Why do some civil service reforms take off, while others limp on or tail off? What factors contribute to success – leadership, governance or collaboration? In this report, we aim to expose the alchemy of successful civil service reform. We analyse four past reforms considered as successful in the last 25 years to understand their success:

  • Next Steps Agencies, 1987-1997
  • Bringing in and Bringing on Talent: Improving the diversity of the senior civil service, 1999-2002
  • Public Service Agreements (PSAs) and the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (PMDU), 1998-2010
  • Capability Reviews, 2005-2010.

The case studies are full of rich insights, lessons and examples about how the difficulties of reforming the UK Civil Service have been overcome. Our analysis identifies 10 factors that can lift or drag down a reform process. These lessons will help those starting a new process of reform or attempting to refresh a process that is already underway.

This research is based on 34 interviews with key officials and politicians involved in past, and current, reforms; a review of existing literature; and, workshops and selected interviews with senior civil servants, ministers and other commentators to test findings and conclusions.