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, 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

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