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Innovation, Voice and Hierarchy in the Public Sector: Evidence from Ghana’s Civil Service

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Abstract:

Research on innovation in government often focuses on ideas introduced by senior leaders or managers, but ideas from public servants themselves are an important and underexplored channel for improving performance in government bureaucracies. We provide new evidence on the potential for bottom-up work process innovation, using qualitative and quantitative data gathered in the context of a large-scale productivity training program in Ghana’s Civil Service. In contrast to common negative stereotypes of developing country bureaucrats, most officials do have meaningful ideas for improving performance. However, the overwhelming constraint to voicing these ideas is hostility by supervisors to new ideas from their subordinates. We argue that this anecdotally common yet understudied behavior is consistent with theories of psychological attachment to hierarchy rather than alternative theories rooted in material, structural, or cultural resistance to employee voice and innovation. We discuss implications for bottom-up work process innovation in government and interventions to promote it.

This EDI Working Paper is based on research for the case study on “Training for Productivity: an Experimental Evaluation of Civil Service Reform” in Ghana.

Authors:

  • Martin J. Williams, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University
  • Liah Yecalo-Tecle, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University

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