Performance management and measurement was all the rage a few years ago but a series of academic critiques (of which Paradoxes of Modernity – unintended consequences of public policy reform (2012) is one of the latest examples) seemed set to dampen enthusiasms. But the benefits which the mantra of performance (if not "name and shame" regimes) seem to offer to governments desperately looking for quick fixes look irresistible…and the peddlars of performance movement medicines continue to do well.
I spent a long and arduous weekend helping to draft a project submission for EU Structural Funds aimed at helping a SE European country rejig its “governance” system. It had me spitting blood and regretting that no one seems able to critique the nonsenses which seem to be perpetrated on people by these Funds. A few years back I did a long critique of the multi-billion EC Technical Assistance programme. I called it The Long Game – not the LogFrame
In just 5 months (!!), this particular project is expected to –
- Summarise “all research” which has been undertaken on “good governance” (there are thousands)
- Draft a White Paper on the subject
- Draft a methodology for designing a rating system for innovation in state bodies
I readily confess that I have “form” in such issues. In 2002 I drafted a Manual on “good policy analysis” for Slovak civil servants; in 2005 I accepted World Bank and UNDP largesse to write papers on Public Administration Reform (PAR) in Azerbaijan; in 2007/8 I drafted a Road Map for local government in Kyrgyzstan
My bookshelves groan under the weight of books containing rhetoric, descriptions and assessments of the experience of what, in the 80s and 90s, was called “public administration reform” but is now called “good governance”.
Whenever the terms change in this way, we need to ask Why…..what’s going on? Does this hide a guilty secret somewhere?
Perhaps the very confidence with which we now use terms like “transparency” and “accountability” masks our fear that we haven’t a clue – that we know less today about running our public affairs than we (thought we) knew in 1984??
Or perhaps that’s not quite true…. 30 years has presumably given us the opportunity to do what all good scientists are supposed to do – to “disprove”. At least (surely) we now know what doesn’t work….or at least what doesn’t work under certain conditions/in certain contexts?
And (whisper it quietly) South-Eastern contexts are different from North Western ones!!
I did some googling to see what the literature on such topics as “performance” and “good governance” is like these days. Sure enough it no longer seems the “hot” topic it was a decade ago. But it seems that what has happened is that the snake oil which is no longer acceptable in the old member countries is now being peddled in the new markets of central and south-east Europe!