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, November 28, 2011

A Citizen's Bible?

I have to confess to some ennui – like my gout, an affliction of the privileged! Perhaps the absence of the edge the white wine brought to my pallet accounts for a certain reduction in zest. More likely, I have simply run out of „projects”. A daily blog no longer supplies the focus.

In March last year I suggested that, as both mainstream economics and psychology were undergoing major challenge, it was time that the scholastic discipline of public management had this sort of overhaul The only popular book on the subject I can think of was Reinventing Government (1991) by David Osbourne and Ted Gaebler – which did not, however, attempt an overview of the topic but was rather proselytise for neo-liberalism.
Economics and psychology, of course, are subjects dear to the heart of everyone – and economists and psychologists figures of both power and ridicule. Poor old public administration and its experts are hardly in the same league! But not only does noone listen to them – the scholars are embarrassed to be caught even writing for a bureaucratic or political audience.
And yet the last two decades have seen ministries and governments everywhere embark on major upheavals of administrative and policy systems – the very stuff of public administration. But the role of the scholars has (unlike the 2 other disciplines) been simply to observe, calibrate and comment. No theory has been developed by scholars equivalent to the power of the "market”, "competitive equilibrium” or "the unconscious” – unless, that is, you count Weber’s "rational-legal bureaucracy” or Robert Michels "iron law of oligarchy”. Somehow Lindblom's "disjointed incrementalism" never caught on as a public phrase!
Those behind the marketising prescriptions of New Public Management (NPM) were not from the public admin stable – but rather from Public Choice Economics and from the OECD – and the role of PA scholars has been map its rise and apparent fall and (occasionally) to deflate its pretensions. At its best, this type of commentary and analysis is very useful – few have surpassed Chris Hood’s masterly dissection of NPM 20 years ago. This set out for the first time the basic features of (and arguments for) the disparate elements which had characterised the apparently ad-hoc series of measures seen in the previous 15 years in the UK, New Zealand and Australia – and then suggests that the underlying values of NPM (what he calls the sigma value of efficiency) are simply one of three clusters of adminstrative values – the other two being concerned with rectitude (theta value) and resilience (lamda value). Table 2 of the paper sets this out in more detail.
The trick (as with life) is to get the appropriate balance between these three. Any attempt to favour one at the expense of the others (NPM) will lead inevitably to reaction and is therefore unstable.
This emphasis on the importance of balance was the focus of a very good (but neglected) paper which Henry Mintzberg published in 2000 (which I’ve mentioned before on the blog) about the Management of Government which starts with the assertion that it was not capitalism which won in 1989 but "the balanced model” ie a system in which there was some sort of balance between the power of commerce, the state and the citizen. Patently the balance has swung too far in the intervening 20 years!
Incidentally I see from Mintzbergs (rather disappointing) website that he is working on a book on this theme with the title Rebalancing Society; radical renewal beyond Smith and Marx. Mintzberg is a very sane voice in a mad world – ├ís is obvious from this article on managing quietly and his ten musings on management.
Hood elaborates on these three sets of values in the book he published at the same time with Michael Jackson - Administrative Argument (sadly out of print) - when he set out 99 (conflicting) proverbs used in organisational change.
In 2007, Russell Ackoff, the US strategic management guru, published a more folksy variant of this proverbs approach – The F Laws of management a short version of which can be read here. We desperately need this sort of approach applied to the "reformitis” which has afflicted bureaucrats and politicians in the past 20 years.

One of the few claims I feel able to make with confidence about myself is that I am well-read (see the (admittedly out-of-date annotated bibliography for change agents on my website). But I know of no book written for the concerned citizen which gives a realistic sense BOTH of the forces which constrain political action AND of the possibilities of creating a more decent society.
A book is needed which –
• Is written for the general public
* is not associated with discredited political parties (which, by definition, sell their souls)
• Sets out the thinking which has dominated government practices of the past 20 years; where it has come from; and what results it has had (already well done in academia see the Pal paper on the role of the OECD)
• Gives case studies – not of the academic sort but more fire in the belly stuff which comes, for example, from the pen of Kenneth Roy in the great crusading Emag he edits and eg the tale which should be shouted from the rooftops of the collusion of so many public figures with the activities of the cowboys who run privatised companies which are trying to muscle in on (and make profit from) public services.

Perhaps I should try to produce such a book? Various authors have already put in place some of the building blocks – eg Peter du Gay ("come back bureaucracy"); Chris Pollitt (in The Essential Public Manager); some of the work on public value by Mark Moore and others; even Geoff Mulgan's Good and Bad Power (which, sadly, I found impossible to finish.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Social Science as Sorcery


This is a period of my life when I try to sort out the sense and the nonsense from what I have absorbed from the social science literature which I first started to take seriously some 50 years ago. In those days, economics and the study of organisations were the focus of serious intellectual study – but by a tiny minority and in a highly rarified atmosphere. The 1960s was, however, when social science teaching started to expand in universities and make claims for itself which have only recently started to be questioned. A tiny minority of courageous academics did try to blow the whistle earlier - in particular Prof Stanislav Andreski in his magnificent 1972 book Social Science as Sorcery.
The Economics trade has been under increasing attack for about a decade – from behavioural economists and others – but its pretensions blown apart by the ongoing global crisis. But management thinking has, arguably, done equal damage to our societies and has escaped proper scrutiny - which is why I want to draw your attention to Chris Grey's A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organisations which I found myself this week reading for the third time in a short period (a first for me). Although I;ve mentioned the book before, this is the first time I have tried to capture some of the more powerful points it makes.
• "imagine a world where the thing which dominated it (God; the Party) was written about in one of three ways. One was like a bible, very heavy and dorthodox. The second was amusing and readable but didn’t tell you anything you couldn’t think for yourself. The third seemed to say some things you wouldn’t think yourself and suggested flaws in the Bible but you couldn’t understand it because it was so obscurely written. Such is the literature of organisations - in which we live our lives and yet are served by only Textbooks; pop management; and unreadable scholarly books or articles".
• Writers on organisations belong to one of two schools – those who believe "there exists an observable, objective organisational reality which exists independent of organisation theory. The task of OT is to uncover this reality and discover the laws by which it operates – and perhaps then to predict if not control future events. They tend to favour quantitative research. These are the positivists. Then there is a second camp which denies this scientific view – they might be called constructivists or relativists since, for them, organisational reality is constructed by people in organisations and by organisation theory”.
• The history of organisation theory you find in textbooks generally starts with the concept of "bureaucracy” as defined by Weber and with that of "scientific management” as set out by FW Taylor - both of whom were active in a 25 year period from the late 1880s to the end of the first world war, one as a (legal) academic in Prussia, the other as an engineer and early consultant in American steel mills in Pennsylvania.
Weber was curious about the various motives there have been over history and societies for obedience. Why exactly have we accepted the authority of those with power? His answer gave us a typology of authority we still use today – "traditional", "charismatic" and what he called "rational-legal” which he saw developing in his time. A system of (fair) rules which made arbitrary (privileging) behaviour difficult. But this was an "ideal type” (ie a model) – not necessarily a precise description or prescription. Indeed studies from the mid 1950s showed just how much informal power there was in bureacracies.
Taylor worked in an industry where it was normal for workers to organise their own work; and where owners tended to be Presbyterean and workers catholic immigrants. Taylor reckoned there was a lot of slacking going on – and applied a "scientific” approach to devise standards and measures of performance (time and motion) as well as "scientific” selection of workers and a strict separation of workers and managers.
• This caused strong reactions not only amongst workers but from many owners and only survived thanks to the production needs of the First World War
• The "evacuation of meaning” from work was intensified by Fordism.
• the "human resource” approach to management which followed was not the fundamental break which the textbooks portray but rather a cleverer legitimisation of management power – as was the cultural management (and TQM) of the latter part of the 20th century.
• Although managers call the shots, their organisational fashions always fail – because of unintended effects
• Business schools do not produce better managers – but rather give the breeed legitimisation; self-confidence; a shared world-view and a common (mystifying) language

One quote perhaps captures his argument "For all the talk about new paradigms, contemporary organisation theory and management method remain remarkably unchanged from their classical roots….because the underlying philosophy of instrumental rationality and control remains firmly in the ascendant”

In the 1970s we had people like Ivan Illich and Paolo Freire exposing the emptiness of the doctrines which sustained the power of education and health systems. We now desperately need people like this to help us tear apart the arbitrary assumptions which sustain the legitimacy of the new priests of technocracy. Daniel Dorling's recent book Injustice - why social inequality persists is exceptional because he tries to identify and then challenge the belief systems which sustain our present inequities.

There are hundreds of thousands of academics receiving public money to teach and research so-called social "sciences" in universities and public institutions. The vast majority of them, whether they realise it or not, have been part of a large brain-washing exercise. A few of them only have broken ranks - not just the economists I have mentioned but those (generally American) sociologists who, for a few years, have been advocating what they call "public sociologies". Michael Burrawoy has been one of the main protagonists. Noone, however, should be under any illusions about the difficulties of making an intellectual challenge on this field of management and organisation studies in which so many brains, reputations and careers are now entrenched

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Living without the luxuries


Monday early saw me at the Military hospital again – this time to a floor so munificent it must have been designed for the Generals and Admirals! High uric acid was confirmed and I was referred to a specialist colleague who has put me on a diet for a few weeks which excludes alcohol and meat. What a torture to be in Bulgaria and denied access to its superb wines and rakias! Particulary after rediscovering the shop which supplies Karlovo wines straight from the barrel! And ironic that the post from a year ago reproduced the text from a gravestone which celebrated someone's skills in producing drink
Reminds me of the refrain in my favourite Romanian poem – "cut out the wine!”.
The post from the 21st is also worth looking at again - it traced the writing over the past 50 years which has tried (unsuccessfully it seems) to persuade us to live a simpler and more social life
The New Yorker has a good piece of background reporting on one of the key figures behind the Occupy Wall St movement.

And a UK Think Tank has issued a report on some of the elements of the "good society” which has become an important theme in one strand of social democratic re-thinking in Europe.

It’s nice to be able to report on one celebrity figure actually helping to create a more sustainable form of housing.

Finally, it's the time of the year when Vihra of the Astry Gallery here delights us with her 30by30 annual exhibition The sketch is an Ilyia Beshkov - very appropriate!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

mainline medical experience


So many books and paintings accumulated in 7 months in Sofia - that moving flats (back to the warmer one I had 3 years ago) proved more strenuous than I had imagined. Perhaps that’s why my big toe decided to swell – and led to more contact with the medical systems here in Sofia. The local medical centre decided after only a brief conversation that this was not for them and directed me to the Military Hospital nearby. It must be one of the largest buildings in the city – only a couple of bus-stops from the new flat off Hristo Botev Bvd. A friendly receptionist and passerby had me at a doctor in a few minutes who decided I needed to see a dermatologist. It was 13.50 when I reached the relevant corridor – and became an early part of a queue which steadily built up over the next 45 minutes with no sign of life inside the door a notice on which told us that consultations started at 14.00. Eventually a couple of women arrived – and, after 10 minutes, started to take people. I was told that I needed to have a blood test and to return with the result at 14.00 next day. A note was duly written specifying the checks which were needed after which I asked about payment. I was told that the charge was 15 euros and that I would have to go the 18th floor to make the payment – if, that is, I wanted a receipt. As I didn’t, the payment was made on the spot. I have to wonder hpw many others do the same thing. It depends presumably on whether the cash is subsequently reimbursed. The doctor gave me her business card and indicated her mobile number.
The “army laboratory” was closed by the time I reached it. At 08.30 the next day, I therefore joined another queue which moved quickly and paid another 15 euros to a receptionist who duly typed up the specification. After a 5 minute wait, I was admitted to the surgery – and asked for the doctor’s name (which was clearly not on the note she had written). Any statistics will therefore show the amount of blood tests given – but will be unable to attribute the source of demand.

At 11.00 I returned, as requested, for the result; and at 14.00 presented myself at the doctor’s cabinet clutching said results. I was alone – and again no sign of life. Another friendly doctor checked and told me the doctor had left the hospital for the day - it transpired that her daughter was ill and she had forgotten about the appointment. I have to return at 08.30 Monday – although I was duly warned that the people I am dealing with are diagnosticians only and that I will need to be referred elsewhere for treatment.

This compartmentalization is what I find so difficult about the medical systems everywhere – in Scotland I had a MRI scan for my weak knees a few years back and all the guy could tell me was that I had no physical debility. No advice on other options to pursue. I have had to assume that it is arthritic. Not surprising that I have lost confidence in medics. Either they are generalists – or diagnosticians – who merely refer. Or specialists who are trained only to identify and deal with their own specialism. As the old truism has it – “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”! Apparently we owe this saying to Maslow – of self-actualisation fame

Not much time for thinking or reading about weightier matters – but a couple of posts which seem to me to go to the essence of the Euro crisis and also here.

The Western interventions of the past 15 years have seen a lot of political and academic rationalisations and protests; and few considered analyses. A recent, short book by a couple of people with very extensive personal experience promises to right the balance. It’s “Can Intervention Work?” A New York Times article had this to say about it -
Rory Stewart castigates the international community for its irrelevant data sets, flow charts and attempts to define “best practices.” He worries that “a culture of country experts has been replaced by a culture of consultants” who travel everywhere with jargon: “Lofty abstractions such as ‘ungoverned space,’ ‘the rule of law’ and ‘the legitimate monopoly on the use of violence’ are so difficult to apply to an Afghan village that it was almost impossible to know when they were failing.” At Harvard, where he directed a human rights center, Stewart struggled to convince his congenitally optimistic American students of his stark conclusion: “The international community necessarily lacked the knowledge, the power and the legitimacy to engage with politics at a local provincial level.” If we are to intervene at all, we must do so with modest expectations and a sure sense that “less is often more” and that “we had no moral obligation to do what we could not do.” In a companion essay, Stewart’s former Harvard colleague Gerald Knaus defends the West’s intervention in Bosnia while arguing for an ethic of “principled incrementalism.” While “there is encouraging evidence that limited missions in support of peace agreements and with sufficient resources can produce a good result,” he concludes, the prospects for “nation-building under fire” are much worse
.Finally two sets of wonderful paintings - by Scottish and Russian women of more than a century ago.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Alternative medicine, healing - or scam?


I want to recount a sad experience I had on Sunday here in Bulgaria - near Veliko Trnovo. Since a hill walk in the Kyrgyz mountains in 2006 I have had weak (and occasionally painful) knees. The Magnetic Resonance machine (in Glasgow) couldn’t identify any physical deterioration – and left me to conclude that my condition was arthritic. I was therefore easy prey when a friend suggested I try some foot reflexology from a Bulgarian who had returned home after a successful practice in Italy. He took me in 2009 or so for my first (painful) hour’s treatment. It didn’t make any difference – but I was persuaded it needed a course of treatment. After all, when (some 25 years ago) no physical therapist could deal with a previous knee pain I had, it was (apparently) sorted out in a short session by a guy who just massaged it – all the while dangling a pendant like a metronome.
And last Thursday started – after a 3 hour journey from Sofia - what I thought would be such a course. An hour’s session cost me 50 levs – which I considered reasonable since a massage would have cost me about 60 (although leaving me more invigorated). I returned on Sunday for the second session – which was only 30 minutes (I had been made to wait an hour and needed to be back in Sofia by 16.00) – and was shocked to be asked for 50 euros – effectively 4 times the previous week’s rate (double the price for less than half the time). I was told two things – first that they had made a mistake the previous week, charging me the rate for Bulgarians (foreigners were 50 euros – Romanians too???). And, second, that what counted was not the length of the session (it’s not massage!) but the effectiveness. But I had no pain when I arrived – so lack of immediate pain (apart from the bones he had pressed) was no measure. I would be happy to pay by results – but that was never on offer! The “healer” (for that is the term I have discovered they use on the website which is still under construction) just decided to stop my treatment in order to give someone else treatment who was also in a hurry.
I confess I was a bit annoyed by the guy’s abruptness – and lack of interest in the information I tried to convey to him about a skin condition I have - and the small wooden roller he used was duly beginning to tear my skin
I had noticed some time ago that the Bulgarians have a great belief in spiritual energy - which does leave them vulnerable to people we northerners would regard as quacks. And last october the Bulgarian authorities were threatening to tighten up on "healers".

Coda
A Bulgarian reader who has received and seen Mitio's treatment has been in touch to argue Mitio's corner. He draws attention to the many people who have clearly benefited from the treatment. I am sure that his treatment has helped many people and admit that part of my concern is the language of "healing" since this, for me, is getting close to calling oneself a "miracle-worker" which my world-view has difficulty accepting. I readily accept that there are a lot of things man does not and probably never will explain with current methodologies. But would be more comfortable with the term "therapist" - and if he showed some humility about other (complementary) approaches. Clearly, for example, what one eats (and drinks) does affect one's body. Man ist was man isst! For example, a coupleof days later, I had a painful swelling in a big toe - and the blood test at the hosptital identified high uric acid. They immediately put me on a diet of no meat or wine (and lots of water) for 4 weeks - after which we will test again. And my body seem to appreciate the new diet!
And it is certainly a problem for me that (a) I don't know what technique he is using (is it reflexology?) and (b) that I don't get any feedback. I can share his view of the medical profession - but he equally needs to accept that people need information and feedback; and that his treatment may not necessarily be appropriate in all cases.
.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What would Google Do?


In fact, What Would Google Do? proved to be an engrossing and thought-provoking read – although the early stuff about turning customer complaints on their head (as it were) and using them as an intelligence tool to help improve design and/or maintenance is the stuff of common sense which I used forty years ago when I was a young politician trying to reshape municipal services. Except that, now, Blogs, Twitter and Facebook clearly give “the crowd” (that’s us) much more power – and not only negative (complaint) but positive – “your customers are your ad agency”. Later in the book, indeed, he explores the likelihood that various “middlemen” organizations such as advertising agencies may indeed become redundant. One review put it well
The principles he unearths from close observation of Google’s practices range from the obvious, like the importance of enabling customers to collaborate with you, to the apparently mystical mantra “focus on the user and all else will follow”.
In the second part of the book Jarvis offers ideas and suggestions for how various industry sectors can become more “Googley”, and although many of the proposals are more imaginative and speculative than realisable, by the end you get a real sense of the transformative power of applying the principles he has outlined. The core assumptions of transparency, connectedness and openness really do make a difference, and business models in the media, the car industry, venture capital and even the benighted banking sector would be transformed if they were taken seriously.
Sitting at the core is the desire to do more with data, to take the details of our daily lives, aggregate them with the information that companies inevitably gather and then – and this is the Googley bit – give us access so we can make our own choices eg a restaurant that open sources its menu and lets customers rate the wines as well as the service, Jarvis’s goal is to help us all to think differently.
It doesn’t always work, and the attempt to contrast Al Gore’s approach to solving the problems of global warming through regulation and control with that of Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who want to invest in finding ways to reduce the cost of renewable energy, ends up as an unconvincing paean to the free-market worldview that now seems rather dated in the midst of a banking-induced recession. But the overall tone is of infectious optimism in the power of innovation that is remarkably convincing
.
I wasn’t quite so convinced. At one stage I started to wonder about the profile of these energetic and restless complainers who rush to put their experiences online and use comparative data to make their purchase decisions. It sounds suspiciously much like an idealisation of the rational (wo)man which is the basis of the economics doctrine which has just been blown away and is being replaced by behavioural economics. However, his section on the future of the book is provocative –
books are frozen in time without the means to be updated or corrected, except via new editions. They aren’t searchable in print. They create a one-way relationship. They tend not to teach authors. They cannot link directly to related knowledge, debate and sources as the internet can. They are expensive to produce. They depend on shelf space. They kill trees. There are only a few winners (20%) and the rest are losers.
Except that browsing a remaindered book section is an exercise in discovery. As the first review puts it -
deep down this is not really a book about Google as much as an extended meditation on the benefits of innovation, openness and the imaginative use of new technologies of networking and information processing. Jarvis uses Google’s undoubted success and continued development as a fulcrum for his rhetorical lever, attempting to move corporations, governments, educational institutions and the medical establishment away from their settled practices and into a space where innovation can flourish and where creative destruction leads to progress.
A critical review is here. The author uses his website to compose his books and there is an interesting assessment of some of the reviews of his latest here.
Two years ago I blogged about the Zhukoff book Support Capitalism which has a more measured (if more inaccessible) assessment

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An opportunity to catch up

I will probably be out of access to the internet for the next few days – so please take the opportunity to check back on recent posts – most of which have dealt with the role of training public officials in countries emerging from autocratic rule. Or check the posts from exactly a year ago – for example the one for 10 November 2010 had a section which suggested we allow the wrong sort of people to be honoured and celebrated -
the first twenty years of my life, I focussed on the political – the "what”.
The last 20 years the focus has been on the "how”- on reforming the machinery of government. I’m still interested in the latter but, as the masthead quotation from JR Saul indicates, I think the value of technocrats is overrated and the role of citizens and the maligned politicians has to be asserted. And one of the things wrong with a lot of the reform writing is that it is too abstract. Change is a question of individuals – and we need more of the naming and shaming approach which I used myself for the first time a year ago when I picked out a State Secretary and analysed his (outdated) declaration of interest form which appeared on the Ministry website.
We also need to celebrate more those who are trying to make a positive mark on life – and, as I noted on a recent friend obituary, while they are still alive. One of the reasons I enjoyed Paul Kingsnorth’s book One No; many Yeses on the protests against the iniquities inflicted on the world by multi-national corporations is that it focused on the individuals in different parts of the world who are risking their lives and livelihoods to protest against the destruction being wrought by people running these organisations.
Business has been using the journal “portrait” for a long time to glorify their class – and most management books are little else than hero creation and worship. Only women like Rosabeth Kantor (with her marvellously mocking ten-rules-for-stifling-innovation and Shoshana Zuboff, it seems, are capable of resisting this inclination of business writers! But you don’t find such positive write-up of reformers – presumably because media ownership is so neo-liberal. And the publications of the reform movement tend to concentrate on ideas.
For example, I’ve wanted for some time to say something about one of the people I admire most – a Slovak friend of mine who, as Director of a training centre run on cooperative lines in a village, has utterly transformed an old palace, building up not only the facilities it offers (and the labour force) but commissioning local artists to create glorious murals to remind us of the place’s historical heritage and holding vernissages with painters from central europe, the Balkans, Central Asia etc. Walk into his huge office and he is almost lost amongst the books and paintings which are piled up around his desk. And his house is like a (living) museum – from all the artefacts he has brought back from his vacations throughout the world. He is such a lovely, modest man and I always feel a taste of heaven when I visit him at the Mojmirovce Kastiel.
I was stumped a few months back when I was asked who were the people I admired? Apart from a few inspirational friends such as my Slovak friend, the people I admire are those who have a combination of vision, social justice and communication for example Peter Drucker; Leopold Kohr; George Orwell; JK Galbraith; Ivan Illich; C Wright Mills; Ernst Schumacher. They’re all dead!

And the November 12 post poses four basic questions which are always worth posing and exploring.
So have a good rummage while I'm away......there is some good stuff there....

Leaders of change

New readers should note that this blog is a great resource for those concerned about the apparent collapse of key elements of our core systems – and what we should be doing about it. My blogs rarely comment on the trivia which passes for News these days (although I couldn’t resist the recent grilling of Rupert Murdoch by a UK House of Commons Committee) and try to strike a reasonable tone. They alternate between the professional and political aspects of improving governance (particularly in "transition countries" – a combination which gives these posts a distinctive slant. Most of my posts give direct links to papers which give hard evidence of my points. A bit like Google Scholar, I try to stand on the shoulders of giants. Indeed one of the reasons I keep blogging is that I find it is a great way of organising my reading. Anything which impresses me gets worked in; without the blog I would be wasting time trying to find a paper which I knew said something important. Now all I have to do is punch a keyword into the search engine on the site – and hey presto! The blogs are therefore (I hope) more like perennial flowers which can be enjoyed even if a couple of years old. And I am pleased to see that some of my readers do that without being urged.
Exactly a year ago I had a lament on impotence of democratic politicswhich shows you what I mean.

From October 28, I devoted a series of posts to the issue of the role of training in improving the performance of state bodies in ex-communist countries. I was pretty critical – particularly of the EC funding strategy.
The second post in the series summarised my critique and suggested three paths which those in charge of such training in these countries needed to take to make an impact -
1. to signal that the development of state capacity needs to be taken more seriously – by officials, politicians and academics – and to give practical examples of what this means
2. to try to shine some light on the role of training in individual learning and organisational development – to show both the potential of and limits on training and to have the courage to spell out the preconditions for training which actually helps improve the performance of state bodies
3. to encourage training institutes to cooperate more with change agents in the system - and with academia
Part V tried to put us in the shoes of a Director of the National Institute of training of public servants in these countries – facing incredible constraints - and to expand on these three points. Part VII switched the focus back to the funders and tried to reduce the critique to a few bullet points - "Wrong focus; wrong theory"; "context" and "leadership" and then went on to give an illustration of the sort of cooperation which might pay dividends for a Director of a Training Institute.
A final post backtracked a bit to ask what we actually know about the process of developing the administrative capacity which I had made the core of my argument.
It also noted that I should now explore why on earth anyone facing the sort of political and budgetary constraints which exist in the Balkan countries (widely defined) should ever wish to put her head over the parapet and "think big and reach out” as I had earlier suggested . So here goes……

I did make the point very strongly in the posts that each country has to make its own way – each context is very different and requires something which resonates with its key actors. Locals who bring foreign experience (like most think-tankers) are generally just trying to make a name for themselves as can be seen in this (otherwise interesting) book of case studies from the countries which were in the more direct influence of the Soviet Union.
But I am who I am am; my context (at least for the first 25 years of my working life) was the strong bureaucratic system of Scottish local government – which owned the vast proportion of the housing and transport system. I challenged this system – before Margaret Thatcher appeared on the scene – but from a new left and participative rather than privatising perspective.
And I had a lot of allies – first in men and women (more the latter) who worked in impossible circumstances of low income and insecurity – but who had the guts and energy to try to make a better lives for those around them. And, secondly, in a few officials who realised that if they did not use their position, skills and knowledge to try to make things better, then we would soon hit rock bottom. Mark Moore tried to legitimise the work of such committed officials in his 1995 Public Value book.

It is extraordinary people who make things change – sometimes, of course, for the worse. We have been brainwashed in the past 2 decades to believe that change was always for the better – the default option in the dreadful language. I linked yesterday to a Monbiot article which quoted from an important recent book identifying the psychotic element in so many corporate leaders – which has been a theme since Alaister Mant’s Leaders We Deserve. Malcolm Gladwell shows that even the recently deceased and highly regarded Steve Jobs had many elements of dysfunctionality in his pursuit of perfection.
And psychotic management seems to be in an even healthier state in ex-communist countries – although at least one book has tried to celebrate local heroes willing and able to make a difference.

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book The Tipping Point argued that the attainment of the "tipping point" (that transforms a phenomenon into an influential trend) usually requires the intervention of a number of influential types of people - not just a sinle "leader". On the path toward the tipping point, many trends are ushered into popularity by small groups of individuals that can be classified as Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.
Connectors are individuals who have ties in many different realms and act as conduits between them, helping to engender connections, relationships, and “cross-fertilization” that otherwise might not have ever occurred.
Mavens are people who have a strong compulsion to help other consumers by helping them make informed decisions.
Salesmen are people whose unusual charisma allows them to be extremely persuasive in inducing others to take decisions and change their behaviour.
Hopefully my next post will be able to make proper use of all of these references!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Management as religion

As you may perhaps have noticed, I’ve been experimenting with the title of the blog – in the belated realisation that "Balkan and Carpathian musings" may not be a phrase that people often punch into their search engine! "Better government" has the sort of technocratic note which is perhaps needed and does reflect some of the content. But what about the phrase I used yesterday - "in the public interest"? Another possible title could be "A Common Reader – since I do try to give references and excerpts from my extensive reading. On the other hand, I have always liked the metaphor of striving and exploring – indeed the designation on my new business card is "explorer and aesthete"(I actually wanted to put "epicurean" but desisted since it has contradictory meanings). My first little book (way back in the mid 1970s) was called "The Search for Democracy". Two titles of recent papers of mine reflect some of what I write about – "Just Words" and "Thoughts for Posterity" – but again have no resonance for those hitting the search engines. I need someone to explain to me the relative importance of (a) the name of the blog; (b) the title of the particular post; and (c) labels and keywords.
What frustrates me is that I have no real idea who the 40-50 people are who hit my various posts each day – nor whether they actually read the posts. Apart from the (rising) numbers each day, all I know is the location of the readers (in the past week the top 6 countries are, in descending order, Germany, Russia and central Asia, USA, South Korea, Bulgaria, Romania and UK). I don’t know how many of them actually return (eg there was a spike of 80 German page viewings last night).

Curious that I should buy at the weekend and start to read a book which announces (for the 4th or so time in my lifetime) the end of the power structures as we know them and the power which ordinary people now have – when the global demonstrations against finance capitalism demonstrate the scale of political impotence people all over the world feel. The book is one I had been recommended - What would Google Do? and I have discovered that it can be read for free in its entirety here.
It was first published in 2009 and, as far as I can understand, tries to demonstrate that the google way of doing business is the way of the future – for the public as well as the private sector – giving us all new power (though networks etc). You will get a good sense of it from this review.
From what I have read so far, I do not expect to have my sense of corporate power shattered – although I do hope to learn a bit more about how Google and internet companies operate.

But the book seems to me another example of how we seem to have lost our social memory.
I remember reading, in the early 1970s, books by prominent management theorists (such as Warren Bennis) and others (such as Toffler – Future Shock) which promised the end of bureaucracy.

The early 1990s saw breathless books (by people such as Tom Peters) which promised the same. Forty years on, what do we have – stronger bureaucracy (now called contracting, procurement and regulatory bodies) than ever - and more autocratic and pyschotic leadership and management!
And I find it significant that – as far as Google Scholar goes – Warren Bennis hardly existed.

For me, it is very strange how difficult it is to get hold of serious books which critique the whole management religion. I know that a lot of sociologists have in fact conducted such critiques but two factors make it difficult for the interested citizen (another possible title for my blog??) to access this stream of work. First the language in which (and the narrow audience for which) they write - in expensive, specialist academic journals.
And, secondly, the control exerted by (large) publishing companies who have a very special interest in NOT demystifying management since they make so much money from management books – whether textbooks or airport lounge pickups.
 All credit therefore to Sage Publications for giving Chris Grey the opportunity to publish A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organisations (2009 2nd edition) which, for me, contains more incendiary material than Marx, Lenin, Che Guevara and Al-Quada rolled together. It is written by an academic who can actually write clearly - and who sees it as his job to interpret for us the significant parts of academic work.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Public Interest - how innocent we were

One of the really difficult things for people of my generation is to come to terms with is how venal our legislative and legal systems have become (the bankers are simply part of a complex equation). The post-war generation to which I belong was brought up with the tenets of liberal democracy - some of which you will find set out at page 6 of this paper of mine. We believed that government was responsive to public concerns; that our civic input (in whatever form - letters; political membership; political involvement and argument - not least as local councillors) would ensure the system operated in the public interest. The evidence we have seen in the last decade has, however, has forced us to the reluctant conclusion that laws are created generally to protect the rich and powerful; and that the judiciary (despite or perhaps because of its claims of impartiality) is in fact not blindfold but highly susceptible to the interests of the rich and powerful. I leave open the question of whether this is a new phenomenon - or simply one which less deferential a more educated and connected society has become aware of.
The examples I quote are first from a bastion of social democratic values (Canada) and then the better-known practitioner of venality and hypocrisy which happens to be its southern neighbour.The first article identifies the huge inequities in how banks are treated – compared with the rest of us.
They are often protected (from foreign competition); subsidized (for example, in the way capital gains tax worked), and bailed out when needed. But what do banks actually do, in return for all that money? What is their actual economic function?
Let’s cut through the mystification of high finance, and ask that simple question: What do banks do? What do bankers actually produce?
The practical answer, in concrete terms, is simple: nothing. They produce nothing.
In that, the banks are different from the real economy, where hard-working people like you and I produce actual, concrete goods and services that are useful.
Banks, and the financial sector more generally, don’t produce goods and services that are useful in their own right. They produce paper. And then they buy and sell paper, for a profit.
Here’s a little economic lesson. You can’t live off paper. You need food, clothing, and shelter to survive – not paper. And since we are human beings, not animals, we need more: we need education, and culture, and recreation, and entertainment, and security, and meaning. Those are the fundamentals of economic life. Not paper.
What is paper actually good for? You can wallpaper your house with it. You can line your birdcage with it. In a pinch, you can wipe your butt with it.
But other than that, paper is just paper. It is not concretely useful in its own right.
How do banks create that paper? Let me put it bluntly again: They create it out of thin air.
It is not an economic exaggeration to state that the private banking system has the power to create money out of thin air.
Not cash. Not currency. Only the government can produce that.
But most money in our economy – over 95% of money in our economy – is not currency. Most money consists of entries in electronic accounts. Savings accounts. Chequing accounts. Lines of credit. Credit card balances. Investment accounts.
In that electronic system, new money is created, not by printing currency, but through creating credit. Every time a bank issues someone a new loan, they are creating new money.
It’s like a big magic machine, creating money out of thin air. And it’s called the private credit system.
One of my favourite economists, John Kenneth Galbraith, put it this way: “The process by which private banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled.”
How do they do it? They start out with some capital. Let’s say a billion dollars. Then they lend it out. Then they lend it out again. And again. And again and again, 10 or 20 or 50 times over.
Each new loan, is new money. The economy needs that money, let’s be clear. Without new money, we wouldn’t be able to pay for the stuff we make. So we’d stop making it, and we’d be in a depression.
So the creation of new money (or credit) is as essential function for the whole economy. It’s like a utility. But we’ve outsourced that crucial task to private banks. We’ve given them a legal license to print money – and the freedom and power to do it on their own terms.
Their goal is not providing the economy with a sensible, sustainable supply of the credit we need. Their goal is using their unique power to create money out of thin air, to maximize the profits of the banks, and the wealth of the shareholders.
The second article I owe to a site - Byliner - which offers simply good writing. Out of curiousity I hit this piece which tracks how the American judicial system treated someone outraged with the secretive and iniquitous way heritage land was being sold to commercial gangsters.
WHEN DECHRISTOPHER’S CASE finally went to court last March, 2,000 protesters showed up. So did the Salt Lake police department, federal marshals, and Homeland Security agents. The trial lasted three days, with Judge Benson making a few things clear up front. First, DeChristopher’s attorneys wouldn’t be allowed to use a necessity defense—the argument that he had to disrupt the auction because of his beliefs about climate change (he had successfully bid for about 12 lots of land with no intention of paying). Second, the defense couldn’t bring up the fact that DeChristopher had actually raised money to buy the land; the court’s view was that, by then, the fraud had been committed. Finally, the defense could not inform the jury that past bidders had not been able to pay for their parcels either. Shea and DeChristopher’s other attorney, Ronald Yengich, were left to argue that their client had acted on impulse and hadn’t intended to disrupt the auction. The prosecution didn’t have much trouble refuting this, given DeChristopher’s public statements, and it came as little surprise when, on March 4, DeChristopher was convicted
You can imagine the behind-the-scene discussions which went on to fix that!

Culture corner
And, after these photos of reality, let's have a fix of something more worthwhile in these latest paintings from Its about Time

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Comic insights


"We are where we are" was a great phrase I heard for the first time a some 7 years ago – from a very understanding European Commission desk officer. I had expected some swearwords about the cock-up we were facing – instead of which I got this very wise response. You might think that the German “man ist was man isst” (to which I have referred before) is a variant – but, if you do, go back to square one! The German phrase suggests that our behaviour is determined by our diet. I disagree – they are determined to a huge extent by the words we use. "Words", as a left-wing political elder once severely but memorably told the cabinet of which I was a young member, "are important". I didn’t need the reminder – since George Orwell was then (and remains) one of my favourite writers.
All of this is by way of preface to a couple of very funny glossaries I came across yesterday. The first about civil service jargon on a site which contains some great articles tracing the development of the British civil service through its different stages and putting it all into historical context.
The second glossary is a good contribution to the sort of ridicule which we urgently need to start slinging at economists (and bankers). It’s from the website of one of the contrarian economists whose critique of economics has been at last proven so correct - Steve Keen. Curiously, his blog was down all Monday!!
This article from the very readable US Chronicle of Higher Education puts his work in a larger context.

At the start of the year I tried to pull together my various thoughts (and references) about the words which modern technocrats have used in the past 4-5 decades to protect their power and disarm any possible threat from the unwashed masses. It's in what I consider one of the best papers I have ever written - Just Words - a sceptic's glossary?
I realise as I write this that I have always targeted the technocrats (the courtiers) rather than the all-powerful commercial and other elites. Is this simple because I knew them better? Or is it because they supplied the ammunition to allow the real perverts to exploit us all?

As a party piece, this is a good expose of the phrases we Brits use; how our European partners generally understand them; and what the Brits really mean by them. For example - when we say "very interesting", foreigners think we are impressed. What we are actually thinking is that it's a lot of nonsense! Similarly, when we say "with the greatest respect", we are actually thinking "the man's an idiot" whereas the non-English speaker assumes that he is being listened to."Incidentally, by the way" actually means "this is the primary purpose of the discussion" - whereas the foreigner that the issue is of no significance. For those who deal with Brits, the table is useful prepartion and, who knows, sharing it with them might open up new friendships!
Poets are supposed to be the great explorers of verbal nuance – but I’m beginning to suspect it is actually comedians who deserve this accolade. I’ve referred recently to Tommy Cooper and Chic Murray. One of Germany's greatest - Loriot - died recently and occasioned this tribute. One of the most delightful films for me is - A Fish called Wanda – and I was pleased to find a couple of clips - first when Jamie Lee Curtis is overwhelmed by the Russian phrases of John Cleese (co-producer)
and then a clip which contrasts English styles of bedding with (those of!) the Italian.

To round off this treatment of words and phrases, who better to turn to than one of Britain's best writers - Chris Hitchens - who gives here a great treatment of the Ten Commandments

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fiddling in Cannes (and Sofia) while Europe is burning


OK - I agree that fiddling while Athens is burning is not a good way to go down in history (the musical references in my last post). But perhaps, as Europe burns, the only resort is to celebrate what it has at least given in culture. Indeed I realised only yesterday that perhaps why I have, over the past decade, discovered and celebrated (beautiful) paintings is that they represent individual striving for excellence when that is so difficuly to achieve in the field I chose for myself all of 50 years ago when I made the fatal decision, in the middle of my university studies, to forsake the study of French and German and to choose instead the upcoming fields of Economics and Politics. When the shit hits the fan, another coping mechanism is humour and I was happy to come across these wry puns from a great British comic which actually remind me a bit of the vastly underrated Chic Murray from my own hometown.

However two leftists are redeeming my chosen field – today’s post from Cannes (where G20 countries are meeting) by Paul Mason blows my mind away as the most incisive comment on that is currently happening. And another old leftist - Stuart Holland whom I met in the mountain eyre of Erice (Sicily) in the mid 1970s at an (anarchist) Free University seminar – has an excellent paper which coherently spells out the path which European leaders should be taking – if they had any leadership skills.

I haven’t had time to read this article from Nouriel Roubini – but is seems worthwhile amongst all the dross from the usual business and economic commentators who are now exposed ar the brown-nosed charlatans they were.
The painting is a recent purchase of mine here - by Vladimir Dmitrov - which seems appropriately apocalytpic.

Part VIII - All you need to know about capacity development and administrative reform in 5 easy stages


My initial feeling after yesterday’s attempt to summarise the previous week’s thoughts about training in this part of the world was one of quiet satisfaction. I felt I had made a coherent and reasonable summary – all the better for having started, I felt, with the short (and memorable?) statement about “wrong focus and theory"; "context"; and "leadership”. I had made the link not only with the capacity development literature but also with the (very different and more academic) literature which has been following administrative reform in ex-communist countries. I had given a practical example which had come to me as I was wrestling with the question of how one was supposed to make any progress in regimes I had designated, in my paper at this year’s NISPAcee Conference, “impervious regimes” (impervious, that is, to public opinion). And I ended with a word of advice to those who head the various Training Institutes for public servants in the Region – effectively “courage, mon vieux, think big and reach out” – but had also recognised how difficult such cooperation is in the Region. My next step, I felt, was to look at examples of how individuals have achieved in the face of such difficulties and write an inspiring piece around that – drawing on the burgeoning literature of social innovation.

But I hadn’t quite finished with capacity development – after all this was the basic framework which, I had argued, all interventions to improve public services in the Region should have. True, Bulgaria and Romania are exceptional in having Administrative capacity as one of the strands for their Structural Funds – but most new member states would readily agree they have a long way to go before their state bodies are operating as well as they might wish. What, I wondered, does the capacity development literature say about the process of building administrative capacity? Is it different from what the literature of public management (with which I am more familiar) has been saying?

It is at this point that alarm bells started to ring in my head. One of the important points in my NISPAcee paper was that we have a lot of different disciplines looking at the same issues from different perspectives (which is fine), with different names (eg state-building; fragile states; administrative reform; anti-corruption; capacity development; democracy assistance) and each apparently oblivious to and/or careless about the other disciplines(which is not fine). Was this perhaps simply an example of different people coming to the same conclusion using different words? Was it all verbal gymnastics? I began to think so when I stumbled across a free download Deconstructing Development Discourse – buzzwords and fuzzwords which was published in 2010 by Oxfam and which makes a nice complement to my Just Words – a sceptic’s glossary
But, as I puzzled over the two approaches, I began to see some interesting differences. Bear with me as I try to explore some of them.

Those who have been writing about capacity development for the past 2 decades (but particularly in the last 5 years since OECD got into the act) seem to be in the development field and working in NGOs, International bodies or development think tanks. They draw from (and try to contribute to) field experiences. I discovered a good history about capacity development only this morning – written as far back as 1997. Its concerns and focus seem to have been social - rather than institutional - development. Peter Morgan is the most coherent writer on the subject and has an excellent paper here on it. There is an excellent learning network for capacity development which published in January a very useful paper which spells out in details what the approach means in practice . I get the sense that it is change management for social development people. That is to say, they emphasise context and process - the HOW and say llittle about the WHAT.

Those who write about administrative reform focus, on the other hand and by definition, on state bodies rather than social groups (although the anti-corruption literature considers social groups critical); are usually from academia; draw on the classic literature of public administration, management and (to a lesser extent) public choice theory. They are (with the exception of the latter school) more voyeurs than actors. One of the top names is Chris Pollitt whose recent paper Thirty Years of Public Management reform – has there been a pattern? gives an excellent flavour of the topic.
An obvious question then is - If the key writers are voyeurs, who has been behind the explosion of adminisitrative reform of the past 30 years which Pollitt is writing about? The answer would seem to be practitioners, government units and consultancy companies – some of whom have subsequently written up good experiences as models of good practice. The key books are generally American eg the one which started it all off in 1992 - Reinventing Government (see also here for update on its influence in UK) - but also Mark Moore’s Public value. However the main proselytiser of change over the past 20 years has been the OECD Secretariat based in Paris – as Professor Leslie Pal has well described in this paper; a sequel he presented to this year’s NISPAcee Conference; and chapter three of this book. The significance of this is that there is, perhaps, underneath the technical words, an ideological agenda – shrinking the state. Certainly one writer suggests today there is.
At a practical level, the European Institute of Public Administration published an interesting overview of reform efforts recently - Taking the pulse of European Public Administration

So far, so good…..Give me time to look at these various references in more detail and come back to you on the question of the relationship between the two bodies of work. Clearly the latter body of work focuses more on the WHAT than the HOW - and is indeed as guilty as management generally of fads and fashions. At the moment the capacity development stream seems to be the more thoughtful…..

Culture cornerFor those who think I have been neglecting my cultural activities, let me assure that I have not been. On Tuesday I paid an interesting visit to the imposing edifice which houses the National Bank of Bulgaria – to see whether I could access their painting collection. I knew they had one because the Classica Gallery I had visited last week had a beautiful catalogue from the bank which had celebrated its 130 years with 130 superb reproductions from its collection of Bulgarian painters. You ascend a formidable flight of stairs, passing a guard and entering what I could only designate as an alternative cathedral – a design on a scale calculated to put you in awe of those who manage money! Ironically, there seemed to be an exhibition about the euro! I was met with some bemusement by the staff – but, after a wait, I was rewarded with a complementary copy of the catalogue but told that the paintings regretfully were not on public display.

The It’s About Time blog continues to delight - with its rediscoveries of (to us) unknown European (women) painters from the early part of the last century generally – for example a Finn/Belge Helene Schjerbeck and Lotte Laserstein.
And BBC’s Through the Night continues to excel – for example the Romania Radio Concert Orchestra playing Sarasate, Pablo de [1844-1908] Zigeunerweisen for violin and orchestra (Op.20) (you have to move the timing to 4 hours 20 minutes to get the piece – and only for another 5 days!)
For those intrigued by the title (changed from this morning's rather negative one), I am experimenting since I see that I have not so many hits today - and yet it is, for my money, one of the most useful posts for some time (with all these references). I still don't understand what we need to do to get more hits - people tell me I should twitter - but I don't have a good voice. So I'm now trying a more positive title - with some key words.
And the painting is heavily symbolic - Moutafov's "Rescue at Sea" from the National Bank's collection - and chosen with cunning reference to British political philospher Michael Oakeshott's famous metaphor of politics/government as a sea journey. The rescuers are, of course, the consultants. You certainly get your money's worth on this station!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Leadership central europe - part VII

Reflecting further on the 5 posts, my concerns about the effectiveness of training programmes in transition countries can perhaps best be summarised in 4 words – "wrong focus" and "wrong theory"! And the way ahead can be summarised in two words – "context" and "leadership".

Wrong Focus
• The EC has funded (in Technical Assistance) and continues to fund (under Structural Funds) too many training projects in transition countries with insufficient focus on building a training capacity. Indeed it undermines national training institutes by the resources its projects gives to private trainers and companies under its procurement rules.
• these programmes have, in addition, concentrated on the supply side (training individual trainers; drafting course material; and funding course) to the almost total exclusion of the demand side (helping organisational managers define their real needs and building stronger inderstanding of and pressure for quality training)
• they focus on lower rather than higher levels of organisations. (It’s the easy option – senior management will rarely admit its deficiencies and need to learn).
• And the programmes assume knowledge rather than skill needs. (It’s easier to provide – through traditional rote learning).

Wrong theory
Most of the training programmes I’ve seen implicitly assume that the performance of state bodies (insofar as it measured in transition countries) can be improved by better knowledge of junior staff. This may be true of the sort of training project I’m currently involved with – aimed at those municipal staff who handle bids for EC funds and manage such projects – but is not true of the general management course which National Training Institutes run. And the mission of such Institutes is surely to help improve the performance of state bodies.
Poor organisational performance is generally due to a mix of poor management systems, lack of strategic leadership and political interference. And Improving them is more a matter of skills and attitude than knowledge!

I am not alone in questioning the effectiveness of the programmes to train public officials.. I was very encouraged a few months back by the publication of a paper - Training and Beyond; seeking better practices for capacity development by Jenny Pearson - which, in a much more referenced (but sometimes turgid) way, expresses the same concerns and indicates the number of people who now seem to share them in what, in the last decade has become the up-and-coming field of capacity development.

Context, context, context
All interventions should therefore start from proper contextual analysis of existing administrative capacity – and constraints. The focus then should be on organisational change – not training - to ensure that proper consideration is given to the full range of possible interventions, of which training is only a small part (see pages 33-37 of the Pearson paper for a good overview). Of course this is not easy – but, if this is not the starting point, then people will fail to pose the correct questions; to learn the required skills; and therefore to waste a lot of money.
Official documents have begun to recognise this in recent years. The EC’s Backbone Strategy admits that its projects need to be better grounded in the context; in its "drivers of change" work, the UK's ODI has pioneered ways of identifying power constraints; and the World Bank’s recent Governance Reforms under real world conditions is written around the sorts of questions which have given my work as a consultant its real edge-
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 I wrote earlier in the year for the Varna Conference (Time for the long game - not the logframe) drew attention to the crumbling of key building blocks of administrative reform in many of the EC’s new member states in the last few years. Francis Cardona’s Can Civil Service Reforms Last? The European Union’s 5th Enlargement and Future Policy Orientation – published in early 2010 - is just the latest evidence. It shows how appointments are becoming politicised again. In 2007 Tony Verheijen had published a paper for the World Bank entitled Administrative capacity in the new member states – the limits of innovation which painted a fairly bleak picture. So in 2009, did Meyer-Sahling’s paper for SIGMA - Sustainability of civil service reforms in central and eastern Europe five years after accession. Sorin Ionitsa and Tom Gallagher have painted a vivid picture of the fate of administrative reform in one of these countries – Romania – and offered different levels of explanation for it.

If that is the context, how does one get around it? Clearly politicians in these countries need to grow up and stop behaving like petulant and thieving magpies. But how does that happen?
Manning and Ionitsa emphasise the need for transparency and external pressures (civil society) to try to get politicians to act more seriously.
Verheijen and Cardona talk more idealistically of the need to establish structures which bringing politicians, officials, academics etc together to develop a consensus. It happened, certainly, in the Baltic states – but there are always dangers in holding up one country as an example. When things go wrong, as they generally do, the corrupt and incompetent use this to damn reform. And one of the difficulties so many transition countries have is the inability of its elites to work cooperatively.

I have to wonder whether there is not a place now for the sort of initiative which impressed me when I visited Pittsburgh more than 20 years ago. As an old industrial city, it was experiencing social and economic dislocation – and someone started a quiet movement which brought the potential leaders of tomorrow in its various sectors (commerce, political, administrative, trade union, religious etc) into a regular academic setting to confront the city’s problems. Leadership Pittsburgh has been replicated across other cities and has had 2 profound effects – it forged crucial personal links of respect and understanding; and it made most of those who attended think about their wider responsibilities and the needs of the city.

Going back to the Director of the Training Institute - my advice to him would therefore be - Think Big! Reach out! Have passion!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Benefits of nomadism


Glorious autumn weather here in Sofia – although the ground floor garden flat is getting ever more icy cold every night and morning. Time to move somewhere warmer!
I started the morning with a long article which touches on one of the most fundamental issues for us all (apart from food and accommodation) – companionship. It’s about the trend (which I’ve noticed here in Europe) for women to choose to remain single. Men are simply not worth the bother! The article in The Atlantic journal starts perhaps in a rather self-centred way but soon proved to a worthy read about contemporary values – backed up with perspectives from forays to other lands, cultures and times. I recommend it.

A trip to the nearest Knigomania bookshop a few minutes round the corner in Vassil Levski St gave a good haul –
Modernism – the lure of heresy by Peter Gay (2007) – a wonderful-looking 600 page treatment of all art forms of this genre by an historian who escaped with his family from Berlin in 1933 when he was a young boy; one review is here and a more critical and historical one here
• the classic Zen and Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance – an inquiry into values (1977) – which I have from internet but whose electronic format does not invite me in. I need to touch!
• a novel by the highly rated John Cheever from 1957 - The Wapshot Chronicle
• Langenscheidt’s Grosswoerterbuch Deutsch als Fremdensprache – to help me with my reading of the Spiegel magazine which I have taken to buying here. Langenscheidt I remember with some veneration from my father’s study (when he had the voluminous but silky weekly edition of Die Zeit paper dispatched from Germany in the late 1950s and 1960s during his post-war pastoral "reconciliation" twinning with a church in Heligenkirchen near Detmold). With its 1312 German pages at 16 euros, it offered 10 times the value of almost similarly-priced and much smaller dictionaries (half of whose contents are taken with English-German for which I have no use)

This is the great thing about the bookshops here. You are not press-ganged by marketing into buying latest releases. You never know what gem from the past you will find – even if the editions are fairly recent.
Talking of Der Spiegel, it had an incredible story yesterday about the Germans finding a 55 billion mistake in their national accounts because one bank added up wrongly – giving the system now a windfall to that extent!!
When I started this nomadic life of mine all of 21 years ago, I noticed one immediate advantage. I was no longer exposed to British newspapers and the relentless noise of television reporting. This not only released time for other pursuits; it also created greater serenity. I could hear myself thinking – and was more able to choose my own agenda. Television has not been allowed into my Carpathian house – and I have no temptation to open the television set here since it offers only Bulgarian programmes. Of course, I am hit with news headlines when I go onto the yahoo site for my mail – and I do then always check the Guardian website after that – but rarely find myself spending longer than 10 minutes on its articles. The BBC has become my great consolation – particularly the Through the Night programme – which are constantly introducing me to new pleasures eg in the past week Telemann’s Suite for strings and continuo (TWV.55:Es3) in E flat major; Taneyev, Sergey Ivanovich (1856-1915) Symphony No.4 in C minor (Op.12); and Respighi, Ottorino (1879-1936) Rossiniana. I even find myself listening to opera – eg the haunting tones at the moment of the final section of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony which can be heard for the next 5 days.
The BBC’s economic bloggers are always worthwhile – particularly Paul Mason and Stephanie Flanders and I was impressed with the radio series she has started recently which figures key figures (such as George Soros).

I mentioned JK Galbraith recently. His son, James Galbraith, is also a renowned economist who has been highly critical of mainstream economics and has a useful piece on those economists who were warning years ago of the bursting of the bubble and how they were marginalised within the profession. For me this is not a left-right issue – it is about hubris and the need constantly to challenge (in the phrase coined by Galbraith Senior) the “conventional wisdom” .
Finally a good article about the "We are the 99%" protestors