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!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Myopic General class - time to let the troops loose


For those not aware, the heading I gave to yesterday’s post was from "that play” by Shakespeare (it’s apparently bad luck for actors to refer to the play’s name!!)
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

I was pleased to find out that I will not be the only one in Varna next week questioning the conventioanl wisdom. In a quieter way, another paper – by Canadian Professor Leslie Pal – sets out some of the instruments which have been used by the OECD to try to get the sort of public management reform it thinks necessary. It looks at an important report OECD published in 2009 which, unfortunately, is behind a pay wall. But his paper summarises its main themes and argues that -
the OECD report contains a direct critique of New Public Management (NPM) and three questions that governments were urged to ask themselves in the search for a new governance paradigm. The critique of NPM noted that due “to lack of data and numerous challenges in measuring outputs and outcomes, governments have a difficult time in determining whether the reforms have really resulted in efficiency gains.” But it goes further: New Public Management has exacerbated the traditional separation between politics and administration, between policy decisions and their implementation. Dismantling organisations also sometimes led to a loss of continuity, institutional memory and long-term capacity. The focus on contracting and reporting may have come at the expense of coherence of strategy, continuity of values and connecting public interest to individual motivation. In addition, many governments have not developed sufficient oversight capacity, increasing the threat of provider capture. Often, governments adopted reform instruments or ideas from the private sector or from other governments without regard for the country context and/or understanding the inherent limitations and weaknesses of these instruments. (OECD 2009a: 33)
In a sober tone reminiscent of (its earlier neo-liberal tomb) Modernising Government, the report asked whether a “new paradigm” was needed: “…OECD member countries may need to reassess what has worked well in past 25 years, what has not and why, what might be discarded from those reforms, what needs to be adjusted, what might be further built upon and what are the conditions for success.” The three questions were (1) How can countries achieve a better balance between government, markets and citizens?, (2) What governance capacities or competencies are needed for dealing with global challenges?, and (3) How can a continued focus on efficiency and effectiveness be reconciled with upholding other fundamental public service values? The discussion in connection with the third question was telling. While governments would continue to emphasize performance in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, the concept of performance – in light of the challenges of the financial crisis – would have to be broadened to include a government’s ability to uphold “core values such as accountability, transparency and equity.”
I spent the morning reading other papers Professor Pal has written exporing the insidious role the OECD has played in creating what the French would call „La Pensee Unique” in this field of government systems - here and here
I hope to give some more of his analysis tomorrow. I was hoping his material would give me the missing inspiration for the short presentation I have to do at Varna. What, basically, am I beefing about? What am I asking for? A skype discussion with Daryoush helped me on my way. My plea seems to be for a dialogue about better governance with new actors. At the moment the dialogue is set by academics and top civil servants (OECD). What we might call the “brain”. Completely missing is the "backbone" – middle-level officials, politicians, citizens and… consultants like me. In the EC system consultants (“experts”) are the foot soldiers – above us are battalions (companies and Delegations); Generals who are swapping stories and drinking wine – and academics writing about the battles – and noone talks with the troops!! Academics and officials have their (subsidised) Conferences and fora – but not the troopers!
The recent report of the OECD’s Network on Governance’s Anti-corruption Task Team on Integrity and State Building makes part of the point for me
As a result of interviews with senior members of ten donor agencies, it became apparent that those engaged in anti-corruption activities and those involved in the issues of statebuilding and fragile states had little knowledge of each other’s approaches and strategies
.Departmental silos are one of the recurring themes in the literature of public administration and reform – but it is often academia which lies behind this problem with its overspecialisation. „Fragile states” and „Statebuilding” are two new phrases which have grown up only in the last few years – and „capacity development” has now become a more high-profile activity. There are too many specialised groups working on building effective institutions in the difficult contexts my paper focusses on - and too few actually sharing their experiences. We need a road map – and more dialogue!

On a different note, I’ve raged before about management. But this post is a real eye-opener about trends in hgher educartion
As faculty jobs have become increasingly contingent and precarious, administration has become anything but. Formerly, administrators were more or less teachers with added responsibilities; nowadays, they function more like standard corporate managers — and they’re paid like them too. Once a few institutes made this switch, market pressures compelled the rest to follow the high-revenue model, which leads directly to high salaries for administrators. Even at nonprofit schools, top-level administrators and financial managers pull down six- and seven-figure salaries, more on par with their industry counterparts than with their fellow faculty members. And while the proportion of tenure-track teaching faculty has dwindled, the number of managers has skyrocketed in both relative and absolute terms. If current trends continue, the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges.

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