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!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Zombies take over the OECD

Time was when I read avidly everything the OECD produced on public management…..it was so clearly-written and uplifting…..I actually delivered a paper to one of its Paris seminars in 1990 – if on urban management which was then my area of expertise….But it was practitioners who were then the mainstay of OECD operations and gave it its credibility
The World Bank, on the other hand – with its legions of consultant economists - was suspect – particularly its infamous 1997 Annual Development report The State in a Changing World. To their eternal credit, the Japanese had been warning the Bank that it, for one, did not accept the Bank’s neo-liberal view of the State - Robert Wade’s important article by New Left Review in 2001 gives some of the background to the resignation of Joseph Stiglitz, the Bank’s Chief Economist, driven out in 1999 by Larry Summers…..

The OECD seemed to have a more activist stance on the role of the state – to which my attention turned from the mid-1990s as readers know from my 1999 book In Transit – notes on good governance. The OECD’s 2005 report on Modernising Government was the first warning sign that it had perhaps left its benign role behind.
Critical books and articles confirmed our doubts – particularly The OECD and transnational governance; ed Mahon and McBride (2008); and The OECD and global public management reform; L Pal (2009)
This Canadian academic, Leslie Pal, has worked assiduously over the past decade to bring to our attention the nature and scale of the effort global organisations have made to market a concept of the modern state eg Best practices in public mant – a critical assessment; (2013) ; and The OECD and policy transfer; (2014)

Managing Change in OECD Government – an introductory framework; Huerta Melchor (OECD 2008) represents the high point of optimism – drafted as it was before the full implications of the global financial crisis had hit home. I;ve excerpted the opening couple of paras and explain why I’ve highlighted some text after the excerpts…..
Today’s world is highly competitive and demanding. Society is better informed and expects more from public and private organisations alike. Traditional public processes and institutions are less effective in satisfying people’s needs. Globalisation, the wide use of communication and information technologies, and the coming of the knowledge society, among other factors, are rapidly changing the world’s order. This has created new challenges to nation-states as people’s expectations from government have increased, job seekers are more demanding on job content, and societies call for more investment in education, health, and society but are unwilling to pay more taxes ("Modernising Government: the way forward", OECD 2005).
Personnel systems are becoming less adaptive to these new challenges. Indeed, traditional practices in public administration are the product of a different context with different priorities. Now, governments have a new role in society and are taking on new responsibilities but generally without the necessary tools to manage them effectively. Public managers are expected to improve the performance of their organisations focusing on efficiency, effectiveness, and propriety which were not the priorities 50 years ago.
Therefore, to be able to respond to a changing environment the public sector has to transform itsstructures, processes, procedures, and above all, its culture. In this new order, the management of change has been identified as a critical variable for the success or failure of a reform policy. Managing change aims at ensuring that the necessary conditions for the success of a reform initiative are met. A reform policy may fail to achieve change, may generate unintended results or face resistance from organisations and/or individuals whose interests are affected.
For that reason, policy-makers and politicians need to pay special attention to issues such as leadership, shared vision, sequencing, resources for change, and cultural values while designing and implementing a reform initiative.

I’m always suspicious when abstract entities such as “society” are credited with thoughts….it’s called “reification”; presumes uniformity of thought; and assumes away any possibility of differences of opinion let alone social dissent!! Very dangerous….
And just look at the phrase – “new order”!! And the way that “contexts” have developed priorities….I thought it was people who had priorities!

I explained some years ago why I am suspicious of manuals and “toolkits”…….And seven years on, the OECD has just issued this booklet (for aspiring EU members) Toolkit for……public admin reforms and sector strategies – guidance for SIGMA partners (OECD 2018). which reads as if it were written by a sixth former….  Apparently the EC introduced (in 2014) “a third pillar” into its enlargement policy – to complement those of “rule of law” and “economic governance” – namely public admin reform….I’m sure the army of EC consultants and their counterparts in Balkan and “neighbourhood” countries are very grateful to have such cookbooks – they save everyone the trouble of having to develop approaches which actually fit the local context……

Examples of the new “Manual”/Guidelines/Toolkit approach

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