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!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Search for the Holy Grail

I’m now doing some final work on the new website – whose name is still “Mapping the Common Ground – ways of thinking about the crisis”. Today – apart from a cycle to the Loran Gallery to see its nice little exhibition of Socialist Realist painting – has been devoted to doing summaries of about 15 of the extended essays which will be one feature of the site. Another feature will be about 10 little E-books I’ve produced in the past year…….
The Independence Argument was the most recent – although it will be an updated version that is uploaded in a week or so. I’m also planning an E-book of 100 pages incorporating the various posts I’ve done on EC Structural Funds and Good Governance; and also one on the Romanian painting greats…….
Here’s how I try to entice the reader into my 40-page essay - The Search for the Holy Grail

I consider myself a fortunate man – given opportunities to take part in the mysteries of governing for almost 50 years - and not succumbing to cynicism. Essentially – I suspect – because I’ve played several professional roles since I left university –
·       22 years of strategic leadership in first local and then regional government overlapping with 17 years teaching (latterly in urban management) followed by
·       almost 25 years of consultancy to governments and state bodies of the transition countries of central Europe and central Asia.

Each of these roles has confronted me with a conundrum which kept me exploring – in both real and virtual places - questions such as
·       how local professionals and politicians could develop a different sort of relationship with particularly “marginalised” groups
·       the role of external advisers in countries trying to create pluralist systems in ex-communist countries
·       how what is called “institutional capacity” can be built

Since 1970 I’ve tried to make sense of the challenges I’ve been involved with by writing about them – relating the various projects to the wider literature in the field – and sometimes being lucky enough to have the results published. This way I have certain “reality checks” on the way I was seeing and thinking about things along the way.

We have a saying - “Those who can, do – those who can’t, teach”.

And it’s certainly true that leaders of organisations do not make good witnesses about the whys and wherefores of the business they’re in. Most political and business autobiographies are shallow and self-serving. Even with the best of intentions, it seems almost impossible for an active executive to distance himself from the events which (s)he’s been involved in to be able to explain properly events – let alone draw out general lessons which can help others. An interesting exercise would be to identify (for Britain) the most important political and managerial autobiographies of (say) the last 50 years to try to (dis)prove the point. Denis Healey’s 1985 autobiography probably rates as the best of its genre. My friend Des Wilson has produced not only a very readable one ("Memoirs of a Minor Public Figure") but, earlier this year, a hilarious take on his age - "Growing Old - the last campaign"  

But, on the other side, can the teachers actually teach? Academic books and articles about the reform of government have churned from the press in ever larger numbers over the last 50 years (See my “annotated bibliography for change agents”). Do they tell a convincing story? More to the point, do they actually help the aspiring reformer? Or do they, rather, confuse him and her – whether by style, length or complexity? Indeed, how many of them are actually written to help the reformer – as distinct from making an academic reputation?
Perhaps the most insightful writing has been some of the intellectual (auto)biographies which have come recently from a few sociologists and political scientists eg Richard Rose….Daladier

This (unfinished) 40-page paper of mine is therefore a fairly unusual endeavour in coming from a self-avowed “change agent” who has also tried to keep up with “the literature” and also to reflect critically on what he (and funders) were doing.

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