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!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

making training effective - Part II


Part I suggested that the billions spent by the EC on training public officials over the past decade or so in ex-communist countries have not created sustainable training systems there - ie centres for training public officials whose full-time staff contain both trainers and specialists in the field of public management – and who actually play a role in helping state bodies operate effectively. Most of the new member and Accession states have a central training Institute – but its staff are small and (in all but a few cases) administrators who bring in public officials and academics for a few hours to deliver lectures. Little "needs assessment" can be carried out (an annual schedule is negotiated between the Institute and the Council of Ministers); Ministries have a training budget and pay for the attendance of those officials it allows to attend selected courses (whether at the Institute or other centres). It is virtually impossible for such a system to carry out serious evaluation of course content and of trainers – its staff lack the specialist knowledge (and status) to question, challenge and encourage. Such a system also focuses on individual needs – and is unable to input to discussions about the development of state capacity or help state bodies tackle their organisational problems.
In the older member States, such Institutes have played an important role in setting a vision for the improvement of public services; in monitoring developments and assisting the exchange of experience. At the time, however, such bodies were being established in the ex-communist countries, the new fashion amongst western consultants was for slimline, competitive training; the academic community in the east simply had no relevant experience to offer; and governments were offloading rather than building functions. The result was underfunded training centres.
With budget cuts of the past few years, the EC Structural Funds are being increasingly used to substitute for mainline funding. Given the competitive basis of the procurement, what this means is that private companies (rather than the Institute) are being paid to act as the administrators – undermining the possibility of the national Institute developing its capacity. One other result is an endless repetition of training the trainers programmes and Manual drafting. Whatever happened to the previous trained trainers and drafted manuals?
Of course, the picture is slightly more nuanced. Some countries have Institutes on the French model – which combine undergraduate teaching with short courses and have therefore a core of academic staff. Poland is the prime example (that academic bias can, of course, bring its own problems!) And Ministries of Finance and Justice tend to have their own training centres, staffed by experts in the relevant field. But the general picture stands.

Is there a different model – in these times of crisis? Only on three conditions -
1. if the development of state capacity is taken seriously – by officials, politicians and academics
2. if there is greater clarity about the role of training in individual learning and organisational development
3. if some academic sacred cows are sacrificed

I assume all new member states have the sort of EC-funded Operational Programmes which Bulgaria and Romania have – with themes such as Administrative Capacity and Human resource management (to mention two). Hundreds of millions of euros are allocated to private consultancies to carry out projects of training and capacity building with state bodies as the clients.
In highly politicised countries such as Romania, however, building capacity is not taken seriously. As Tom Gallagher’s most recent and powerful book on the country vividly shows, there are more private agendas at work eg loyalty to the figure who put you in your position. And those academic social scientists who have resisted the temptation to go into consultancy are, understandably, more interested in achieving status with their western colleagues than in making forays into the real world of public administration. Again I speak generally – and from my knowledge more of southern than northern new member states.
As far as training is concerned, it is remarkable (given how much money is spent on it) how little discussion there is of its role and practices in new member states. Training can be effective only under certain circumstances. The very language trainers use – "training needs assessment" – begs the question of whether training is in fact the appropriate intervention. It is the easy option – it assumes that it is the lower levels who are deficient whereas the real issue may be organisational systems or the performance of higher management. I was recently in charge of a project designed to give such an institute the capacity to assist public officials at regional and local levels in the effective implementation of the complex EC Acquis (eg the various legal requirements of safety, consumer rights, equal opportunities, environment). The project was designed as a training project when, for me, the issue was totally different. I tried to develop my argument in several discussion papers but could not, for various reasons, reach the right people for a discussion. Amongst the points I was trying to make were -
• Organisations (state bodies) perform only when they are given clear (and limited) goals – and the commensurate resources and management support. This requires the systems and skills of strategic management.
• This can be developed only through senior management being properly encouraged to prioritise and draft realistic action plans – based on project management principles.
• The core mission of Institutes of Public Administration should be to encourage and help senior management acquire these skills
• But they cannot do this as long as they are trapped in an administrative role – and traditional teaching philosphies
What I remember is the anger I aroused at our final conference from a Professor of Law when I dared to say that state bodies should recognise they cannot implement the acquis in its totality (even with the few opt-outs negotiated) and should prioritise.
I will continue the argument in a future post.

Culture cornerI’m glad to say that art galleries continue to open here in Sofia. I had been disappointed earlier in the year to encounter a nearby gallery which seemed to have closed down but yesterday discovered that it had, some months ago, re-opened under new ownershop and is a charming visit. It is Gallery-Museum" CLASSICA" at 32 Venelin Str., Sofia near the football stadium at Eagle Bridge. Its old website can still be seen here with some of the paintings still on offer. Young Leta and her mother are delightful guides and hosts.

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