The Influence of Consulting Firms on Public Policy: The ACCI at the SKEMA Publika Conference

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[ACCI-CAVIE] For this participation in the series of “At the Heart of Influence” meetings organized by Skema Publika, the African Centre for Competitive Intelligence (ACCI) was represented by its president, Dr. Guy GWETH, on March 28, 2024 at the Cercle de l’Union Interalliée in Paris. The theme of the day was “What influence do consulting firms have on public policies?”

“Deep state” or fantasy? Described as a “tentacular phenomenon” by the Senate’s inquiry commission in its 2022 report, the influence of private consulting firms on the development of public policies led to the adoption of a bill on 1st February 2024 by the French National Assembly to regulate the intervention of such structures. Is the commissioning of consulting firms an effective use of public funds? Is it absolutely necessary? Is there a genuine political determination to regulate this practice? What limits should be imposed? What does the decline in public orders observed in recent months signify? Is it permanent or temporary? These are the questions that this meeting brought to the table.

Around the table

To answer these questions, under the moderation of Claude REVEL, Director of Development at SKEMA Publika and former Interministerial Delegate for Competitive and Strategic Intelligence (Intelligence Economique):

  • Éliane ASSASSI, former senator and rapporteur of the inquiry commission on the growing influence of private consulting firms on public policies (January 2022)
  • Caroline MICHEL-AGUIRRE, senior reporter at L’Obs and co-author of the book “Les Infiltrés”
  • Yves MORIEUX, senior advisor at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), former senior associate director and global director of the Institute for Organization.

An anonymized report of this meeting will soon be available on the website of the think tank Skema Publika.

Under the Radar

According to Dr. GWETH, two important issues went under the radar in this discussion that deserve more attention:

“The first point is that effectively partnering with a consulting firm does not come naturally. It is a skill that must be learned, and trainings exist to help develop this capacity. However, it is clear that public administrations, both in the north and south, are rarely well-prepared in this area. The onus cannot solely be placed on consulting agencies.

“The second point concerns the “state of the art” referenced by Yves Morieux from BCG. Not enough was said about how this perspective itself is not without potentially counterproductive influences on those it aims to serve… The New Public Management approach (which was not directly referred to during our discussion) has received substantial critical assessment in the academic literature. Some of the documented harms include increased complexity, reduced accountability of public actors, demoralization of public servants, and so on.

In Africa

According to the ACCI, the influence of strategic consulting firms on African states’ public policies is undeniable. While these agencies provide valuable expertise and skills to governments, Dr. GWETH, member of the House of Public Affairs of the University of Paris Dauphine stressed the importance of “ensuring they operate in transparency, inclusiveness and accountability, and that public administrations are equipped to work effectively with strategy consultancies.”He further notes that “the established approaches underlying major consultancies also wield influence, since models like New Public Management or the transfer of private sector best practices to the public sphere have consequences – as we’ve seen in the public healthcare sector.”

The president of the ACCI took the opportunity to distribute copies of the latest white paper from the ACCI, “Doper la compétitivité des territoires francophones.” The publication was released during the second edition of the Festival de l’intelligence économique francophone, held on last October 2nd in Yaoundé. This was held alongside the 44th session of the Francophonie Ministerial Conference. The next edition of FIEF will take place in October 2024 in Paris.

The Editorial Team (with Skema Publika)