions to stem the pandemic and drive a robust recovery over the next year.

In regards to the Davos Agenda, Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum said: “In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to reset priorities and the urgency to reform systems have been growing stronger around the world. Rebuilding trust and increasing global cooperation are crucial to fostering innovative and bold solutions to stem the pandemic and drive a robust recovery. This unique meeting will be an opportunity for leaders to outline their vision and address the most important issues of our time, such as the need to accelerate job creation and to protect the environment.”

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Key Trends Shaping the Global Economy in 2021

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Accelerating inequality, remote work and greater tech market dominance are among the pandemic’s emerging trends that are likely here to stay for some years. Beyond managing the pandemic and vaccine rollout, these trends could shape a new era of fiscal, monetary and competition policy, as well as bigger government. Deglobalization is seen as the least likely of current trends to continue in the longer term; particularly as international coordination is key to resolving global challenges such as vaccine manufacturing and distribution. These are some of the findings of the World Economic Forum’s Chief Economists Outlook, published today.

The latest edition of the Forum’s Chief Economists Outlook is the outcome of consultations with leading chief economists from the public and private sectors. The report outlines the global economic outlook and lays out the priorities for policy-makers and business leaders to chart a post-pandemic recovery agenda that is fair, inclusive and sustainable.

Chief economists are impressed at the speed and scale of fiscal policy measures taken in the wake of the pandemic. However, as the global vaccination campaign picks up pace, they see the second half of 2021 as the optimal time to begin transitioning from general emergency spending to more targeted spending on future growth sectors. A majority suggest that taking action to pay down the significant national debts accumulated in the past year can wait until 2024 or beyond.

With central bank financing of public debt through quantitative easing now at the core of monetary policy in response to the crisis, chief economists believe this could lead to less central bank independence over time. Many also suggested that central banks should be pursuing environmental objectives directly through their asset purchases, which would represent a significant departure from past practice.

Most chief economists expect a brighter outlook as the vaccine helps accelerate the recovery, and as a new US administration contributes to tackling short-and long-term challenges, both domestically and globally, through revived multilateral institutions. However, most of those surveyed see virus mutations as the biggest risk for 2021, slowing efforts to contain the pandemic and leading to new lockdowns. Another concern relates to poorly calibrated policy responses that risk failing to differentiate between the deep structural impact of the pandemic on some sectors and the temporary halting of activity in other sectors.

“This report makes clear that precisely calibrated and coordinated fiscal, monetary and competition policy hold the key to global economic recovery and transformation. As the roll-out of vaccines picks up pace, there won’t be a better time for governments to work together and invest in a fair transition to a greener, more inclusive economy,” says Saadia Zahidi, Manging Director at the World Economic Forum.

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Investment in Upskilling Could Boost Global GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030

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Accelerated investment in upskilling and reskilling of workers could add at least $6.5 trillion to global GDP, create 5.3 million (net) new jobs by 2030 and help develop more inclusive and sustainable economies worldwide. These are the key findings of a World Economic Forum report published today.

The report, Upskilling for Shared Prosperity, authored in collaboration with PwC, finds that accelerated skills enhancement would ensure that people have the experience and skills needed for the jobs created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution – boosting global productivity by 3%, on average, by 2030. The newly created jobs will be those that are complemented and augmented – rather than replaced – by technology.

“Even before COVID-19, the rise of automation and digitization was transforming global job markets, resulting in the very urgent need for large-scale upskilling and reskilling. Now, this need has become even more important. And – as we highlight in our new insight report with the Forum – upskilling is key to stimulating the economic recovery from COVID-19 and creating more inclusive and sustainable economies. To make this happen, greater public-private collaboration will be key. We’re delighted to be part of the Reskilling Revolution platform, which will help foster greater action, collaboration, accountability and progress on this important topic,” said Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC.

One year of impact through the Reskilling Revolution

The research on upskilling supports the work of the Reskilling Revolution platform. Launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters in January 2020, the Reskilling Revolution set out to provide better education, skills and work to one billion people by 2030. In its first year, despite the pandemic and economic downturn, the platform’s initiatives are estimated to have benefitted more than 50 million people globally through rapid reskilling, upskilling and redeployment.

“Millions of jobs have been lost through the pandemic, while accelerating automation and digitization mean that many are unlikely to return. We need new investments in the jobs of tomorrow, the skills people need for moving into these new roles and education systems that prepare young people for the new economy and society. Initiatives like the Reskilling Revolution hold the key to converting ideas into action and creating the necessary coordination between the public and the private sectors. There is no time to waste,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

After focusing in 2020 on setting up systems for rapid reskilling and upskilling – particularly vital in the midst of the pandemic – the initiative will continue to scale up its skilling work in its second year, while expanding its work in education, job creating investments and work standards.

“Investment in job creation, particularly climate-friendly jobs, is key to ensuring a Reskilling Revolution, and concerted action by governments and by business is needed urgently,” said Sharan Burrow, General-Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Developing a common language for skills

The absence of a shared language for skills poses a significant obstacle for the reskilling and upskilling agenda. An additional report by the World Economic Forum, also launched today, provides a common taxonomy for skills to help employers, government and learning providers more efficiently match talent to jobs and learning opportunities.

The Global Skills Taxonomy: A Common Language to Unlock the Reskilling Revolution includes specific definitions and categorizations of skills, creating a common taxonomy for the labour market to adopt, from online training providers and universities to hiring managers in companies and education ministries. It consists of an interactive taxonomy with definitions as well as recommendations for adoption to inform hiring, reskilling and redeployment practices in the workplaces of the future.

More about the Reskilling Revolution

The Reskilling Revolution works through three action tracks: Forum-led initiatives that engage the public and the private sectors in joint initiatives; public-sector and multistakeholder initiatives; and company-led initiatives.

The Closing the Skills Gap country accelerators are developing and implementing national strategies for reskilling and upskilling. Accelerators are active in 10 countries with Georgia, Greece and Turkey having recently established accelerators, and a further six accelerators under discussion. Commitments made by established and planned accelerator countries and their member companies to reskill and upskill their employees are expected to reach up to 47 million individuals.

Comprised of major online learning providers, including Udacity and Coursera, and reaching 200 million learners worldwide, the Forum-led Skills Consortium aims to elevate online learning as an accepted route to employment to provide more opportunities for reskilling, upskilling and redeployment. Building on this success, the Chief Learning Officer Community brings together industry leaders in learning and development to transform workplace learning for 2.9 million employees.

In the year ahead, the Consortium, the community of Chief Human Resources Officers and Chief Learning Officers of the Reskilling Revolution platform will work on the adoption of the skills taxonomy to help make skills the key currency of the labour market and create greater efficiencies in the labour market.

The Preparing for the Future of Work industry accelerators are estimated to have reached nearly 8 million employees to prepare them with future-oriented skills. In addition, the Chief Human Resource Officer Community brings together companies’ HR leaders to share best practices and mobilize action to provide better jobs and skills to a further 4 million employees.

Multistakeholder coalitions that joined the Reskilling Revolution, led by UNICEF and the ILO among others, have been focused on delivering better education and skills, through equalizing access to digital learning (mass teacher reskilling, or identifying, supporting and amplifying new approaches.

Company-led initiatives are helping future-proof their workforces, even in an economically constrained environment. Reskilling Revolution companies are leading new approaches to support their workforces, and their supply chains and communities through access to education, skills and better jobs. In addition to founding members of the platform, such as Adecco Group, LinkedIn and ManpowerGroup, the initiative recently welcomed new partner commitments from Royal Bank of Canada, Unilever and Verizon.

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