Public Service Research Program | An Overview

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”

Abraham Lincoln

Three decades of ‘reform’ in public sectors around the world have seen significant changes in the way public services are delivered. Market mechanisms have been applied in a range of ways, including privatization, imitating markets by introducing artificial competition and incentives into government service delivery; treating citizens as consumers; and replacing the direct funding of services with ‘government by tax break’.

The trend in the last three decades has been to attempt to reduce the role of government to a minimum, with a philosophy that governments should only intervene in exceptional cases of market failure. It has taken a global financial crisis to make people realise that there are many things that markets do not do “so well”. Governments will continue to do what individuals and markets cannot do at all, but we also need to recognise that public services cannot always be delivered as if they were products in a market. We will draw on economic and social research that explores the case for government as a provider of public goods, despite the increased demand and pressures on revenue over the coming decades.

The CPD Public Service Research Program aims to:

  1. Develop a robust knowledge base about the state of public services: their funding and capacity: performance in delivering community services; and attitudes toward and expectations of the Australian Public Service; and
  2. Establish the CPD as a credible source of research and policy development on public services in Australia and their contribution to a just and resilient society by informing and contributing to public commentary and debate.

After years of hearing about what governments can’t do, shouldn’t do, or will inevitably stuff up if they try, it’s time to recapture a vision of the positive role of government, and put forward an agenda for public sector reform in the 21st century. At the heart of this vision should be a public service that works in cooperation with citizens to build a fair, sustainable and democratic society.

This program will research frameworks for public sector reform in the 21st Century that can better cope with the challenges of meeting changing community needs, delivering fair and universal public services, retaining a skilled and motivated workforce, increasing demands on public sector expenditure and the long term risks of declining revenue.

Both within and outside the public service, many have identified a range of barriers to innovation in the public sector, including the policy development/service delivery divide, the risk-averse culture and the lack of management support. In our recent paper, Beyond the Blunt instrument: The Efficiency Dividend & its Alternatives, we argued for a change in emphasis away from efficiency dividends and narrow performance management approaches and towards measuring effectiveness in the delivery of government services.

The Public Service Research Program will articulate the economic and social evidence on:

  • What governments do best (covering both their role in directly providing public goods, and their role in enabling the market and community sectors to do likewise);
  • How governments can do what they do best, better (taking in common causes of governments’ failure to serve the public interest effectively and how to address them)
  • How to fund governments to serve the public interest over the long term

… and it will place these questions within the context of the major forces driving change in the public sector over the coming decades.