UCL News


Major study to support civil service reform in developing countries

14 March 2018

Political and personal links have helped a fair proportion of civil servants in developing countries at all level of hierarchy to secure their first job, pay rises and promotion, according to research by UCL and the University of Nottingham on civil service management in developing countries.


The report 'Civil service management in developing countries: what works?' which examines civil service management practices, attitudes and behaviours was funded by DFID and led by Dr Christian Schuster (UCL) and Professor Jan Meyer-Sahling (University of Nottingham). It was presented to the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, as well as a series of governments around the world. It provides a much needed evidence base for management reform in civil service institutions across developing nations.  

Findings of the survey of 23,000 civil servants across ten countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America - the largest international survey of its kind - show that at managerial level 25% of civil servants believe that knowing a politician or a person with a political link has helped them to obtain their job, 22% for administrative staff, and 18% for technical professional level civil servants. However, the share of civil servants for whom political connections matter varies significantly between countries.  

Key findings from the survey:

  • Overall politicisation is most prevalent at the managerial level (25% of civil servants for recruitment, 25% for promotions and 19% for pay), but it also occurs at the administrative support level (22%, 21% and 15%), and the technical professional level (18%, 19% and 15%). 
  • However, the share of civil servants for whom political connections matter for recruitment, promotion and pay respectively vary across country, from 5%-6% in Estonia to 39%-44% in Kosovo. 
  • On average personal connections matter across institutions and at all levels of hierarchy. 41% of civil servants got their first job (at least in part) thanks to personal connections; for 34% of civil servants, they were at least somewhat important for obtaining promotions; and for 22% they mattered for pay rises. 
  • However, personal connections vary across countries. It matters in the recruitment of most civil servants in Nepal (76%), for instance, but only a small minority of (managerial) civil servants in Brazil (19%). 
  • Only 37% of civil servants are satisfied with their salary; and 40% think that their salary alone is sufficient to sustain their household. At the same time, only 39% consider that it would be easy for them find a better-paid private sector job.
  • On average, civil servants rate the importance of work performance for their career advancement at 3.2, on a scale of 0 to 4. In contrast, civil servants in all countries do not generally consider that their work performance has influenced their pay (1.4 on a scale of 0 to 4, where 4 is strongly agree).
  • Average job satisfaction and public sector commitment fall significantly in the first five years in public service, and only recover to initial levels after 15 to 20 years of service.

The report identifies four key recommendations for civil service reform:

  1. Depoliticise civil service management
  2. Curb nepotism in civil service management 
  3. Ensure that performance matters in civil service management 
  4. Pay enough to retain (more) motivated civil servants

"There has been a lot of uncertainty about how to approach civil service reform in the countries that we have engaged with on this survey. We hope that our analysis provides an evidence base and a starting point for governments and donors hoping to design improvements in civil service management," said Dr Christian Schuster, Assistant Professor at the School of Public Policy (UCL Political Science).

"Many studies before this have painted a picture of civil service institutions in developing countries as dichotomies between 'islands of excellence' and seas of mediocrity. Most institutions, however, sit in between. This means that our recommendations for reform will still need to be considered carefully within the local context, which is where our data on attitudes and behaviour will come in useful," added Dr Schuster.

The research project was funded by a grant from the British Academy - UK Department for International Development (DFID) Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme. The findings have been presented to DFID, the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and a series of country governments. 



  • Features Dr Christian Schuster (UCL) and Professor Jan Meyer-Sahling (University of Nottingham).

Media contact

Natasha Downes

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 3844

Email: n.downes [at] ucl.ac.uk