Public Service Reforms: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities

Year of publication: 

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have performed the most useful function of focusing global attention and effort on addressing the leading issues of our times. They have been an ‘institution of hope’ following a period in which a ‘narrative of progress’ had been largely abandoned and when a lack of imagination and of compassion prevailed (Greig and Turner 2010; Rorty 1999). Not all countries will achieve the goals set, but on many indicators there have been significant gains. But the timeframe for the MDGs ends in 2015 and the leading question has now become ‘what next?’ How can the momentum of hope and achievement generated through the MDGs be maintained and what will replace them? The UN High Level Panel on Post-2015 is set to report in May 2013 but in the meantime, numerous lobby groups and think tanks have begun to advocate their preferred programs for post-2015. There appear to be three basic choices. First, extend the deadline. This seems unlikely as it would represent a poverty of thinking and is an inappropriate response to constantly changing conditions. Second, there could be building on the old goals and third, something completely different and as yet unspecified. It is probable that there will be a combination of the second and third options whereby there is both familiarity and novelty. The former recognises the continuation of many ‘wicked problems’ such as extreme poverty and global warming and that there are established ways of dealing with them while the latter looks for new ideas to accelerate progress and to address emerging issues that are challenging the world.

This paper examines the future in terms of public services. It identifies some of the major issues that will confront public services across the globe but most particularly in developing countries. Also, it focuses more specifically on what are emerging as the leading organizational challenges that public services must address. How can these be addressed in an efficient, effective and timely manner?