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!

Friday, February 25, 2011

uncertainty and capacity - part VIII of a critique


It’s been a tough few days as I completely revamped my Varna paper in the light of the EC papers of 2007/2008. The focus has shifted from the neglected role of consultants and politicians to the capacity of the EC policy-making system; instead of a cri-de-coeur, it’s become a case-study and has therefore a new title “Reforming the reformers”.
I was initially happy – to discover (however belatedly) that the criticisms some of us had been making about the system had been recognised and acted upon. Ironically, however, it made me realise that my 2006 analysis had not gone far enough and, in particular, had not followed through on the issues embodied in my later 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 space and 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?”
The very language of Technical Assistance assumes certainty of knowledge (inputs-outputs) and relationships of power – of superiority (“experts”) and inferiority (“beneficiaries”). What happens when we start from the following assumptions?
• Technical Assistance built on projects (and the project management philosophy which enshrines that) may be OK for constructing buildings but is not appropriate for assisting in the development of public institutions (Such criticism has been made of Technical Assistance in the development field – but has not yet made the crossing to those who work in the (bureaucratically separate) world of institution-building in post-communist countries)
• Institutions grow – and noone really understands that process
• Administrative reform has little basis in scientific evidence – just look at the 99 contradictory proverbs underlying it which Hood and Jackson identified in their (out of print) 1999 book. The discipline of public administration from which it springs is promiscuous in its multi-disciplinary borrowing.
• Once one accepts the world of uncertainty in which we are working, it is not enough to talk about more flexibility in the first few months to adjust project details. This is just the old machine metaphor at work again – one last twist of the spanner and hey presto, it’s working!

Robert Chambers writings have been so very good at exploring alternatives – which is why I gave that excerpt of his a few posts back. And my 2006 critique used an excellent table of his at page 12 table 4 which indicated the direction in which Technical Assistance needed to go
I found it interesting that the Court latched on to capacity development (giving appropriate references) in its 2007 paper whereas the EC response was a bit sniffy about that perspective and made no attempt to pick that concept apart (as the Morgan paper I referenced does). I vividly remember my own discovery of the “capacity” concept in 2006. That should give a clue to the inadequacy of TA work – I am a well-read and conscientious consultant and yet I had to reinvent the wheel of capacity development. It was only after I had developed the diagrams you will find at the end of the 2006 paper that I discovered the literature and debate on capacity development – at the same time it seems as the EC.

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