Public sector reform and national culture: exploring agency reform in Japan

Shuntaro Iizuka

PhD candidate, SSPS, The University of Melbourne


This presentation will focus on the cultural fit between global public sector reform ideas and their application within the Japanese context.

Over the recent decades, a number of politico-administrative reforms have been transferred from country to another, backed by similar political ideologies, e.g. neo-liberalism and managerialism, and similar practical reasons, e.g. fiscal deficit in the government sector, especially in developed countries. Amongst such initiatives is agency reform, the so-called ‘agencification’ phenomenon, in which semi-autonomous, arm’s length agencies are created with a focus on policy implementation. These organisations are structurally disaggregated from central departments and act with a degree of independence. The design of this type of agency is different from conventional bureaucratic organisations in that they have more autonomy and discretion, are more performance-focused than process-oriented, and thus should improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery.

The Japanese central government adopted these types of administrative agencies in 2001, known as the Independent Administrative Agency (IAA) scheme, under a strong politico-administrative reform initiative. The design and creation of the IAA was modelled after the experience of the UK’s reform agenda.

The paper focuses on the compatibility between this exogenously transferred idea of the organisational institution and the Japanese politico-administrative and cultural contexts. This presentation will specifically explore the fit between such an exogenous public management idea and an embedded national cultural dimension. Based on the implications of the well-known Hofstede national culture module, it will reveal that the Japanese national context is originally not so much compatible with such types of agencies as other counterparts. The presentation will be followed by a discussion about my further research plan.