I still remember the autumn morning in 1990 when I stood beside my car at the Hull docks waiting to board the ferry that would take me to a port on Denmark’s west coast with a subsequent drive to WHO HQ Copenhagen. On the basis of my strategic work in the West of Scotland, the Head of European Public Health division had invited me take up a short assignment helping her develop a health promotion strategy for the newly-liberated countries of central and eastern Europe.
Ilona Kickbusch was a formidable German lady who didn’t appear to need much help but I was desperate to explore new horizons – having rather boxed myself career-wise. And so it proved – with a new career in “institutional development” in central europe quickly opening up first in Prague, then Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Brussels and Latvia.
The projects were, however, largely an apprenticeship as I learned to deal not only with a new role but new subjects (transitology; a national rather than local government focus) – as well as a way of presenting ideas which took account of interpretation needs. Thus I would always try to give interpreters advance briefing – particularly for any conference papers….
But in 1999 I became the Leader of a fairly large team in Uzbekistan on Civil Service Reform although there was little or no pressure for any real change from the Prime Minister’s Office (our beneficiary) which gave me the luxury of being able to write material for the small number of officials who did seem to be interested.
I took to doing regular – and highly interactive - sessions with middle-level officials at the Presidential Academy of Public Administration – in a training centre set up by the project.
I learned quite a lot as a result – about European systems of local government; privatisation; and that dreadful thing called “human resource management”. I was particularly proud of the little series of publications I left behind eg the 60 page Transfer of Functions – European Experience 1970-2000.
All of this was to prove
invaluable to me in the two projects which immediately followed.
In Azerbaijan I was Team Leader from 2003-2005 on a Civil Service project which worked with a network of personnel managers and, very much against the odds, managed eventually to have a Civil Service Agency set up to introduce new-fangled merit-based appointments. It’s apparently still going strong…..
The early days were difficult – a civil service Law had been passed by Parliament but no one knew what to do with it…..A previous Team Leader had resigned in frustration. Instead of an office in the prestigious Presidential Office Building, I was offered rooms in the nearby Presidential Academy of Public Administration. There I befriended some staff with whom I started to work on lectures and 3 books…… totally outside my Terms of Reference. I like to think that my method of working won friends and influenced people…. Although it did cause some problems with the European Commission monitors who watched with bemusement…
But the European Office supported me and I began to acquire friends in the President’s Office and Parliament who actually encouraged me to campaign publicly – with lots of press interviews and even a television hook-up with the public!
The three books I co-authored were published with European funds and the first on public management and the civil service to be available in the Azeri language. So I was proud of that too….
I had no sooner finished that work than I was flying to Bishkek to take up a two-year project as Team Leader in Kyrgyzstan (2005-7) which helped establish a Local Government Board; did a lot of training of municipal people….and also left three books behind – one of which tells a good story about learning and strategic change - Developing Municipal Capacity and strongly challenged the prevailing assumptions in the capital about whose capacities needed developing!
Only one of these had been in my terms of reference - Road Map for Kyrgyz Local Government (2007) which I regard as one of the best things I ever produced… The more I worked on it, the more I appreciated the potential of this device. The opening page warns that -
A road map does not give a route – YOU choose the route. A roadmap simply locates the key features (mountains, rivers and swamps) you need to be aware of when trying to travel from the A to the B of your choice. So this is not an attempt to force foreign models on the local situation
Another point about a road map is that it cannot cover every changing detail nor tell you how you should approach certain situations – sometimes a large bump in the road or impatience can have fatal consequences! So a road map is only a guide - local knowledge, judgment and skills are needed to get you to your destination! And, like a map, you don’t have to read it all – only the sections which are relevant for your journey!
So don’t be discouraged by the size of the booklet – simply dip into the sections which seem most useful to you
Such projects always have an “inception period” (generally a month) to allow the team and beneficiary to take stock of the situation and make adjustments…which even paymasters realise are needed when a President flees the country – as happened in March 2015 as I was completing my round of visits not only to “beneficiaries” but other “stakeholders” such as UNDP, The World Bank and US Aid. I took full advantage of that period (which involved my own flight – back to Baku for a week of safety) to ensure the “maximum feasible flexibility” in the project.
One of the high points of the project for me was when, at a Conference of the municipalities, I invited the participants to play a game similar to “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. As you will see from the annexes of the Road Map, I simple reminded people of
· the main elements involved in making a successful car trip (features of the car; geography; roads; petrol stations);
· listed the key players in the local government system (politicians; laws; citizens; lobbies)
· invited them to pin the appropriate label on the map
At that point, I decided that it was time to see how the newest members of the European Union were coping. I had acquired an old mountain house in a remote village in the Carpathian mountain which my Romanian partner took from a shell in 2000 to a warm habitable home with superb vistas from front balcony and back terrace of two spectacular mountain ranges……
I got the chance to spend only one summer there in 2007 there before being tempted by one of the last Phare-funded projects which bore the highly poetic title – “Technical Assistance to the Institute of Public Administration and European Integration - for the development of an in-service training centre network linked to the implementation and enforcement of the Acquis”. The project’s aim was to –
“ build a system for in-service training of Inspectors and other stakeholders to satisfy clearly identified training needs and priorities in the field of acquis communautaire implementation”. Five fields were selected by the Institute for the initial development of training and training material – Food safety; Environment; E-government; Consumer protection; and Equal opportunities. The project appointed Bulgarian specialists in these fields to manage this process of designing and delivering training. In six months the project was able to -
· Produce 18 training courses
· Draft Guidelines for assessing training; how to carry out assessment which helps improved training.
· Produce a Training of Trainers’ Manual; and a Coaching Manual
· Run 30 workshops in the 6 regions for 500 local officials
· Draft a Discussion Paper to identify the various elements needed to help improve the capacity of Bulgarian state administration. This offered examples of good practice in both training and implementation.
“Procurement issues” (for which read a combination of Bulgarian and Italian corruption) delayed the start of the project by some 4 months…….and continued to plague us for the remainder of the year. But it was, for me again, a marvellous learning opportunity during which I learned so much about both the fundamental issue of “compliance with European norms” - as well as how effective training could and should be organized……