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!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

making good use of one's time here

I promised on 10 March to draft a short paper which identified the various texts which seem to me relevant to the issue of social change or betterment (covering the micro, meso and macro levels mentioned on the post and to look at the interface between them. A week later I was provoked by another blog to start the process – and the interesting feedback which I got a couple of days ago from one of my readers helped me to find the short paper I had written ten years ago which had tried to explore how one person might make a (greater) difference”; or at least feel that what (s)he is doing is improving the human condition rather than compounding its problems.
Today – apart from some cleaning workaround the house and car – I have been trying to integrate recent writing into the 2001 paper whose focus is I feel the right one. For I am at the enviable point in my life where I don’t need to work full-time and can choose what I do with my time and life (even more than I have generally done). The paper still has the form and content it had when it was originally written (in Tashkent) some 10 years after I had left political life in Scotland and started the nomadic life of a consultant in countries which were assumed to be in some sort of transition from a form of communism to capitalism. Where can my values, energies (and what skills and knowledge I have) be used to best advantage? I wrote my short note around 5 key questions -
• why I was pessimistic about the future and so unhappy with the activities of the programmes and organisations with whom I dealt – and with what the French have called La Pensee Unique, the post 1989 “Washington consensus”
• who were the organisations and people I admired
• what they were achieving - and what not
• how these gaps could be reduced
• how, with my various resources, I could help that process

I hope to put the new draft on the website tomorrow.

Only one painter today – Denjo Chokanov (1901-1982). I’m very fond of him and have a couple of paintings of his – one above. And, in an hour, I’m bidding (from a distance) for another which is priced at 350 euros. I know nothing about him.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

triple Boyadjievs

Three Boyadjievs (and a Bunadjiev) will probably go into my book. The first the most famous - an entire house is devoted to his work in the marvellous old Plovdiv centre.
That is Zlatyu Boyadjiev(1903-76)who offers what I would call Folk art. In 1951 a serious illness forced him to change his painting hand Born Brezovo, Plovdiv Region. A 65x50 is expected to fetch 15,000 euros at the Vikttoria auction in the Sheraton tomorrow evening.

Boyadjiev Nikolay (1904-63) is my favourite - a figurative graphic artist. Born in Svishtov; art teacher in Shumen High School. 1951 National Acadamy of Arts teacher. Expelled in 1958 from Union of Bulgarian artists for his refusal to work on prescribed themes. Superb charcoal and pencil portrait work which, unfortunately, I can't upload. The painting above is one of his portraits (taken from the Sofia City Gallery archives - many thanks).

Boyaidjiev, Petar (1907-63) did sea and landscapes. I bought one of them on my last visit.

social innovation and social enterprise

The price of potatoes has apparently almost doubled here – so there is a particular poignancy to the efforts of my 80 year-old neighbours whom I guiltily watch in their vegetable patch in the field below.
I’ve been too busy all morning to be able to offer any help – first on my own chores now that the sun is shining brightly and then on reflecting on the questions I got in my mail this morning from a US reader of my blog who was responding to a comment I had made on the Understanding Society blog and reproduced here My correspondent is in the process of establishing an organisation based on the recognition that
well intentioned organizations are constantly reinventing the wheel due to the poor state of networking amongst them. This, in turn, is responsible for the far below optimal rate of progress being generated by these organizations
.My correspodent asked four fascinating questions -
• about my experiences in trying to create positive change.
• Are there certain organizations you are especially fond of?
• What do you think about the "social innovation" movement?
• Is there a set of principles that you follow?

This quickly took me back to a short paper I had been looking for recently – which I had written ten years ago about the state of the world and what effective action committed individuals could take - and which I was able at last to unearth. It dealt with the first two of the questions and I have just spent a couple of hours adding footnotes to it to bring it up to date – and adding it to my website
The term “Social innovation” is actually a new one for me – but some surfing quickly established that it covers what I knew as community enterprise in the 1980s; what the French have called “social economy” and what, in the 200os, was called social enterprise in the UK. This 2006 paper is a good overview of the US and European understanding of the term.
Also in 2006 an interesting book was published on the European experience of Social Enterprise
This 2005 paper is a theoretical overview from Strathclyde University
In 2007, Charles Leadbeater wrote Social enterprise and social innovation: Strategies for the next ten years for the UK Cabinet Office and, in the light of the UK Coalition Government interest in Big Society, the Guardian had a brief chat with some social entrepreneurs.
Tha painting is one of the famous Bulgarian ones - "Peasant with a hoe"by Vladimir Dmitrov (The Master)
that there is a lot of thinking (about alternatives) going on - but it is not easily shared and stored. What can be done about this?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The mask of reform

A rereading of yesterday’s questions for a Skype discussion today was quite salutary – particularly the first one – “What were the forces which helped reform the state system of the various EU member countries?” Talk about begging the question! In what sense can we actually say the British or French state system has actually reformed in the past 40 years – let alone in a “better” direction?? Of course the rhetoric of reform is in place – which it certainly wasn’t 40 years ago. I vividly remember the writing of organisational analysts such as Charles Lindblom in the 1970s who invented phrases such as “disjointed incrementalism” to demonstrate the impossibility of modern public oganisations being able to change radically. Suddenly in the late 1980s, the language changed and everything seemed possible – “Total Quality Management” was a typical phrase. Thatcher has a lot to answer for – in creating the illusion that private management (concepts and people) had the answer. And, perversely, the greater the chaos it caused, the greater the need for management.
After several waves of major public sector reforms in Britain, a lot of people would say that things have gone backward – or, more nuanced, that any improvements are down to technological and financial rather than managerial developments. And “managerial” covers elements of both macro structures (like Agencies) and management hierarchy and behaviour - which has certainly got worse as the ethic of public service has disappeared. But who is best placed to make such judgements? Using what criteria? Do we rely on public surveys? But survey work is so profoundly influenced by the sorts of questions asked – and interpretations. Politicians, managers and professionals all have their vested interest in the stance they take – although the older “coalface” professional is perhaps in the best position to judge.
We have a lot of comparative indicators these days about both individual public services (France regularly tops the league tables for health; Finland for education) and governance systems. But they don’t seem to have much link with the experiences of ordinary people. This is where the efforts of a small journal like Scottish Review are so important – in putting spotlight on the greed and incompetence of leaders of public services in Scotland. Today its indefatigable editor watched the behaviour of the 2 most senior people of Glasgow University (my alma mater) during a at a public meeting of students trying to understand the heavy-handed police raid (which included a helicopter) on students occupying a building. Last Tuesday, 15 students were occupying the Hetherington Club, the police despatched to the scene between 40 and 80 officers (the number varies from account to account), up to 18 vehicles and the Strathclyde helicopter. As Kenneth Roy writes "What was all that about? The police made themselves look more than a little foolish". A combination of education and media exposure has made the british public lose its traditional deference to those with authority. But increasingly those in public positions are exposed for lacking the basic character (let alone competence)for the job. And, increasingly, managerialism (and the salaries which go to the top echelons)seems to be at the root of the problem. I therefore return to the question I posed in my 2006 paper to the NISPAcee Conference - how can those of us who come from such culture dare to give advise to those struggling in "transition" countries? And should these countries bother anyway about transition to such systems? They were in the neo-liberal heaven (everything for sale) long before us - in the mid 1990s when their taxation systems collapsed and their elites realised what a great legitimisation for their corruption the new Western Weltanschaung gave them!
Either the University Principal knew and approved what was about to happen, in which case he showed extremely poor judgement; or he was unaware of the invitation to the police until the helicopter was buzzing overhead, in which case he had lost control of his own staff. Either way there is an issue of personal responsibility. In the meeting in Bute Hall, we saw a microcosm of the more general failings of Scottish public life: the largely meaningless incantation of a duty of care; the feebleness of non-executives even, as in this case, an elected one; the reluctance of those in power to acknowledge their own errors; the tendency in a crisis to consolidate the crumbling position of the strong while failing to protect the vulnerable; the absence of wit and forensic ability

Cartoon time!

Coincidentally, three of Bulgaria’s cartoonists have a family name starting with B - Bozhenov, Alexander 1878-1968; Behar, Marko 1914-73; and Beshkov, Ilia 1901- 1958. I have no information yet about the first two but Wikipedia gave me the sort of information about Beshkov I would like to have about all the entries in the planned book And I was able to buy two old books devoted to Beshkov's life and work in the chaotic antique shop I’ve already mentioned. Indeed I also snapped up a lot of sketches scribbled on the pages of a 1947 journal which look remarkably like Beshkov’s work – not only to me but to Bulgarian cognoscenti I’ve shown them to.
More examples are to be seen on a short link Remarkable old Bulgarian illustrators
Beshkov was born in 1901 in a small town near Pleven. In 1918–1920, he studied law at Sofia University and briefly returned home as a teacher. In 1921, he enrolled in painting at the National Academy of Arts and graduated in 1926. As a student, Beshkov published caricatures in magazines. He was twice arrested due to his leftist political views: once after participating in the uprising following the Bulgarian coup d├ętat of 1923.
He was one of the founders of a famous newspaper "Hornet" in 1940, and published in it without signature or pseudonym. In 1945, he became a lecturer of drawing, illustration and print design at the National Academy of Fine Art; he was elected a tenured professor in 1953 and led the Department of Graphics until his death in 1958.
Beshkov's political caricatures were humanist, democratic, revolutionary and national in nature. The art gallery in Pleven is named in his honour and most of his works are exhibited there. I reproduced another of his cartoons here. And I have in my bathroom what I think is a Behar

Monday, March 28, 2011

The How and the What of Change

I need to return to the paper for the Varna Conference – a final version of which has to be posted on the NISPAcee site in a couple of weeks. I’ve known for some time that there were two separate issues – the first about how procedurally the procurement system might be improved to get a better match of needs and consultants. The second issue is the more profound one of the what the nature of the knowledge and skill base which a consultant operating in the very specific context of Neighbourhood Countries needs to be effective. The What requires us to face up to the following sorts of questions –
• What were the forces which helped reform the state system of the various EU member countries?
• In the absence of such forces should we actually get involved in institution-building in neighbourhood countries?
• what do we actually know about the results of institution-building (IB) in kleptocratic regimes?
• Does it not simply give a new arrogant and kleptocratic elite a better vocabulary
• Does the “windows of opportunity” theory not suggest a totally different approach to IB?

I’m happy enough for the moment with my comments on the EC’s Backbone Strategy for the reform of TA. They convince me (at any rate) that the strategy is mere bureaucratic tinkering to satisfy the (highly limited) concerns of auditors. The strategy doesn’t even raise the fundamental WHAT questions.
TA based on project management and competitive tendering is fatally flawed – imagining that a series of “products” procured randomly by competitive company bidding can develop the sort of trust, networking and knowledge on which lasting change depends.
In a recent blog I referred to the rigorous analysis of fashions in institution building in Technical Assistance always to be found in the work of Tom Carrothers and Derek Brinkerhoff
His second paper points out the ambiguity of the rhetoric about “rule of law” - which finds support from a variety of ideological and professional positions and therefore leads to confused implementation if not state capture. Good overviews of this are here, here and here

I have also said how little scrutiny there is of the various tools in the consultancy toolkit. The one exception is the “democracy promotion” strand of work where Richard Youngs is particularly prolific. Indeed I discovered today an important book he edited in 2009 which matches the concern I voice in the second part of my draft paper - about the failure of the EU to understand properly the context of neighbourhood countries and to adjust TA accordingly. The book has the marvellous title of “Democracy’s Plight in the European Neighbourhood – Struggling transitions and proliferating dynasties” - with chapters on Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.
The painting is a Napoleon Alekov which went recently for 350 euros only

A-B Bulgarian painters

I realise that those who alight on this blog may not share my passion for painting – let alone Bulgarian works. I thought of relegating the series I have started on that subject to the lower half of each post – but that would add considerably to the length of what are clearly already too verbose posts. The answer seems to be alternate posts – so, be warned, this is an exclusive painting post. If you're really into painting - particularly Realist - then check out the booklet I published in May 2012

Boris Angelushev (1902-1966) trained and worked in Berlin from the early 1920s for more than a decade (returning to Bulgaria only in 1935) and was clearly influenced by the revolutionary events taking place then - and by the powerful graphics of Kathe Kollwitz of whom I have always been very fond.
A typical agitprop sketch of his headed the recent post about Romanian DNA and more of his work can be seen here. When I was in Sofia in January I was lucky enough to come across a large book which seemed to contain every single one of his works. Even although it’s all in Bulgarian, I considered it a bargain at 22 euros. I actually have a sketchbook I also bought then in the tiny eccentric gallery I blogged about at the time. It's by an unknown artist – my knowledgeable Bulgarian friends agree that it’s quality work from the mid century and I have just realised it could be Angelushev’s since the old sketchbook carries an embossed Romanian-German title –“Album de schite-Skizzenbuch” – and he worked in both Romania and Germany.

I have the sense that Bulgarian painters are more numerous (proportionately) than British. I don’t pretend to know a great deal about British art (more about Scottish – the Glasgow Boys; the Colourists etc) – so Amazon delivered this week a book (A Crisis of Brilliance) about a group of 5 famous English painters of the early 20th century – Dora Carrington, Merk Getler, Paul Nash, Richard Nevinson and Stanley Spencer (I had only heard of the first and last). Certainly I could make a list of no more than 20 UK painters of the last 100 years – whereas my list of Bulgarian painters is almost at the 150 mark. And one of the difficulties about compiling the list is that quite a few Bulgarian painters share a family name – some are related (eg Dobre Dobrev senior and Junior) – but most are not. And this seems to be particularly true of names like Georgiev (3 in my list) and Ivanov (five!) The next two listings share an appropriate name for that part of the world -

Nenko Balkanski was born in Kazanluk in 1907, lived until he was 70 and is the more prestigious of the two. He graduated from the National Art Gallery in 1930 and then went to study in Germany, France and later Italy He seems to have been a modest man and his portrayals of family life (above) were well regarded by the socialist authorities who used his work on stamps. I saw a superb small portrait of a woman by him in the Konus Gallery in Sofia for about 1,400 euros – brought especially for my edification. A large still life of his is priced at 3,000 euros in this week’s Viktoria Gallery auction.
The Gallery in Kazanluk has some of his art and others who painted there and seems to be well worth a visit. His grandson is also a painter.
Pencho Balkanski was born a year later in the Troyan area, lived until 1985 and came to painting only after he had established himself as a photographer. A 50x40 of his is going for 1,200 euros at the auction.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book on Bulgarian painters

When I was in Sofia in January 2011 I realised that there was a need for a booklet in English on modern Bulgarian painting. Nothing exists for the visitor - who could spend many pleasant hours (days) traversing the charming centre, visiting galleries, talking with the owners and painters – and, ultimately, buying. I had made a short list of the painters I knew – mainly as a checklist for my visits but which (if consulted surreptitiously) also gave me the air of a cognoscenti and therefore better treatment! My friend Yassen of Konus Gallery was very helpful in suggesting additional painters – what was 2 pages grew quickly to five. And I decided that, as I had the time and the passion, I might as well try to produce such a booklet – on the excellent principle that the best way to learn about a subject is to write a book about it. Of course, discovery is part of the pleasure – and too detailed a book would deny visitors that pleasure – so I don’t have to be ambitious.
It’s not too difficult to get pictures from the net - mainly from the Archives of the Victoria Gallery (which is holding another auction on 31 march – a particularly bumper one it looks) - but what is not so easy is to get some biographical detail.
If I’m lucky the Viktoria Gallery site (or the great Catalogue of the Sofia City Gallery) will give me the date and place of birth and death – and the artists under which the painter in question studies. If I’m very lucky, they will tell me that they spent a few years studying in Munich, Paris or France. But that’s all.
Having worked intensively on the subject in January and produced an outline of the sort of booklet I had in mind. I gave the matter a rest. I have more than a hundred names – and should start the preparation for the month I plan to spend in Sofia shortly. So perhaps a couple of entries a day will encourage my friends in Bulgaria to give me some feedback – and data?
What basically do I need to know? Dates; place of birth; influences; genre; price range, patrimony (how easy to export?)
Let me start with someone who arrived on my list only in January - Abadjiev (Petko) (1903-2004) who was a friend of Bulgaria’s greatest painter of the mid 20th century, Nikola Tanev (whose charming landscape paintings now fetch for about 10,000 euros). You can see a couple of Abadjiev’s paintings on the Viktoria Gallery site (a 25x20 oil can be had for 400 euros at the 31 March auction). So I’m missing quite a lot of info about him.
Alekov, Napoleon is an old favourite of mine (1912-2002). A seascape specialist, there are a fair number of his paintings available on the Viktoria site (a nice shipyard scene 50x40 went recently for only 350 euros). But that’s all I have on him.
The painting at the top of this post is a new artist for me – but very striking - Alexandrov (Zdravko) (1911-1999) This large (80x70) went for only 1,000 euros

UPDATE; On 24 April 2012 I duly lodged a 60 page booklet (and CD Rom with almost 1,000 pictures) with a young design team in Sofia and copies of the booklet are now available - try the Elephant Bookshop.

A year ago I was thinking about post-autistic public administration.
A lot has been recently about capacity development - a lot of it interesting and useful. But the best on the subject has just been issued - and focuses on the practitioner. Very helpful!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Romanian DNA

On the Severin scam (the Romanian MEP and ex-Foreign Minister who (with an Austrian and a Slovene) sold himself to the lobbyists and is the only one of the 3 caught not to have resigned) I have only two comments. First, as I spelled out last year, the Romanian political class is built on such financial transactions and the marvel is that only one Romanian MEP was caught. The second comment is that Romanian politicians never resign! It’s not in the DNA.

Back in mountains – the stuff I’m reading about cultures is in order to understand the difficulties I have here. I can’t stand what I see as aggression – and I pick up so much of it here. And that affects the signals I send – a lot fewer positive ones than normal. A vicious circle ensues. So I face the prospect of leaving the country. A nice flat beckons in Sofia……where I hope to get underway with the book I want to put together about Bulgarian artists. My next post will be about that. Today's sketch has nothing to do with the Severin story - I am limited to one image per post and wanted to give a sense of Boris Angelushov (1902-1966) who was in Berlin in the early 1920s and was clearly influenced by the revolutionary events taking place then and by the powerful graphics of Kathe Kollwitz.
A year ago, I was writing about the soul-lessness of modern work

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Hypocrisy is today’s theme! First the sheer level of it on display from Hilary Clinton who simply smirked when a quiet American 60 year old was forcibly ejected from her speech which was (believe it or not) celebrating protest – for the simple reason that he had his protest took the form of turning his back to her while she delivered her speech (the better for her to see the political slogan on his T-shirt!) It takes a high level of stupidity as well as hypocrisy on her part to be unable to appreciate the irony of all this.
Serendipity gave me yesterday a great book in the Anthony Frost English bookshop here in Bucharest – “Watching the English” by Kate Fox. It’s a highly amusing and extensive account by an anthropologist of the essence of Englishness. Her account of the various games and gambits of English introductions, for example, are quite priceless! Steadily, through her identification of the various rules and codes which govern such fields as work, play and sex she builds up a picture of what it is to be English. And “hypocrisy” crops up from time to time. Certainly the open and blunt talk of Americans (and the Dutch) is considered offensive..

Another good comment from the Real World Blog – this time about Adam Smithnot being the devotee of the market we are all led to believe.
Aand a Guardian discussion thread gives a good sense of how the British health service continues to be the subject of “reform” discourse – while still (attacked as it has been by successive governments) managing to show a lot of indices about efficiency!
The picture is Gillray's Mushromm on a dungheap!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cultural differences

I have quite few websites about the EU on my favourites bar – but don’t often access them since they are either too technical or too predictable. I’ve just looked at the two which are in my “links” on this site and have to wonder why I put them there! Neither gives any real sense of what’s going on in the EU. But I’ve just hit (through the Social Europe site) a blog which seems genuinely informative about a range of EU activities; gives links for further reading; and which resists the temptation of self-indulgent raving to which too many blogs succumb (“yours truly” excepted, of course!)
I mentioned recently “The geography of thought” – the book which reports on the experiments which take the writing of people like de Hofstede and Trompenaars about differences in cultural behaviour a stage further – to suggest that Europeans and Asians literally see the world differently and think differently. By coincidence I read in parallel Lucy Wadham’s The Secret Life of France – which is a delightful dissection of the mental and behavioural DNA of the Parisian bourgeois. She uses the country’s interesting mix of Catholicism and Revolutionary principles to offer an explanation of why the English (I use the term for obvious reasons!) and the French find it so difficult to understand one another – whether in matters relating to infidelity or diversity. Have a look at some of the 77 reviews on the Amazon site to get a sense of her argument.
The differences between Bulgaria and Romania is a fascinating issue for me. The Danube does not just act as a geographical but as a cultural and even physiognomic (?) boundary. Witness the way the voice timbre of women drops and their “sini” (glands) grow in the 2 minutes it takes to cross the great bridge which connects Giurgiu from Russe! Another difference I noticed the other day is that all the plastic Bulgarian pepper pots seem to be recyclable (the tops unscrew to allow you to top up) – whereas the Romanian ones are not! Very significant! I was also interested to read that the Romanians share with the Serbians a feature which I find most annoying – a search for blame and an almost sadistic delight in pointing out apparent contradictions in their interlocuteur’s conversation. A classic example was this week when I told my partner about the crack which had developed in the mountain house toilet. “No”, I replied, “I remember very clearly flushing the toilet after I had turned off the water in January; and not only did I put salt in the toilet water remaining but I remember squeezing the water in the toilet basin with a cloth!” “But”, Came the suspicious query, “Why did you need to add salt if you had squeezed the water out?”! I rest my case!
And let's not talk about the various ways people conduct arguments - with the tentative explorative style fitting very ill with the aggressive debate which seems to characterise what we might call Latin nations???

Monday, March 21, 2011

The politics of reform

I’ve had sadly little feedback on my paper on Chinese Administrative Reform (although I do get an occasional “hit” on my blog from there). But one friend gave me a great two page commentary on it which made, amongst other points, the following interesting comments –
• it’s difficult to absorb in one paper so much stuff both about how the Chinese public services seem to work and the reform efforts of Western European countries in the past few deadaes. Make it two separate papers!
• Although its apparent focus is China, it can be read with benefit by all public admin people (which would perhaps argue for keeping its ambitious focus on both China and the Western experience?)
• It draws (like almost all public admin literature) too much on anglo-saxon experience. What about India, South America, Indonesia for example??

I very much agree with the last point – and have indeed myself complained about the bias of so much of the material. Spanish-speaking academics are in a better position to help us understand interesting developments in the past decade in the various countries of Latin America – and indeed a bit of a search can unearth relevant material in English about that continent’s experience. For example, a recent 200 page book (which can be completely downloaded) on the various global efforts to make countries more democratic contains three chapters on Latin American experience. The book also has a chapter on the recent decentralisation in India; on Indonesia; and Lebanon. And a useful overview by Philippe Schmitter (whose 2004 paper for the Council of Europe on the democratic deficit in European countries I had missed)
But a 2001 paper by Patrick Heller on the politics of decentralisation in Kerala, South Africa and Porto Alegre is much more focussed on these issues. The purpose of Heller’s article is to - The paper rightly emphasises that effective reform of state organisations is political – and comes from external pressure (not from within). For examples, strong local government has historically come from working class pressure but this does not necessarily lead to social change and justice -
especially in an era when globalization has weakened the ability of nation-states to deploy the regulatory and redistributive instruments through which European states evened social opportunities and incomes in the mid 20th century.
Equity-enhancing reforms in both South Africa and Brazil have, for example, been frustrated. And even in Kerala, where working-class mobilization has a longer history and has wielded significant redistributive results, disappointing economic growth, the pressures of liberalization, and the declining service efficiency of the state have all combined to threaten earlier gains in social development.
This leads us to the second problematic of democratization, namely the institutional character of democratic states. Even where formal democracy has been consolidated, the question arises as to just how responsive these democracies are. Developing states have become politically answerable through periodic elections, but have the bureaucratic institutions they inherited from authoritarian or colonial rule become more open to participation by subordinate groups? Have they really changed their modes of governance, the social partners they engage with and the developmental goals they prioritize? Is the reach and robustness of public legality sufficient to guarantee the uniform application of rights of citizenship?
Decentralization in the developing world, especially when driven by international development agencies, has more often than not been associated with the rolling back of the state, the extension of bureaucratic control, and the marketization of social services.
Because such a project is tantamount to fundamentally transforming the exercise of state power, it requires an exceptional, and in most of the developing world improbable, set of political and institutional opportunities.
In South Africa, the Indian state ofKerala, and the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, new political configurations and underlying social conditions have converged to create just such a set of opportunities.
Most visibly, left-of-centre political parties that were born of popular struggles have come to power and inherited significant transformative capacities. The ascendancy of the African National Congress (ANC), the Communist Party of India–Marxist (CPM), and the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) have all been associated with the formulation of clear and cohesive transformative projects in which the democratization of local government was given pride of place. Although the parties in question have captured power at different levels of the state—the national, provincial, and municipal, respectively—they have all enjoyed, and indeed used, their authoritative powers to initiate fundamental reforms in the character of local government.
If a committed political agent is a necessary ingredient for administrative and fiscal devolution, the democratic empowerment of local government is critically dependent on the dynamics and capacities of local actors. Again, the cases examined here are quite exceptional. All three boast a rich and dense tapestry of grassroots democratic organizations—the historical legacy of prolonged mass-based prodemocracy movements—capable of mobilizing constituencies traditionally excluded from policy-making arenas, and dislodging traditional clientalistic networks.

But the building of local democratic governmentrequires not only that a favorable political alignment be maintained but that a delicate andworkable balance between the requirements of institution building and grassroots participation be struck.
Subtle differences in political configurations and relational dynamics can thus produce divergent trajectories.
In the cases of Kerala and Porto Alegre, initial reforms that increased the scope of local participation have been sustained, and have seen a dramatic strengthening of local democratic institutions and planning capacity.
In contrast, in South Africa a negotiated democratic transition that has been rightfully celebrated as one of the most inclusive of its kind, and foundational constitutional and programmatic commitments to building “democratic developmental local government” have given way to concerted political centralization, the expansion of technocratic and managerial authority, and a shift from democratic to market modes of accountability.
If democratic decentralization in Kerala and Porto Alegre has been conceived as a means of resurrecting socially transformative planning in an era of liberalization, local government in South Africa has become the frontline in the marketization of public authority. Given the similarity of favorable preconditions—capable states and democratically mobilized societies—we are confronted with an intriguing divergence in outcomes.
Finally, a nice fable from the Real Economics blog.
explore the conditions under which a distinctly democratic variant of decentralization—defined by an increase in the scope and depth of subordinate group participation in authoritative resource allocation—can be initiated and sustained.
Across the political spectrum, the disenchantment with centralized and bureaucratic states has made the call for decentralization an article of faith. Strengthening and empowering local government has been justified not only on the grounds of making government more efficient but also on the grounds of increasing accountability and participation. But to govern is to exercise power, and there are no a priori reasons why more localized forms of governance are more democratic.
Indeed, the history of colonial rule was largely a history of decentralized authority in which order was secured and revenues extracted through local despots.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More thoughts about neighbourhood strategy

I reached the limit of creativity last week with the draft of my paper for the Varna Conference of NISPAcee. The present draft (updated 9 April) basically looks critically at the European Commission’s 2008 “Backbone strategy" for improvement of Technical Assistance; and at the absence of any public discussion of the various tools it uses in its good governance projects. The one exception is the “democracy promotion” strand of work where Richard Youngs is particularly prolific. Indeed I discovered today an important book he edited in 2009 which matches the concern I voice in the second part of my draft paper - about the failure of the EU to understand properly the context of neighbourhood countries and to adjust TA accordingly. The book has the marvellous title of “Democracy’s Plight in the European Neighbourhood – Struggling transitions and proliferating dynasties” with chapters on Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco

But my point still remains – that few people (certainly in the EC) seem to be looking at how state institutions and local government can realistically be developed in neighbourhood countries in a way helps develop a real citizen- or customer-orientation and which is sustainable. For example in 2009 Sigma produced a very important paper which suggested that the work of the merit-based civil service agencies established with EC Technical Assistance were being undermined. Very few people are casting such an analytical eye over the work of institution-building in neighbourhood (let alone recent member) countries. The Court of Auditors’ 2007 Report (which provoked the Backbone strategy) was concerned with procurement procedures – it is questions about the substance which are overdue.

In 2007, the Journal of Democracy, for example, had an excellent paper by Tom Carothers which looked at some of the global thinking about the institutional development process which affects the Technical Cooperation field. He took exception with the argument that democracy should take second place to the establishment of the rule of law. Tom Carothers (US Aid) is a rare voice of logic, clarity, experience and balance in the world of international aid subject (Brinkerhoff is another) - and their articles are so good that they rate folder of their own in my laptop library. In 2009 Carothers produced another paper which looked at the experience and discussion of the past decade with rule-of-law projects. His paper points out the ambiguity of that term - which finds support from a variety of ideological and professional positions and therefore leads to confused implementation if not state capture.
I need to work all this into the new draft of the Varna paper. Feedback would be much appreciated!
The painting is an Alexander Milenkov

Music and book links

A strong white-out greeted me this morning – a light snow covering and thick mist. One of the nice things about a nomadic life (at the moment the less exotic sort of having one’s books and music spread over 3 Romanian properties) is (re)discovery. The Bucharest flat is tiny and needs therefore the occasional transfer of books, paintings and other artefacts to the other 2 places. This week I took some CDs and came across a CD I had forgotten about - The Finnish composer Arvo Paerto’s Fratres played by the Orchestra of Flanders. It’s a stunning bit of minimalism for strings, wind and percussion. You can hear a rather inferior version of a cello section played by Columbia University Orchestra here. With the greater space I have in the mountain house, I’m able to use speakers to link up with the incredible number of internet musical channels – listed here. But my favourite is BBC World’s “Through the Night” programme which gives 6 hours’ daily listening available for a full week – with a written programme! When you hear a beautiful piece on the radio, it is very annoying to miss the brief identification you (sometimes) get at the end (particularly if it’s in a foreign language!). So top marks to the BBC!

I promised to mention a couple of googlebooks each entry. First David Korten’s latest book – Agenda for a new Economy - from Phantom Wealth to Real Wealthwhich continues his sterling effort in the last 2 decades to sketch out a better way. He is someone who practised mainstream economic consultancy – and then saw the error of his ways (see Prologue from page 11 of one of his first books). Such reformed gangsters make better analysts of the “mafia” system which is modern professionalism.
The second book is by the Swede, Erik Ringmar, whom I mentioned recently and is now a Professor at a Taiwan University - Surviving Capitalism; how we learned to live with the market and remained almost human. Apart from the clarity and iconoclastic tone, the book is distinctive in giving us a historical “take” on neo-liberalism.
The painting is Romanian - Theodor Pallady

Saturday, March 19, 2011

hypocrisy, uncertainty and language

I don’t like gossip and character assassination. But how do you deal with hypocritical people? One of the editors of Social Europe - a site which deals with social democracy and European policy – has come to the defence of one of the LSE academics most prominent in pushing for the acceptance of the poisoned Gaddafi money - David Held. In so doing he drew attention to the public disparagement of Held by an ex-LSE academic Erik Ringmar who had a run-in with the LSE for some blunt remarks about academia. I followed the links and find an eloquent, tough and maverick writer who, amongst other books, has written an interesting tract about and for bloggers which can be downloaded via his Wikipedia entry. I know Held only from his academic reputation – but can well imagine that he was seduced by power. And Simon Jenkins’ and Kenneth Roy’s comments this week about Will Hutton’s report on high-pay (for the coalition government) also sugges that Hutton (whose various books in the past 15 years have been marvellous attacks on neo-liberalism and greed) has eventually succumbed to the disease of the rich and powerful - hypocrisy.
But attacks like this are rare – and courageous. Are they the best way to deal with the problem? I don’t know! John Keane (author of a huge recent volume on the Rise and Fall of Democracy) used a slightly different approach in an open letter to David held.

And in that same spirit of agnosticism let me continue the quotes from the article I mentioned yesterday on the stupidity of efficiency.
At the heart of the efficiency error is a dichotomy to do with knowledge and the way we store and use it.
When I discuss knowledge in the context of business I like to refer to “primary” and “secondary” kinds of knowledge. Dinosaurs are a good example of relying exclusively on the primary sort. Primary knowledge is compressed into simple routines. It is the kind of knowledge that says “when this happens, respond by doing x”. Easy. Cheap to store. Easily encoded. Easily replicated. Very easy to manage. And produces the same result every time.
Businesses love this kind of knowledge. It lies at the heart of the dumbing down in every large business. It makes the cost of management lower because you don’t need much management overhead to get consistent results.
Until, of course something changes. As in the environment shifting.
Then all that supremely efficient knowledge is rendered not just useless, but dangerous. Organizations who pride themselves on their efficiency are betting that their environment will justify their knowledge. They have, either explicitly or implicitly, planned that they know the future.
Secondary knowledge, by its nature, is high cost to deploy. It involves lugging around all sorts of unused rules that may or may not ever be deployed in action. There is always a tension between primary and secondary knowledge. Business prefers primary at all times since it is cheaper. Adaptation requires secondary since it allows change. Evolution has used both, but the emphasis is on primary knowledge with the result that failed knowledge implies extinction. Dinosaurs being a good example. Perfect for a very long time. Constant evolution along a path that then became, suddenly, a poor one. Highly efficient. And then not at all efficient.
All of which points us to Taleb’s writings about the Black Swan – the need to think about the unthinkable. Here’s an interesting article of the implications of his argument for management. And also a journal from India with an excellent article about self-development .
Finally a good piece about what's happening to our language.

Friday, March 18, 2011

money, fear, sonorous music and stupid efficiency

Am I the only person who keeps adding books to his Google library (on the 1,000 mark at the moment) – and rarely goes back to read them? I’m going to try to mention the additions here for a week or so – to see if that will encourage me to go back and at least flick the new arrivals.
I have just added two recent books which show how what little democracy there was is being undermined by money and fear. The first is “Democracy Distorted; wealth, influence and democratic politics” by Jacob Rowbottom (2010) which focuses on Britain.
The second is “Freedom for Sale; Why the world is trading democracy for security” by John Kaempfer (2009)

Serendipity is a strange thing. A very sombre and powerful string ensemble piece yesterday morning on “Muzical”, the classical programme which accompanies me here all day here in the mountain house, turned out to be Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen (for 23 string instruments) (von Karajan version)(Kempel version) composed in 1945 in the debris of Germany. We all know about Shostakovitch’s 1941 Leningrad symphony composed during the 900 day siege of that city but this is the first I knew of this great Strauss piece – one of his last. Shortly afterwards I was skimming the work of Ronald Dore – the great specialist on Japan – and, for some reason, decided to click the music link on my site which I rarely access. And there was a string Requiem of a similar harrowing power, composed in 1957 by a Japanese composer of whom I have never heard – Takemitsu. For some reason I thought that Shostakovitch's 8th string quartet was also from the Leningrad siege - but the internet put me right!

Finally – a great post on the Real Economics blog about efficiency
–“ I hate efficiency. I hate it with a passion. It always seems to drive people into making absurd and dangerous decisions. In a world where the future is unknowable, that is where uncertainty reins supreme, it is a very stupid strategy to attempt to be efficient. Dinosaurs were very efficient. Supremely so. They thus ruled the earth for a length of time that makes us look like tiny and insignificant amateurs. Their problem was that they became too efficient. They stopped thinking. They had no back up plan. They had no redundancy. So they could not withstand a shock in their environment. The unknown eventually popped up and rendered all that efficiency as monumentally inefficient. I realize that this is a gross simplification, but bear with me, it’s an analogy.
“Or, for the more modern amongst us, think of the Maginot line. A perfect defense system designed to withstand all that could be thrown against it. But not too good if the enemy simply drives around it.
Efficiency, it seems, is entirely contextual. What works well today and thus appears to be the height of elegant engineering, with efficiency fairly oozing from every corner, will collapse in an undignified heap tomorrow when the earth shifts, the environment or tastes change, or when new technologies simply make it all seem so quaint.
So I hate efficiency because it feels and looks like a fool’s game.
I say keep something in reserve. Because you never know.
The problem is that other people adore efficiency.”
Read the full post here. Definitely a link to make to that term in my sceptic's glossary!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

European understanding

The Guardian has this week started a special series to throw more light for its readers on some European countries. This week it has various journalists in Germany – looking at everything from writing to football; next week France; then Spain and Poland. And they have also set up a subsite dedicated to Europe whose aims are expressed in the following terms
“As well as drilling down into different nations, we are also keen for the site to reflect – and inspire – more wide-ranging pan-European debates about the future of Europe as an idea and as a project, something that feels particularly urgent in this time of economic, political and social flux”.
And they ask for suggestions on writers to use; on themes to focus on; and on journals to link up with – in addition to some such as Der Spiegel and le Monde with which they are already linked.
Certainly their initial focus on particular countries is long overdue – it's actually easier for a Brit to find about what the Chinese are feeling and discussing than people in the various countries of Europe! If you don’t believe that have a look at the reading list in section 6 of my recent briefing paper on administrative reform in China. The Chinese-American migration and intellectual exchange has been a powerful mechanism for that. There seems very little equivalent for Europe. Ralf Dahrendorf ,Tony Judt and Perry Anderson are some of a very small group who have had the ability to focus intellectually on European themes and discussions and communicate them to us clearly. Perry Anderson’s papers on the ongoing debates in various European countries which he brought together in his 2009 book The New Old World are exceptional.

But please no more Euro-turgidity!
But the sub-site’s aim of encouraging “a wide-ranging pan-European debate about the future of Europe as an idea and as a project” seems to me to be getting things upside-down. We’ve had so many of these discussions about “europe as a project”– and it’s just the great and good talking past the public to one another. The great thing about the Guardian’s current series on Germany and the other 3 countries is that it is going into social and individual depth we don’t normally get (from British newspapers – the French and Germans are better at this!). Spending a day with a young Hamburg family was perhaps rather too easy a task . A more challenging and useful task would be to shadow a town politician for a day or so and write it up. If they chose the right (open) people we would get a very good sense of national concerns. The site should build on that – and help us see the commonalities in our everyday concerns. And to do so without the distortion of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen (who all have their own powerful pan-European networks – which would, by the way, make an interesting theme for the site).

The anglo-saxon Bias
The Anglo-Saxon adversarial system of politics affects the way Brits talk and think about public issues. And our linguistic laziness means that, when we look for new ideas, it’s the US literature and practice we turn to (even when, like me, you’ve been out of the country for 20 years). For example, the literature review I started yesterday is almost exclusively American and British. I would like to plug into the thoughts of greens, left and other groups in the heartland of Europe – and learn what they are doing in practical actions (social enterprise), policies and discussions to help shape a shared vision and agenda for social change. Where do I go to find this out? Newspapers and journals are too general – and books so specialised and numerous that it needs a specialist to help. How do I find such people – who want and are able to communicate with me? I know that the discussion groups on the internet are supposed to help – but do not seem to be used by the people I want to get to.
A few years ago, Paul Kingsnorth did a great job in his book “One No; many Yeses” of giving us vignettes of the work going on around the world to deal with the downside of globalisation. We need more of that. And what about the threats faced by local government everywhere?
So that’s three possible themes for the new site. If something coherent can emerge from that, it will begin to make a reality of “Europe as a project”. It has to focus on shared concerns at a local level – not on elevated abstractions.
Certainly I get very frustrated with the anglo-saxon bias of what's on the net. Despite my nomadic existence in central Europe and central Asia, the internet and Amazon have kept me mentally in the anglo-saxon world with its profoundly adversarial systems. And it’s only recently that I have realised how imprisoning that has been for my field of public management reform and interest in social transformation. Scandinavia has always had a more open and consensual approach to social decisions – and Norway in particular retains its distinctive approach. Take the Norwegian Power and Democracy Project of 1998–2003 as an example. In 1997, the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) decided to launch a power and democracy study to analyse Norwegian democracy at the dawn of the twenty-first century (following up on an earlier study in the 1970s). An independent steering committee consisting of five researchers was assigned and 40 books and more than 100 articles/reports were produced as part of the project. That followed the Nordic Free Commune experiment of the 1980s and 1990s. We just don't get to know about such things from British journals and newspapers.

Gated communities
The barrier to our understanding of development in other European countries is not just linguistic. It stems also from the intellectual compartmentalisation (or apartheid) which universities and European networks have encouraged in our elites. European political scientists, for example, have excellent networks but talk in a highly specialised language about recondite topics which they publish in inaccessible language in inaccessible journals. What insights they have about each other’s countries are rarely made available to the wider public. The same is true of the civil service nationals who participate in EC comitology or OECD networks – let alone the myriad professional networks. We talk about gated communities – but they exist virtually as well as physically.

Whose perspective - and voice?
The potentially exciting thing about this venture (as I understand the proposal, it will be a blog site)is that we would hear from than the voices of politicians and journalists. Several of the (ex-pat) respondents on the discussion thread offered to write. Others suggested big names (eg Umberto Eco; Julian Barnes; Claudio Magris; Hans Magnus Enzensburger. I mentioned Geert Mak and Jan Morris). On reflection it would be good to have the contributors to this site being those who know their subject without necessarily being a professional specialist and who can write elegantly (without necessarily being a journalist).
Spiegel and le Monde are easy partners since they already have English versions. But there are a few European level ventures worth plugging into the venture eg Sign and Sight which translates outstanding articles by non-English language authors and Eurozine which is a network of 75 European highbrow journals and translates interesting articles into at least one major European language. I've added these two to the Links on the right-hand column on this blogsite.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

economic aspects of social transformation

A few blogs back I promised to do a short literature review of those who have diagnosed various malaises of contemporary capitalism and are trying to set out ideas for dealing with them. Who is writing about this – and what change visions and processes do they suggest? What commonalities are there? What gaps? These ideas focus variously on economics and political systems – and on individual psychology (not just the Zohar book I mentioned last Thursday but the underestimated Life – and how to survive it from Skynner and Cleese).
The visit to my mountain house distracted me from that endeavour – not just some work around the house but new book arrivals particularly Richard Nisbett’s Geography of Thought which had me gripped for a few hours and then chasing reviews since his thesis that Asians think differently from us is so challenging. Of course I was familiar with the literature on culture (eg de Hofstede; and Trompenaars) but this argument is even more fundamental and links to the recent literature which critiques our categorisation and celebrates holism.
A post in Daniel Little’s excellent blog Understanding Society brought me back to the issue of the social transformation we need – and in particular this passage -
The past thirty years have witnessed the systematic disassembly of the institutions of social democracy in most countries. And the consequences are predictable: more inequality, more deprivation, more severe disparities of life outcomes for different social groups.
What is truly surprising is that there has been so little continuing exploration of alternatives in the intervening two decades. Democratic theorists have explored alternative institutions in the category of deliberative democracy (link), but there hasn't been much visioning of alternative economic institutions for a modern society. We don't talk much anymore about "economic justice," and the case for social democracy has more or less disappeared from public debate. But surely it's time to reopen that public debate.
Perhaps it might be more precise to say that what work there is receives little exposure? Daniel’s post has given me the necessary incentive to make an initial list of some of the economic work.

1. The moderates
Since When Corporations Rule the World (1995) David Korten has been critiquing the operation of companies and setting out alternatives – using both books and a website. He has just published a new book – Agenda for a new economy - much of which can be accessed at Google Scholar. Peter Barnes published in 2006 a thoughtful critique and alternative vision Capitalism 3.0 based on his entrepreneurial experience - all 200 pages of which can be downloaded from here. At a more technical level, Paul Hawken published in 2000 an important book Natural Capitalism which showed what could be done within existing frameworks. And Ernst von Weizsaecker has long been an eloquent spokesman for this approach see the 2009 Factor Five report for the Club of Rome.

In the UK, Will Hutton has been giving us a powerful systemic critique of the coherence of neo-liberal thinking and policies since The State We’re In (1995) although his latest - Them and us (2010) – is weaker on alternatives and fails to mention a lot of relevant work as I spelled out in my review. William Davies published a useful booklet Reinventing the Firm (Demos 2009) which has echoes of Korten.
These are some of the contributions from what we might call the moderate school (politically).

2. The greens
Perhaps the most readable material, however, comes from the Green corner. And, in particular, from an Irish economist Richard Douthwaite whose 2003 book Short Circuit – strengthening local economies for security in an unstable world is a marvellous combination of analysis and case-studies of successful community initatives. And people at the Centre for the advancement of the steady state economy are doing a good job – as is evident from their latest publication Enough is enough (CASSE 2010).

3. The radicals
And then there are the indefatigable writers on the left who are stronger on description than prescription – although David Harvey’s latest book The Enigma of Capital does try to sketch out a few alternatives. And Paul Kingsnorth’s One No – many Yeses; a journey to the heart of the global resistance movement gives a marvellous sense of the energy a lot of people are spending fighting global capitalism in a variety of very different ways.

The pity is that there is not enough cross-referencing by the authors to allow us to extract the commonalities and identify the gaps. Each writer, it seems, has to forge a distinctive slant. Douthwaite is one exception. I've just to started to read the latest Korten book on google and his intro establishes the basic need -
Leadership for transformation must come, as it always does, from outside the institutions of power. This requires building a powerful social movement based on a shared understanding of the roots of the problem and a shared vision of the path to its resolution.
This definition contains three of the crucial ingredients for the social change on the scale we need.
But there are others, one of which has to be an understanding and development of the leadership qualities the task requires. The Zohar book is one of the few which explores this - and also the Robert Quinn book I keep plugging away at. Alaister Mant's Leaders we deserve is another neglected masterpiece. Too many good ideas are killed by the personalities of the leaders. Which neatly brings us back to Daniel Little's reference to "deliberative democracy". Clearly the Anglo-Saxon adversarial system of politics affects the way we talk about public issues. But too little of this particular literature (eg William Isaacs' Dialogue currently lying on my desk with The Appreciative Inquiry Handbook )refers to European practices - which are nearer their ideal. It was, after all, the German Greens who tried to deal with the problematic issue of leadership. And let me notice in passing that too many British writers echo contemporary debates in America simply out of laziness (language). Despite the command I have of French and German, I am as guilty as the rest - as is evident from my library and bibiographies. (Although I did buy a short Jacques Attali book last year on the crisis).
And there was a time when people like Colin Crouch drew our attention to the different types of capitalism - but this (and the deliberative democracy theme) seems to have disappeared. Are our attention spans so short? Or is this down to the media need for fashions?
Basically I am trying to suggest that there is a lot of thinking going on - but it is not easily shared and stored. What can be done about this?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

rustic charms

Suddenly it's more than 20 degrees - so various noises - melting snow; the thump as it lands on the terrace at the back; the gradual exposure of the grass; the dogs luxuriating in the earth and sun. A new calf born yesterday at Viciu's.....
Earlier blogs complained about the backbreaking work involved in having wood as the main heating - but my flabby and fattening body was grateful for the physical toil involved in having a rural retreat.
There must have been a vicarious strand in me since amongst the books I have collected in the past couple of years are quite a few which celebrate nature and isolation. I started with Robert McFarlane's amazing "Mountains of the Mind", then found Roger Deakin's "Wildwood - a journey through trees" and then Richard Mabey's "Beechcombings - the narratives of trees". The latest were McFarlane's "The Wild Places";"Song of the Rolling Earth: A Highland Odyssey" by John Lister-Kay; and Deakin's Notes from Walnut Tree farm.
We all enjoy books about the joys and frustrations of rural living. Peter Mayle made it all fashionable - but there are so many accounts I have in my great library here - Harry Clifton's poetic "On the Spine of Italy - a year in the Abruzzi" (1999); Peter Graham's superb "Mourjou - the life and food of an auvergne village" (1998); Michael Viney's "A Year's Turning" (1996) about life in a remote Irish location to which they moved in the late 1970s. And I've just found Tahir Shah - whose "Caliph's House" and "In Arabian Nights" take us further afield to Morocco. I reamain pretty impractical - just noticing that the toilet is leaking from a crack it has sustained from the cold (I drain it when I'm not here in the winter so I don't understand how that could happen) - and now dreading the repair. But I have a marvellous new axe as a back up in case I bury the head of the one I have irretrievably in a log!
The combination of economic crises, urban pressures and crazy management systems have made "simple living" a more attractive option. Ghazi and Jones's "Downshifting - the guide to happier, simpler living" appeared 12 years ago (1997) - and it was in 1998 that the sociologist Richard Sennett published "The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism" in which he saw soul-destroying consequences in our new work habits,endless hours spent at flexible jobs, performing abstract tasks on computer screens. Last year, in "The Craftsman" Sennett suggested that skilled labour could be a way to resist corporate mediocrity. The environmentalist writer Bill McKibben proposed something similar in "Deep Economy" which condemned the ruinous effects of endless economic expansion and urged readers to live smaller, simpler, more local lives. This artisanal revival has been particularly pronounced among foodies, thanks in part to the writer Michael Pollan, who helped popularize an American variant of the Italian culinary-agrarian movement known as Slow Food. In "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defence of Food" Pollan surveys and explains the excesses of the industrial food chain and praises small farms and local produce.
These ideas have crept farther toward the mainstream in the wake of the economic collapse, which inspired calls for a return to "real work", a return, in other words, to activities more tangible (and, it was hoped, less perilous) than complex swaps of abstract financial products.
Of course, it's easy for me to talk - I'm comfortable financially (as long as the banks don't go bust) - and can always jump into my car and do the odd bit of consultancy in Bulgaria or Macedonia; or take in a concert at Brasov or Bucharest. And, if I had only the village gossip for social contact (rather than the internet) I might be driven up the wall! But for the moment, let me indulge my fancy and be one more small voice arguing for a return to more natural living.
Just in case you haven't noticed, I've cheated - and reproduced my blog of exactly a year ago!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

mansions and wine

At last to the mountain refuge - I was discouraged a couple of weeks back by the forecasts of snow. So this is the first visit since mid January. The snow is still thick around the house – but melting fast. Bottles of tap water which I left in the bathroom are frozen and also upstairs – but not, curiously, in the kitchen (although the water in the kettle was). Apart from a leak sprung by the bath tap, the house has survived the winter in excellent shape – the books unfazed and most of the paintings well protected. Each spring, here in Romania where the seasons are still very distinctive and well….central European… is an amazing rebirth.
Yesterday we visited two superb Romanian mansions – one in a hill above Urlati (a very poor town on the road from Ploiesti in the direction of Buzau) which was the home of one of Romania’s first photographers at the end of the 19th century and gives a marvellous sense of that period.
The other in Ploiesti itself. Excellent guides in both – the first of which had actually helped restore the place (and others). On the way back from Urlati – which is in on the wine foothills – we had some wine-tasting on the main road at the Domeniile Dealu Mare Urlati whose young proprietor Alexandru Marinescu was on hand for a chat – the Merlot rose and Pelin were fragrant and worth buying - at 1.5 euros and 2 euros a litre respectively. It’s interesting that the large Prahova area of Dealu Mare is the current brand name for the good reds in Romania but that they don’t yet really sell on the basis of the regional areas such as Tohani and Urlati – let alone specific vineyards. His wines are available at the Matache market in Bucharest - more here.
Six books waiting for me - including The End of Revolution - China and the limits of modernity by Wang Hui.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

investigative journalism

One of the basic claims of democracy is based on free expression. That, in turn, hinges on a free media. Study after study shows how little of that remains in the US – and how investigative journalism has been driven out by the power of corporate capital which now controls so much of the world’s media. If the previous link doesn;t work, try here It is, therefore, good to know that in at least one country an independent investigative journal has a strong financial record ie France’s Canard Enchaine. Der Spiegel has a good article on how old-fashioned values are still alive and well in one journal – and have governments quaking in their collective shoes. The E-journal Scottish Review (in links on right-hand side) is an example of what can be done with minimal resources on that medium.

At the other end of the scale, you have to read abstruse academic articles to get some insights into the corrupt practices in this part of the world – see this piece on how privatisation and decentralisation strips Romanian forests for private advantage.

And a reminder about the hypocrisy and lies of the US on matters relating to free trade. The painting is another early 20th century Bulgarian one - this time Kodjaimanov
For 30 years, Washington has been shopping a trade-not-aid based economic diplomacy across Latin America and beyond. According to what is generally known as the “Washington consensus”, the US has provided Latin America loans conditional on privatisation, deregulation and other forms of structural adjustment. More recently, what has been on offer are trade deals such as the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: access to the US market in exchange for similar conditions.
The 30-year record of the Washington consensus was abysmal for Latin America, which grew less than 1% per year in per capita terms during the period, in contrast with 2.6% during the period 1960-81. East Asia, on the other hand, which is known for its state-managed globalisation (most recently epitomised by China), has grown 6.7% per annum in per capita terms since 1981, actually up from 3.5% in that same period.
The signature trade treaty, of course, was the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). Despite the fact that exports to the US increased sevenfold, per capita growth and employment have been lacklustre at best. Mexico probably gained about 600,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector since Nafta took effect, but the country lost at least 2m in agriculture, as cheap imports of corn and other commodities flooded the newly liberalised market.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A champion at last

Things are looking up. I’m glad to report on a good-looking Association for independent consultants which is in the process of forming – TA-Consultants United. The list of problematic practices it identifies in the awarding and management of tenders surpasses even mine. It talks strongly about the cowboy companies and has a powerful critique of the drawing up of project specifications -
ToRs are often lacking quality in terms of:
• Prerequisite investments and/or structural changes in organizational development and capacity building are ignored, making it impossible for the project to succeed,
• The relation between tasks to be performed and required competencies of experts
• Expert profiles in ToRs tend to be rigid, standardized and quantitatively focused, rather than actual competence-based
• The selection procedure does not allow for the selection and deployment of the best team
• The current processes block contractors from becoming competitive on the basis of their actual skills and experience
• Bid-evaluators lack technical competence for assessing key methodological issues
• Bid evaluation is not related to modern management insights, for instance in selecting teams rather than individuals

The current CV system/assessment of experts is inappropriate for assessing the quality of an expert:
• Acquired competencies are not identified
• Quantities (years of “experience”) are more important than the quality of experience
• There are apparently no systems to assess and value comparable experience
• There is currently no acceptable system of performance evaluation
• Referees collection and proof of employment are arbitrary and bureaucratic rather than functional
It needs 300 paid-up members to get off the ground. Very well worth support - for less than 200 euros a year!
The graphic is one by the great Boris Angelushev I discovered earlier this year in Sofia. He was trained in Berlin in the early 1920s at the same time as Kathe Kollwitz

Thursday, March 10, 2011

back to social change

Time out from technical Assistance – for those interested, my further thoughts of the last few days on what more the EC should be doing to sharpen up its effectiveness in institution-building in the sorts of countries I've been working in are posted as a key paper on my website
Serendipity is the great things about libraries and second hand-bookshops. The hard commercial sells are absent – and we alight instead on the old books brought in by accident. Last week I rejoined the British Council library here (which, unlike the Sofia branch, is still stocking books!) and took home a 2004 paperback Spiritual Capital – wealth we can live by (Danah Zohar) on the basis of its promising opening pages. The author’s 5 year old son wanted to know why we had a life – and that brought home to the author the pointlessness (if not poison) of so much modern living – and how the selfishness of modern capitalism might be modified. Like a lot of people now, this has become a central issue for me.
The book itself disappointed – not least for the reasons I have criticised so many books for - failure to mention other relevant texts. Although the book mentions “stewardship”, it completely fails to mention the writings of Robert Greenleaf and also, despite its subtitle, Paul Elkan’s Natural Capitalism (2000) – let alone such green texts as Richard Douthwaite’s (whose latest can be read here)
As befits a psychologist, Zohar focuses on motivations – and has indeed some very interesting stuff on that. For the last few years I’ve been struggling with this subject (neglected I feel in the literature on public management) and had identified 7 different motives in table 1 on page 15 of this paper. Zohar has 16! Of course it is good for political scientists and Institution Builders like myself to be reminded that all change comes from individuals. But, as the literature on capacity development recognises, behavioural and social change operates at two other levels as well – the organisational (which is shaped by a combination of corporate governance and management systems); and societal. In November I posed four questions about social change.
• Why do we need major change in our systems?
• Who or what is the culprit?
• What programme might start a significant change process?
• What mechanisms (process or institutions) do we need to implement such programmes?

That blog also indicated some relevant texts. I need now to return to these questions – and make the link between the malaise in overtly kleptocratic regimes and the malaise from which so many western societies are now suffering. Most of the literature about social change is written from one of the three perspectives I have mentioned (micro; macro or meso) – Robert Quinn is one of the few who has looked at the area between two of them. His Change the world; how ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary results is an excellent antidote for those who are still fixated on the expert model of change – those who imagine it can be achieved by “telling”, “forcing” or by participation. Quinn exposes the last for what it normally is (despite the best intentions of those in power) – a form of manipulation – and effectively encourages us, through examples, to have more faith in people. As the blurb says – “the idea that inner change makes outer change possible has always been part of spiritual and psychological teachings. But not an idea that’s generally addressed in leadership and management training. Quinn looks at how leaders such as Christ, Gandhi and Luther King have mobilised people for major change – and suggests that, by using 8 principles, “change agents” are capable of helping ordinary people to achieve transformative change. These principles are -
• Envisage the productive community
• Look within
• Embrace the hypocritical self
• Transcend fear
• Embody a vision of the common good
• Disturb the system
• Surrender to the emergent system
• Entice through moral power

Is it people who change systems? Or systems which change people? Answers tend to run on ideological grounds - individualists tend to say the former; social democrats the latter. And both are right! Change begins with a single step, an inspiring story, a champion. But, unless the actions “resonate” with society, they will dismissed as mavericks, “ahead of their time”.
I am now working on a simple task which I haven't seen attempted before - to identify in one short paper the various texts which seem to me relevant to the issue of social change (covering all three levels mentioned in this blog)and to look at the interface between them.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

harlots of the aid business - part IX

I was today reminded of a useful EC forum for those interested in capacity development – capacity4dev – which has a special section on the ongoing reform to technical assistance I have spoken about. Two years ago it published Guidelines for Delegation staff about this - which is useful for outsiders like myself.
Insofar as I understand the EC reform, it seems to boil down to one analytical statemenent and four injunctions (or am I being unfair??). The basic analysis is that the system is fine; it’s people (implementation) that are screwing up. The four injunctions are -
• avoid supply-driven solutions - make sure it's the beneficiary who defines the project
- „Get the project design right”
• „select the right consultants”
• „Allow them flexibility” (at least in the inception period)

The strategy (and the Court of Auditors’ 2007 Report) does actually answer a lot of the complaints which I’ve been making about the EC system of technical assistance. I should be happy - but find myself deeply uneasy. I am trying to explore why this is so. Basically, I think, because the document hardly mentions (let alone analyses) the commercial companies and the (freelance) consultants on which the entire system hinges. On the few occasions consultants are mentioned, it is with some embarrassment – as if we were harlots.
Not surprisingly therefore, the Backbone strategy - which is now the bible for the staff of the 81 European Delegations throughout the world - fails to explore its own role in ensuring that people like myself have the relevant information, knowledge, skills and…attitudes. I’ve been 20 years in this game – and only once has a company involved me in a sharing of experience. And once too a desk officer in a European Delegation asked me to attend on their behalf a conference about decentralisation. Their Guidelines say nothing to encourage such practices – nor to ensure that the methodology of the company bids add any value. At the moment these are prepared formulaistically by staff with little or no experience on the ground – and yet are considered part of the contractual obligations which bind new Team Leaders. If the design and individual experts are indeed critical – then why award so many points in the evaluation for a methodology which is just a paper exercise in which the consulants play little or no part?
And trying to measure the breadth of the professional experience and/or understanding which experts have about “good practice” is a futile exercise – except when the beneficiary expressly (but rarely) asks for that. There is no magic bullet – that’s why the Bliar slogan “what works” was so wrong – so technocratic – reflecting the illusion that, if only we look hard enough, we can find the technical solution to governance problems. “What works” is, first, someone’s judgement. If it’s a fair judgement, the success will reflect a particular context; a set of actors; and a particular script. Elsewhere that script may not translate; some of the actors (or props) may be missing. (Although sharing of experience does encourage and help us all to think more critically and creatively about what we are doing. And it is rather odd that the EC shows so little interest in the impact its institutional reform efforts have had……)
Skills and attitudes are the key - whether the consultant is sufficiently sensitive to the local context and networks to be able to identify opportunities and networks and has the skills to use them at the right time and manner. I have tried to give some examples in the latest draft of my paper for the next NISPAcee Conference.
Again, I don't see that as one of the criteria recommended in the Backbone strategy for selecting an expert - and how, in any event, could that be measured in a way to satisfy the procurement system???? One of the wisest comments I have seen on this whole issue is this - Bryn Tucknott comment on Robert Chambers' paper
I have long given up on the quest to find the one universal tool kit that will unite us all under a perfect methodology… as they will only ever be as good as the users that rely on them. What is sorely missing in the development machine is a solid grounding in ethics, empathy, integrity and humility.