In the past five years, political scientists in Australia have begun to pay more attention to the increased use of external consultants by public sector agencies. There has been particular interest in some high-profile ‘policy review’ consultancies, as well as the emergence of firms specialising in ‘policy advice’ or ‘management strategy’. This paper seeks to complement this emerging body of mainly qualitative research by undertaking quantitative analysis of the ‘type’ of consultancies undertaken. Three Commonwealth departments were examined for the five years from 1988/89 (the first year of mandatory reporting on consultants). 3,500 consultancies were coded using eleven categories, with these categories grouped under the super-category of either ‘programme content’ or ‘corporate services’. ‘Programme content’ consultancies were those geared to research, review and advice on the substance or purpose of programmes, as distinct from their administrative infrastructure. The paper shows that consultancies oriented to program content were quite conspicuous, being roughly equal in total number and cost to those oriented to corporate services. The distinctiveness and significance of program content consultancies is evidenced by two further patterns. First, program content consultancies were undertaken by different consulting entities to those undertaking consultancies oriented to corporate services. Academics, for instance, were very prominent in the former but not so in the latter. Second, programme content consultancies were much more likely to be justified by the ‘need for independent review’ than were the corporate service consultancies, though the main official justification for both orientations was ‘need for specialist skills’. Overall, the paper argues that the matters referred to consultants were often significant for program development. This analysis of the early years of mandatory reporting is intended to serve as a benchmark for a follow-up study, so as to gauge whether program content consultancies have become even more prominent a decade later.
Australasian Political Studies Association Conference 2004. Refereed Papers of the APSA Conference 2004 (Adelaide, S.A. 29 September - 1 October, 2004)