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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, October 30, 2011

Can training make a difference? Part IV

Having suggested that few new Member States in central and eastern Europe seem to have managed yet to establish a proper training system for its public officials – and that the European Commission’s type of Technical Assistance has to take part of the blame for this – the following questions seem to be in order –
• Are there any examples of a relevant and sustainable training system in the new member states?
• If so, how did they manage to achieve this position?
• What is the status of such training systems in the older member states?
• Through what process have they gone to achieve their various present positions?
• What lessons would all this suggest for those countries which are still stuck at the drip-feed stage of development?

These are actually very difficult questions to answer – since so little is available - and I have spent the morning wrestling with them. In 1997 SIGMA published a couple of relevant papers – one setting out the various choices and issues involved in setting up a modern training structure; the second giving vignettes of each of the training centres for civil servants in OECD countries. Since then, nothing.
With all the support given over the decades by the European Commission to networks of practitioners, you would have thought that someone by now (eg Christopher Demmke of EIPA) would have recognised the value of a paper on the subject. And NISPAcee is, after all, the Network of Institutes and Schools of Public Administration in central and Eastern Europe but has not undertaken such a comparative (and sensitive) analysis – although its journal does contain the odd profile. There is also the rather elusive Directors of Institutes and Schools of Public Administration (DISPA) whose latest gathering this month in Warsaw was captured on the site of the Hungarian Institute but which, equally, has never risen to the challenge of commissioning a comparative analysis. So I have to venture into this field with all my imperfect knowledge.
The situation of the central PA training institutions in the EU Member States in terms of their role, tasks, funding and other characteristics varies from one country to another. And there have been considerable changes in the legal structure of central bodies for civil service training -
• A Civil Service College in Britain (for senior civil servants) was first part of the Cabinet Office; then became the Centre for Management and Policy Studies; then the National School of Government which was a free-standing Department; was then slated for abolition in March 2011 but was instead transferred back to the Cabinet office.
• The Dutch, Finnish and Swedish Institutes have all been privatized over the past decade.
• Romania’s Institute for National Administration was moved to the Civil Service Agency a couple of years ago after a period of some tension with that body.
• The Bulgarian IPA now finds itself back with the Council of Ministers – having over the past 5 years been part of the (now abolished Ministry for Administrative Reform) and then of the Ministry of Education.
• The Hungarian structure has been subject to major changes recently - with first a university unit being merged with a national training centre and now the integration of national and local government training systems
• The Czech structure was also changed the last year. There were two institutes before: one under the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, Department of the Institute of the State Administration and an independent Institute for Local Administration in Prague. They merged the last year and now there is only one institute under the Ministry of the Interior – Institute for Public Administration Prague.
• The Estonian IPA seems to have been absorbed into the Prime Minister’s Office

Given that most managerial theorists are a bit cynical about organizational changes, it is perhaps ironic that the training centres which are supposed to be helping state bodies become more effective have themselves been subject to so much structural change.
My recent personal experience of central european training systems is limited to 3-4 countries – otherwise I rely on anecdotal impressions from colleagues. I therefore hesitate to identify success stories. I hear good things about the Lithuanian and Slovenian systems but can say nothing about their trajectories – or the lessons they might have for others. In the next post, I will try, however, to present a "provocation" for those countries stuck at the drip-feed stage of development.
In the meantime I really would welcome comment from those readers who have experience and views in this field. I know you're there! I'm pleased to say that my readership has doubled in the past few weeks - but the blog does need (and appreciates) feedback

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