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!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where the buck stops

In the 1970s and 80s, those of us struggling to reform the state (both national and local) talked about “generating understanding and commitment” and of the three basic tests for new proposals – Feasibility, legitimacy and support. “Does it work?” “Does it fall within our powers? And “will it be accepted?” The World Bank’s Governance Reforms under real world conditions (to which I have referred several times on the blog) is written around the sorts of questions we consultants in transitions country deal with on a daily basis -
1. How do we build broad coalitions of influentials in favour of change? What do we do about powerful vested interests?
2. How do we help reformers transform indifferent, or even hostile, public opinion into support for reform objectives?
3. How do we instigate citizen demand for good governance and accountability to sustain governance reform?

The paper by Matthew Andrews which starts part 2 of the book weaves an interesting theory around 3 words – „acceptance”, „authority” and „ability”. What Andrews means by these 3 terms is sketched out as follows -

Is there acceptance of the need for change and reform?
• of the specific reform idea?
• of the monetary costs for reform?
• of the social costs for reformers?
• within the incentive fabric of the organization (not just with individuals)?

Is there authority:
• does legislation allow people to challenge the status quo and initiate reform?
• do formal organizational structures and rules allow reformers to do what is needed?
• do informal organizational norms allow reformers to do what needs to be done?

Is there ability: are there enough people, with appropriate skills,
• to conceptualize and implement the reform?
• is technology sufficient?
• are there appropriate information sources to help conceptualize, plan, implement, and institutionalize the reform?

Obviously, the world of Technical Assistance tends to assume that it is the latter which is the problem – since the people there who act as experts are strong on training. In the paper I referred to on Monday, Sorin Ionita applies this framework to Romania and suggests that
constraints on improving of policy management are to be found firstly in terms of low acceptance (of the legitimacy of new, objective criteria and transparency); secondly, in terms of low authority (meaning that nobody knows who exactly is in charge of prioritization across sectors, for example) and only thirdly in terms of low technical ability in institutions
The final version of my NISPAcee paper tries to identify all the papers which have assessed the impact of all the efforts to put government processes in transition countries on a more open and effective basis. In particular I was interested to find those which actually looked critically at the various tools used by Technical Assistance eg rule of law; civil service reform; training; impact assessment etc. One of my arguments is that that it is only recently that such a critical assessment has started – eg of civil service reform.
The one common thread in those assessments which have faced honestly the crumbling of reform in the region (Cardona; Ionitsa; Manning;Verheijen) is the need to force the politicians to grow up and stop behaving like petulant schoolboys and girls. Manning and Ionitsa both emphasise the need for transparency and external pressures. Cardona and Verheijen talk of the establishment of structures bringing politicians, officials, academics etc together to develop a consensus. As Ionita puts it succinctly –
If a strong requirement is present – and the first openings must be made at the political level – the supply can be generated fairly rapidly, especially in ex-communist countries, with their well-educated manpower. But if the demand is lacking, then the supply will be irrelevant.
On Sunday, when rain washed away the tennis at Queen's, I enjoyed watching this great spontaneous performance on a similar occasion some years back.

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