what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Back to the serious stuff


I’ve been indulging myself during the past 2 weeks – both in my activities here in Sofia and the blogposts which have followed them. Time to get serious! I reproduced yesterday an example of a great blogpost – from one of the BBC correspondents. It was an extended brainstorm and produced high-level responses – unlike newspaper threads. I have another good example today – from the archdruid report – which raises the issue of systems thinking.
I’ve been trying to get my head around the implications of systems thinking for some time – I flagged the issue up here … and here. I can understand very well the implications for government policy-making – namely that it should have more respect for the natural order (Lovelock’s Gaia thesis is the logical extreme of that); and more reliance on community-level decision-making. Reliance on market mechanisms too - provided, however, that the basic preconditions of a market are present, namely free entry, free flow of information, multiple suppliers and proper costing of external costs. The word „market” is, in our times, has almost religious value – and is attached (by big business) to processes and operations which are utterly oligopolistic and which have nothing to do with the market. It is not so much socialism as big business which is the enemy of the market. I digress….but, methinks, it’s an important digression.
The implications for organisations of the systems approach is something which I have more difficulty with – even although there is a 500 page book which will spell out this for you which you can access at the bottom of the September 3 post.

I have in the next week to tryo to draft a paper which I have been putting off – for the next NISPAcee Conference (for institutes of public admin in east and central europe) which is being held this year in Varna, just down the road from here. I sent them this outline some months back -
I have spent 40 years of my life on various endeavours concerned to make public service systems more responsive to citizens.
The first 20 years was in Scotland – as an academic and political leader in municipal and regional government to which I helped introduce community development principles and practice. But, at the same time, I supported the various efforts at establishing a corporate management capacity – to ensure that the political leaders had some analysis at hand to allow them to deal with the power of the various specialised professions which dominated service delivery in those days. One of the important principles to me then was that of the pincer movement – achieving change from a combination of challenges from above and below.
These were the years when it was possible to believe that politics was an honourable profession and that (local) government could deliver results for its citizens.

My last 20 years has been spent living and working in central europe and central asia as a consultant to national state bodies in their various decentralisation and civil service reform efforts.
This period has coincided with a global enthusiasm for (and, much more recently, a certain reaction against) all things concerned with the private sector. The political system in most countries got too close to that sector – and is now, perhaps fatally, burned.
And the reform effort - which was initially driven by committed individuals - has become sanitised and castrated by technocrats and the project management from which earlier reform efforts might have benefited.
All of which has made it difficult for those working in transition countries to offer the expected models of good practice. Throughout the 40 years, I have tried to follow the relevant literature on improving government – and to share what lessons my own experience seemed to suggest with those interested. For example, at the 2006 NISPAcee Conference, I offered one of the critical papers on Technical Assistance which led to the establishment the following year of the working group on PA Reform. Its most important section was - Those of us who have got involved in these programmes of advising governments in these countries confront a real moral challenge. We are daring to advise these countries construct effective organisations; we are employed by organisations supposed to have the expertise in how to put systems together to ensure that appropriate intervention strategies emerge to deal with the organisational and social problems of these countries; we are supposed to have the knowledge and skills to help develop appropriate knowledge and skills in others! But how many of us can give positive answers to the following 5 questions? -
• Do the organisations which pay us practice what they and we preach on the ground about good organisational principles?
• Does the knowledge and experience we have as individual consultants actually help us identify and implement interventions which fit the context in which we are working?
• Do we have the skills to make that happen?
• What are the bodies which employ consultants doing to explore such questions – and to deal with the deficiencies which I dare to suggest would be revealed?
• Do any of us have a clue about how to turn kleptocratic regimes into systems that recognise the meaning of public service?

At Varna, I would like to take the gloves off – and suggest some unpalatable lessons from the last few decades – for both training institutes and the EC. But, above all, for us as individuals!

The graphic is another Tudor Banus - "sens de la vie"

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