Rankings of public sector entities has been big trend for quite some time. We have global rankings of universities, rankings of hospitals, the PISA scores of secondary school systems and so on. But until now we have had no effective system ranking one nation’s civil service against that of another. While rankings are fraught with conceptual and methodological difficulties, they are undoubtedly popular – and those who do well in these rankings are quick to point to their results as proof of their excellence. Those at the bottom of the table either make excuses or just ignore the results.
While academics have long been interested in what makes for an effective public service, it has often been based on highly subjective and theoretical perspectives, which suggest that a good public service must include characteristics like autonomy from politicians, non-partisan staffing, a career structure, solid policy making capacity and so on. That is, we believed we knew how to build an effective public service, but it was always hard to find measures of the overall effectiveness. Until now.