what you get here

This is not a blog which opinionates on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

modern work

Went exploring yesterday afternoon on the hills above the house – accompanied by 2 more dogs which have attached themselves to me. The view from the upper part of the extensive strip of ground we have there are quite stunning. The picture above doesn't do the view I have justice. I struck over to the left side of a wooded copse which runs at the top of the main hill which screens the main range of mountains and was intrigued to hear an engine. When I topped the ridge I saw 2 tractors in the small valley down below each dragging a large tree trunk toward the far end of Sirnea. Following their tracks I quickly found myself in a real Shangrilai – the real old Romania of scattered summer cowshacks. I headed left down a deep dell in the general direction of Dambivici and was very soon into a settlement which I guessed was Tohani (or Cohanini??)– a village whose northern part I know. An old guy spreading manure onto the field from his cart confirmed this. Then a lovely walk following the contours which took me back to above the house. Google these various names on Google Earth and you will find quite a few superb photos taken by various Romanians.
Now that my spirits are reinvigorated, I’ve been drafting a note trying to pin down why I became disabled so quickly in my last project. I had noted 14 points – which is more a manifesto than an explanation! Starting a project is never easy - with doubts about what one can really contribute (and I've already mentioned that reading too much in this confused field is not good for your health!!) Going into new terrain every 2 years or so – another unknown country, another new flat, new team , new contractor, new EC structure, new beneficiary, new procedures and ways of doing things, having to prove one’s credentials again and again. Mercenaries grow old – what was once a delight becomes unbearable.
Basically I have been spoiled by the flexibility I enjoyed in my projects until 2008 The conditions in which I worked in places such as Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan demanded this – and the EC desk-officers basically trusted me to deliver. Now the project management ideology has become so strong that it is assumed that you can and should plan detailed activities a full year ahead – and that your every (scheduled) visit to the toilet has to be recorded and monitored. This is full-blown Fordism which is now mocked in the private sector which is assumed to have all the answers and skills. Some years ago I found an article Lost in the matrix which attacked the logframe approach to projects – and have uploaded it to my website

Now a bit of light relief. Todays Guardian carries a story about a shopkeeper being fined 1,000 pounds (and put under a curfew for a week!!!) for selling a goldfish to a 14 year old. April Fool's Day is actually tomorrow - I'm assuming this is an early bash. See for yourself here.

Finally I have to record the discovery at last of the title and author of a book I've been searching for since it was stolen from my office in Kyrgyzstan. I used it extensively in mini-seminars with the staff in my Tashkent and Bishkek offices. It's Peter's Honey's Improve your people skills

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Weber and NPM

Superb cloudless sky - and last night the full moon lit up the landscape beautifully. Had trouble with an Amazon delivery yesterday - they had sent it UPS and it landed up in the wrong village. But an hour there the package was - on my neighbour's table. And one of the items is mouth watering - How to live - a life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell.

On the Saturday post I promised to give some excerpts from Dreschler's Rise and Demise of NPM. I hope you'll find this syfficiently tantalising to go and read the full paper -w hich you will find on my website
NPM is based on the understanding that all human behavior is always motivated by self-interest and, specifically, profit maximization. It assumes that everything relevant can be quantified; qualitative judgments are not necessary. It is popularly denoted by concepts such as project management, flat hierarchies, customer orientation, abolition of career civil service, depolitization, total quality management, and contracting-out.
NPM is part of the neo-classical economic imperialism within the social sciences, i.e. the tendency to approach all questions with neo-classical economic methods.
In advanced PA scholarship itself, especially – but not only – in Europe, NPM is on the defensive by now, if taken as a world view (i.e. an ideology), rather than as one of several useful perspectives for PA reform (i.e. part of a pluralistic approach). The question here is more whether one favours post-NPM (anti-NPM) or post-post-NPM, Weberian-based PA, the latter being the most advanced, and the most sophisticated, and now called the Neo-Weberian State (NWS). What was an option ten years ago is not an option anymore today. I would say that in PA
• in 1995, it was still possible to believe in NPM, although there were the first strong and substantial critiques
• in 2000, NPM was on the defensive, as empirical findings spoke clearly against it as well
• in 2005, NPM is not a viable concept anymore

Yet, in many areas, both of scholarship and of the world, as well as in policy, NPM is very alive and very much kicking. It is, therefore, necessary to look both at the concept itself and at the reasons for its success.

The use of business techniques within the public sphere thus confuses the most basic requirements of any state, particularly of a Democracy, with a liability: regularity, transparency, and due process are simply much more important than low costs and speed.
If you go for savings and neglect context and even the actual goals, you will not be efficient but rather the ultimate wastrel. This misunderstanding of the concept of efficiency and the depolitization that comes with it are typical symptoms of technocracy and bureaucracy, which NPM professes to oppose but which, as Eugenie Samier has demonstrated, it rather fosters. (2001)
The catchword promises have empirically not been delivered – flat hierarchies are a matter of appropriateness and depend in their suitability entirely on context; taking the citizen merely as customer takes away her participatory rights and duties and thus hollows out the state; the abolition of career civil service will usually let administrative capacity erode; depolitization – and thus de-democratization – leads to the return of the imperial bureaucrat (in its worst sense, disguised as the entrepreneurial bureaucrat – same power, less responsibility); and contracting-out has proven to be excessively expensive and often infringing on core competences of the state as well as on the most basic standards of equity. Total Quality Management is actually not necessarily an NPM concept; it can be just as well used elsewhere and was actually always understood to be part of a well-working PA; project management may frequently work, but as a principle and in the long run, it is more expensive and less responsible than the traditional approach.

The counter-model to NPM, indeed its bĂȘte noire, is what is called “Weberian PA”. This label is highly problematic, as NPM presents a caricature of it and thus builds up a paper tiger. Its namesake himself, the great German sociologist and economist Max Weber, did not even particularly like the model of PA so described; he only saw it, rightly, as the most rational and efficient one for his time, and the one towards which PA would tend. That this is by and large still the case 80 years later if one looks at the model rather than at its caricature is something that would have probably surprised him quite a bit. (He also described, almost clairvoyantly, the NPM system, which for him was the most dehumanizing of organizational forms; see Samier 2001.)
Apart from the caricature, for Weber, the most efficient PA was a set of offices in which ap¬pointed civil servants operated under the principles of merit selection (impersonality), hier¬archy, the division of labor, exclusive employment, career advancement, the written form, and legality. This increase of rationality – his key term – would increase speed, scope, predict-ability, and cost-effectiveness, as needed for an advanced mass-industrial society. (Weber 1922: esp. 124-130) And although we are well beyond such a world – and in what we may or may not call the “network society” –, these, or almost all of these, are not obsolete criteria, but in fact, they are exceedingly close to most of the recent large-scale principles of PA reform agendas worldwide, including the European Admin¬istrative Space’s main standards of reliability and predictability, openness and transparency, accountability, and efficiency and effectiveness (SIGMA 1998: 8-14). Most certainly, they are closer to responsible PA reform than the catchwords of NPM.

The Neo-Weberian State
And yet, of course there are legitimate problems with many a bureaucracy, there are still very self-centered administrations that hinder economic development rather than fostering it, there is the frequent legalistic domination of PA – and of lawyers within the civil service – that is preventing a problem-solving approach, and there are organizational changes and other shifts in public life that distance us from the Twenties. But the Weberian system has actually (been) adapted to them very successfully, as Continental PA always has. Both to characterize these and to denote a post-post-NPM, synergetic system of PA, perhaps a specifically European one that is not a NPM “laggard” but the opposite, Pollitt and Bouckaert, in what is now the standard book on Public Management Reform, have coined in the second edition (September 2004) the term “Neo-Weberian State” or NWS. I think it is wise to accept that label for the sake of clarity and uniformity, even if I do not agree completely with all details (for my earlier thought on the matter, see Drechsler 2003, 2005a, upon which much of the current article is based), and even though the Weber label might not be “cool” enough for the consultancy circuit. The respective outline of the NWS will be quoted here in full, rather than paraphrased:

‘Weberian’ Elements
• Reaffirmation of the role of the state as the main facilitator of solutions to the new problems of globalization, technological change, shifting demographics, and environmental threat
• Reaffirmation of the role of representative democracy (central, regional, and local) as the legitimating element within the state apparatus
• Reaffirmation of administrative law – suitably modernized – in preserving the basic principles pertaining to the citizen-state relationship, including equality before the law, legal security, and the availability of specialized legal scrutiny of state actions
• Preservation of the idea of a public service with a distinct status, culture, and terms and conditions

‘Neo’ Elements
• Shift from an internal orientation towards bureaucratic rules towards an external orientation towards meeting citizens’ needs and wishes. The primary route to achieving this is not the employment of market mechanisms (although they may occasionally come in handy) but the creation of a professional culture of quality and service
• Supplementation (not replacement) of the role of representative democracy by a range of devices for consultation with, and direct representation of, citizens’ views (…)
• In the management of resources within government, a modernization of the relevant laws to encourage a greater orientation on the achievements of results rather than merely the correct following of procedure. This is expressed partly in a shift from ex ante to ex post controls, but not a complete abandonment of the former
• A professionalization of the public service, so that the ‘bureaucrat’ becomes not simply an expert in the law relevant to his or her sphere of activity, but also a professional manager, oriented to meeting the needs of his or her citizen/users (99-100)

Good Governance: The Back Door
This being realized, it is now important to beware of the “thief that cometh in the night.” NPM may be in demise – but what about the currently ever-so-popular concept of Good Governance? Arising, once again, in the 1980s in the International Finance Institutions (IFI’s), this was a positive extrapolation from the negative experiences that these organizations had had in the “developing” countries by observing that financial aid seemed to have had no effects. From this, they deduced an absence of institutions, principles, and structures, the entirety of which was called “Governance” – and “Good Governance” when they worked well. A good idea as such – but the provenience, the same as with NPM, may make us halt, and rightly.
By and large, the term “Governance” has by now become a more or less neutral concept that focuses on steering mechanisms in a certain political unit, emphasizing the interaction of state (First), business (Second), and society (Third Sector) players. “Good Governance”, on the other hand, is not at all neutral; rather, it is a normative concept that again embodies a strong value judgment in favor of the retrenchment of the state, which is supposed to yield to Business standards, principles, and – not least – interests. In that sense, “Good Governance” privileges the Second over the First Sector, even in First Sector areas.
Within the state sector itself, many of the principles of “Good Governance” are therefore identical with NPM. And while a unitary definition of the concept never existed, not even within the respective individual IFI’s, “good” principles usually encompassed such concepts as transparency, efficiency, participation, responsibility, and market economy, state of law, democracy, and justice. Many of them are indubitably “good” as such, but all of them – except the last one, which is the most abstract – are heavily context-dependent, hinging not only on definition and interpretation, but also on time and place. Critics from the “developing” countries thus often saw and see the demand for “Good Governance” as a form of Neo-Colonialist Imperialism and as part of negative Globalization, since it demands the creation of institutions and structures before economic development, while all wealthy countries of the “West” established them only afterwards.

Monday, March 29, 2010

PA as a humanistic discipline

After heavy snow yesterday and strong wind overnight, the electricity in the village went down about 08.30 and stayed off until 14.15 - repairs apparently. The snow has quickly melted.
As promised, I have updated the "key papers" on the public admincreform website (see links)mainly by adding the paper I referred to in my last entry - "Toward PA as a humanistic discipline - a humanistic manifesto". This is the sort of critique (and overview) I've been waiting for.
Blogs, I'm afraid, are part of the restless and senseless search for novelty. Only when I printed out the 100 plus pages of this blog and bind them in book form, did I see some of the entries from a few months' back. Bloggers tend not to look at archived material - no wonder, given the name "archives" for heaven's sake. Who visits such places? One of (several) reasons why I don't think E-books will replace real ones!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

management blogs

Erasmus (by Holbein the Younger)

The “links” which are listed on the right hand side are those blogs (generally) which have impressed me over the past year or so. Initially it was quite difficult to find blogs which catered for my various interests in - food, literature, paintings, governance – let alone more arcane subjects such as carpets, haystacks and Egyptian music (actually Anouk Brahim ). But, once, you start surfing you get into a roll. One good link leads to another.
So, recently, I was led from authentic organisations to three useful managerial blogs -
graeme martin; bob sutton; and management craft

Management ideology (for such it is) is important to the theme I raised in the last post of the identity and future of PA since public administration has always been a pot-pourri – initially of the disciples of law, political science, economics, sociology and psychology but then of other parasitic subjects such as management and its dreadfully-named sub-subject "human resource management".
Toward PA as a Humanistic discipline – a humanistic manifesto
by Eugenie Samier offers an excellent overview of the subject's development (as well as a polemic) at I have been looking for a paper like this for a long time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

the search for post-autistic public administration

another Tudor Banus graphic

All my adult life, I've had a passion for what we might call "the machinery of government" - namely the way institutions of government operated and related to citizens and their needs. When I started on the reform path - almost 40 years ago - trying to reform the bureaucracy was considered a foolhardy enterprise. Now every self-respecting government leader is into it.
But what is there to show for the incredible effort and spending on reform efforts in Europe (let alone globally) over the past 25 years? The academic judgement is that very little has been achieved (see C Pollitt 2000). Consultants, officials and politicians all have vested interests in suggesting otherwise - although few of these 3 groups actually put anything coherent into print under their own name. We are generally left with the strategy documents they have sponsored - and which have emerged from the tortuous process of collective approval.

My emergence into working life in the late 1960s coincided with the optimism of a new period of social engineering - when people began to believe that it was both necessary and possible to change state bureaucracy for the better. Some thought this could be done by internal reform - with better management systems. Others felt that it required strong external challenge - whether from the community or from the market.
One of the best writers in the business, Guy Peters, argues - in his book Ways of Governing (2000)- that the reforms can be reduced to four schools of thinking. They are - "market models" (A); "the Participatory State" (B); "Flexible Government" (C); and "Deregulated Government" (D). You can see a couple of useful tables which summarise the key components of these 4 schools in my annotated bibliography in "key papers" in my other blog.

But so much of the literature of public management (or public administration, to use the older term) complacently argued that a combination of voting in a pluralist system, good civil service and management systems, media coverage and ethics would keep officials and politicians in check.
Hardly surprising that, in reaction, public choice theory went to the opposite extreme and assumed that all actors pursued their own interests - and that privatisation and "command and control" was the way forward. Where the new approach has been implemented, the results have been catastrophic - with morale at rock bottom; and soaring "transaction" costs in the new contract and audit culture of the pst 2 decades.

Where, then, does that leave public management? Is there in fact a serious discipline - or body of work which can be read with benefit by practitioners? Or is it just a collection of stories and fashions?
The discipline of Economics is having to reinvent itself - with "behavioural economics" leading the way. No longer do the younger economists build models based on individualistic rationality - they at last recognise that human beings are social and complex. In my October 24 blog, I mentioned the establishment a decade or so ago of something called "Post-autistic Economics" - a protest in the first instance by younger economists about the false assumptions on which economics was based.
And psychologists such as Martin Seligman have (claimed to) moved that discipline away from its fixation on illness to pose question about the preconditions for happiness ("Positive Psychology").

So what is public management doing to deal with the disillusionment? The "good governance" fashion has been about the only effort to suggest a way forward. And, quite rightly, that has come in for a great deal of criticism - the most practical of which is M Grindle: Good Enough Governance . Perhaps we need a post-autistic public administration movement?
One problem is that public management is hardly a discipline per se. It is rather parasitic on other social sciences. But hundreds of university departments, courses and books use that phrase and therefore purport to be of use to those in government wanting to improve the structures, skills and tools they use. And this is one subject which cannot say it exists "for knowledge's sake" only! This is a subject (like medicine) which has to demonstrate its relevance for those in charge of state and municipal departments who are seeking the public interest.
Citizens and public staff alike are disillusioned (at least in anglo-saxon countries) with the management culture of public services. Public management needs to be reinvented. And, unlike, the new psychology's focus on the positive, that rethink perhaps need to focus more on the failures, disasters, corruption, repression and boredom which is the sad reality of government in so many countries. Scottish Review - one of the "links" on this site - gives excellent coverage to some of the more routine flaws of a system which is supposed to be advanced!

PA has long had an identity crisis - there are many academic articles about this - some of which I will try to upload to my website. And much of this is intertwined with the rise and fall of new public management which is best caught in Wolfgang Dreschler's article I have just read on "the rise and demise of new public management". Significantly, it appeared in the post-autistic economics journal all of 5 years ago!
Its argument (largely from an economic rather than PA point of view) is that NPM was a major aberration and that we can and should now return to a neo-Weberian system. In a future blog I will give some quotes from this stimulating review.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Greece and capacities to govern

What does the current Greek crisis say about the capacity of national and international policy-making processes. The impression we all have is that government systems are fast losing whatever capacity they had to deal with problems. Or is this just a British perception? The British system is easier to track than other countries – partly because it’s a relatively transparent system (so many journalists; think-tankers and academics covering policy issues and with an interest in revealing policy disasters) and partly because the language used is a universal one (it’s more difficult to track the French system in any detail).

I remember the shock I had when the costs of the UK poll-tax fiasco were first revealed in the late 1980s – it was, I think, the first time the public heard the word “billions” of pounds used in a policy discussion (now we yawn at the term!).
And then there was the perversity of rail nationalisation in the UK where public subsidies of about 1 billion pounds a year were replaced by a so-called “privatised” system which, within a deacade,became user-hostile and required about 3 million a year of public financial support. For some background see here. And also the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) system which the recent excerpt from Craig Murray’s blog referred to – which multiplies the cost to the public of schools and hospitals by a factor of about 5 and gives us fairly shoddy products (see NAO reports).
And those outsiders who are supposed (according to the theory of liberal democracy) to control government decision-making (parliamentarians and journalists) are ineffective. The Scottish Executive and Parliament which were set up in 1999 (after a gap of almost 300 years) tried to go in a different direction – but adversarial political and administrative cultures die hard. And – despite such efforts as Charter 88 and the more recent Open Democracy initiatives - the English system seems impossible to change. Or, rather, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”!

But what about the rest of Europe? Scandinavian, French and German systems seem to produce better (and less disputed) public services. The German and Scandinavian political systems have strong elements of consensuality built into them. New policies have to be argued through – and indeed negotiated. The British system is adversarial – and autocratic. The French civil service has retained its powers to challenge the political class – the British one made more subservient to the political class.
It is the conventional wisdom that this balance and negotiation (with and between political and administrative systems) plus decentralisation which produces policies which work.

What has all this to do with the crisis in which Greece and the eurozone now finds itself in? It was all so predictable – Greece was not ready for EU membership (let alone access to the eurozone). And the euro rules out the option of devaluation for weaker economies – who are therefore doomed them to the role of peripheral regions in a national economy. Once this is recognised, the EU needs to develop and apply stronger policy tools.
For a more technical appraisal of the Greek situation see Becker’s contribution in the excellent blog wriiten as a dialogue by 2 eminent americans - /

Thursday, March 25, 2010

policy amnesia

Daily news is so deafening that we often forget significant items. Last October there was an independent report in Britain of which I've heard nothing since. It gives marvellous material for a case study in policy-making and implementation.
It was the biggest independent inquiry into primary education in four decades, based on 28 research surveys, 1,052 written submissions and 250 focus groups. It was undertaken by 14 authors, 66 research consultants and a 20-strong advisory committee at Cambridge University, led by Professor Robin Alexander, one of the most experienced educational academics in the country”

The Guardian presented the report in vivid terms -
In a damning indictment of Labour's record in primary education since 1997, a Cambridge University-led review today accuses the government of introducing an educational diet "even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools".
It claims that successive Labour ministers have intervened in England's classrooms on an unprecedented scale, controlling every detail of how teachers teach in a system that has "Stalinist overtones
". (Guardian 16 October 2009)
It says they have exaggerated progress, narrowed the curriculum and left children stressed-out by the testing and league table system.

To me, the most significant part of the paper’s coverage was the following sentence – “The report notes the questionable evidence on which some key educational policies have been based; the disenfranchising of local voice; the rise of unelected and unaccountable groups taking key decisions behind closed doors; the 'empty rituals' of consultations; the authoritarian mindset, and the use of myth and derision to underwrite exaggerated accounts of progress and discredit alternative views”.

It was all supposed to be so different. When New Labour gained power in 1997, the papers which flowed from their new Strategy Unit in the Cabinet Office spoke of a new dawn – “open, evidence-based policy-making”. And, since then, we have been buried by an avalanche of papers saying what progress is being made. The paper which set the tone can be found here In my more cynical moments, I wonder whether the net result of decades of reform has not been simply to give those in power a more effective language to help hold on to that power while changing as little as possible! I have a theory that the more an organisation talks of such things as “transparency”, “accountability” and “effectiveness”, the more secretive, complacent and immoral it is! Emerson put it very succinctly almost a century ago - “The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons!”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

project management and modern work places

Guess who?
For the past 20 years my technical title has been "Team Leader" of various EU projects of Technical Assistance. I have generally enjoyed the projects - as they introduced me to new countries, cultures, friends and roles.
The last 16 months have been much more difficult.
The main reason has been the contact with the tight control now exercised on EU projects - almost daily monitoring. On one recent project there were 4 young graduates in an office nearby whose only job was to approve and monitor what we 3 key experts we were doing! I had to record what I did every day. On a draft of my first monthly timesheet, I entered a trip to the toilet just to test their vigilance - but then didn't have the courage to sustain the challenge!
So much bureaucracy, schedule planning and organisation of travel trips on most projects now!!!! Sad because, intellectually, I think I have a lot to contribute....perhaps now more as a shortterm expert?
I was so lucky with my previous projects of the past 18 years - being left alone, trusted and with excellent admin support.

In the blog on November 14, I summarised Zuboff's powerful critique of the alienating and ineffective nature of modern organisations. Project management is now a disease.
The (major) mistake New Public Management made was to model itself on such perversities. Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" is now transposed from factories to offices....
A nice googlebook which pursues the theme - The Book of F-Laws - Russell Ackoff and H Addison (updated commentary by S Bibb). Russell Ackoff was, of course, the guru of systems thinking in the 1960s. You can also get a summary version here.
ps the graphic is ....Albrecht Durer!


Just to give a sense of the neighbourhood. The house is modestly hiding behind the trees to the middle-right of picture (beside the redhouse) At the moment I have to park the car at the neighbours (bottom left) and struggle up the hill with the groceries et al. Good for flabby muscles!

I'm back in Bucharest for the moment - feeling so refreshed after the week there watching (and listening to) the change in season. After my return from China I had become a bit of a couch potato - with Midsummer Murders and Foyle's War staple viewing in the morning! At Sirnea, music is the only distraction.
Family and friends I try to tempt with a lyrical book on Transylvania produced recently by Bronwen Riley and Dan Dinescu (the marvellous Romanian photographer)

For those interested in hill walking, please have a look at Mountains of Romania  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

performance management

Tudor Banus - a Romanian artist
One of the reasons I have lost my enthusiasm for my public admin reform assignments is because of the "Fordist" phase it is currently going through with an emphasis everywhere on performance management. Colin Talbot is one of the few people who writes sensibly about this and I'm sorry his book on the topic is not out until early summer (see Amazon)
The Institute for Government published recently a useful survey of the British experience of performance management and attitudes of civil servants and local government officials to the recent revamp. The document, however, makes no mention of the critique by John Seddon of the quasi-Stalinist targeting approach taken to public services by the British over the past 10-15 years - and this lacuna worries me. I must admit I still remain cynical about the excessive targeting - and a blog here on November 5th last year drew atention to 2 British reports which said so. One was a Parliamentary Select Committee Report; the other was Think-Tank pamphlet which recommended an abolition of the entire control regime which has grown up in Britain over the past 2 decades. Its title - Leading from the Front - reflects its basic argument that power should be returned to the front-line professionals - and the Stalinist measurement and control infrastructure should be dismantled.

One of my "favourite links" is Craig Murray's blog. In October he addressed the key question which is figuring in a major way as the general election in that country approaches – how UK public finances can deal with the massive support they have given the banking system.

"Smaller, leaner public services which simply go on with delivering the service direct, with minimal administration. This is the opposite of what the Tories would do. In particular, we need to cut out the whole complex administration of "internal markets" within the public services, where vast arrays of accountants and managers spend their wasted lives processing paper payments from the government to the government.
"Let me tell you a true story which is an analogy for the whole rotten system. As Ambassador in Tashkent, I had staff from a variety of government departments - FCO, MOD, DFID, BTI, Home Office etc. In addition to which, some staff sometimes did some work for other than their own department. This led to complex inter-departmental charging, including this:
"I was presented with a floor plan of the Embassy building, with floor area calculated of each office, corridor and meeting room. I then had to calculate what percentage of time each room or corridor was used by each member of staff, and what percentage of time each member of staff worked for which government department. So, for example, after doing all the calculations, I might conclude that my own office was used 42% of the time on FCO business, 13% of the time on BTI business, 11% on DFID, etc etc, whereas my secretary's office was used ....
"I then would have to multiply the percentage for each government department for each room, lobby and corridor by the square footage of that room, lobby or corridor. Then you would add up for every government department the square footages for each room, until you had totals of how many square feet of overall Embassy space were attributable to each government department. The running costs of the Embassy could then be calculated - depreciation, lighting, heating, maintenance, equipment, guarding, cleaning, gardening etc - and divided among the different departments. Then numerous internal payment transfers would be processed and made.

"The point being, of course, that all the payments were simply from the British government to the British government, but the taxpayer had the privilege of paying much more to run the Embassy to cover the staff who did the internal accounting. That is just one of the internal market procedures in one small Embassy. Imagine the madnesses of internal accounting in the NHS. The much vaunted increases in NHS spending have gone entirely to finance this kind of bureaucracy. Internal markets take huge resources for extra paperwork, full stop.

"The Private Finance Initiative is similarly crazy; a device by which the running costs of public institutions are hamstrung to make massive payments on capital to private investors. What we desperately need to do is get back to the notion that public services should be provided by the State, with the least possible administrative tail. The Tories - and New Labour, in fact - both propose on the contrary to increase internal market procedures and contracting out.
All of the Conservative vaunted savings proposals would not add up to 10% of the saving from simply scrapping Trident. Ending imperial pretentions is a must for any sensible plan to tackle the deficit

Monday, March 22, 2010

novels I go back to

This is a self-indulgent post - recording the novels which have given me pleasure recently and indeed to which I find myself returning and emerging from them with little recollection of the first read! Few people except my kids will be much interested in this - but I do remember being disappointed at finding so little of a personal nature in the papers left behind by my father.

I read more novels in my older age. So most of these authors I came across only recently. Only Allende, Boll, Durrell, Jenkins, Klima, Marquez, Moravia, Remy, Roy and Trevor go back earlier.

I don’t apologise for Coelho’s appearance in the list. It may not be literature – and perhaps better belongs in the list of lighter reading – which would include Morris West, Robert Ludlum and Colin Harrison. But it’s still very enjoyable. And John le Carre belongs in a category of his own....
It’s interesting to see that only half the list are European writers – although the Celts may seem overrepresented, that’s simply because they do use language creatively!!

I have added at the bottom a short list of poets I enjoy. Previous blogs have given an indication of my more professional reading.

Other enjoyable reads are more difficult to classify - eg Theodor Zeldin's An Intimate History of Humanity. And then there are diaries such as those by de Beauvoir and Luise Rinse.


Alaa Al Aswany (Egypt)
The Yacoubian Building

Allende Isabel (Chile)
Eva Luna
Eva Luna’s stories

Amado Jorge (Brazil);
Gabriela – Clove and Cinnamon (1962)

Boell Heinrich (Germany)
Collected Short Stories
simple but powerful, humanistic stories of the war and immediate desolate post-war years in Germany

Coelho Paul (Brazil)
The Pilgrimage
The Zahir
The Valkries
The Witch of Portobello

Crumey Andrew (Scotand)
Sputnik Caledonia

Durrell Lawrence (England)
The Alexandria Quartet (1960s)
The Avignon Quartet
amazing use of language - the first giving a powerful sense of ex-patriot life in Egypt before and during the 2nd World War. The second giving a sense of the Nazi period in France

Faulds Sebastian (England)
A fool's Alphabet
On Green Dolphin Street
Human Stain
An English writer with a strong European sense!

Gary Romain (France)
Clair de Femme
Au dela de cette limite le billet n’est pas valable

Godwin Jason (England)
The Snake Stone
The Janissary Tree
Evokes Istanbul

Houllebecq Michel (France)

Jenkins Robin (Scotland
The Missionaries ((1957)
Love is a fervent fire (1959)
Some Kind of Grace (1960)
Fergus Lamont
Gives a strong sense of the Scotland which is past

Kazantzakis Nikos (Greece)
The Fratricides
Freedom and Death
Zorba the Greek
Report to Greco
Christ Recrucified
summons up the old rural Greece

Klima Ivan (Czechia)
The Ultimate Intimacy
Judge on Trial
Love and Garbage
For me, much more interesting than his more famous compatriot Milan Kundera

Llosa MV(Peru)
The Green House (1965)
Conversation in the Cathedral
The War of the end of the World
The last novel is the strongest description I;ve ever read of violence

Lodge David (England)
Author, author
Nice Work
Changing Places

Mahfouz Naguib (Egypt)
Palace of Desire (1957)
Sugar Street (The Cairo Trilogy
Palace Walk
The Beggar, the Thief and the Dogs,
Autumn Quail
The Harafish
Midaq Alley
A Nobel prize winner I only got to know when the prize was announced. Such simple but evocative writing about the poor in the post-war period. To read - and reread

Marquez Gabriel Garcia (Columbia)
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Love in the Time of Cholera

Mason Daniel (USA)
The Piano Tuner (2002)

Massie Alan (Scotland)
A Question of Loyalties

McGahern John (Ireland)
Creatures of the Earth
That they may face the rising sun
The older Irish writers are something else (see William Trevor)

Meek James (Scotland)
The People's Act Of Love
We Are Now Beginning Our Descent
Very versatile!

Moravia Albert (Italy)
Contempt (1954)
Boredom (1960)

Nabakov Vladimir (Russia)
The Stories of Vladimir Nabakov

Nassib Selim (Egypt)
I loved you for your voice (2006)

Trevor William (Ireland)
The Old Boys (1964)
The Boarding House (1965)
The Love Department (1966)
After Rain (1996)

Pamuk Orhan (Turkey)
My name is red (2001)
A modern Proust - very tantalising

Remy Pierre-Jean (France)
Une Ville Immortelle

Roy Claude (France)
Le Malheur d’aimer

Shields Carol (Canada)
Larry's Party
The Collected Stories
The Republic of Love

Welsh Irvine (Scotland)
The Bedroom Secrets of the master chefs

Yates Richard (US)
Young Hearts Crying
The Collected Stories of Richard Yates

Yehoshuova (Israel)
A Woman in Jerusalem
The Liberated Bride

Norman McCaig; WS Graham (both Scottish); Bert Brecht (Germany); Marin Sorescu (Romania)

cookbooks and desert islands

I have hundreds of books about public admin reform in my library (mainly in my virtual library). But what beneficiaries want to know is - "What's the bottom line? We know that academics talk a lot of shit Just tell us what we should do. Give us a manual...."
I am always excited when I discover such manuals. And I will shortly try to put onto the website some of the more useful texts I have found in my work. However, when I was asked recently to bid for a project which would have required me to draft about 10 such manuals, I declined.
Let me explain why.
I love cooking - and have quite a collection of cookery books. I think 50 at the last count. They get increasingly attractive and popular. Millions of copies are bought. (They also seem to be getting heavier! I use one as a door stopper - The Cook's Book - step-by-step techniques and recipes for success every time from the world's top chefs).
The curious thing, however, is how little I actually use them to cook with! They are nice to glance at. They certainly get the juices and inspiration running. But I then will do one of two things. Often, from laziness or fear of failure and ridicule, I will return to my tried and tested recipes. But sometimes I will experiment, using the recipe as an inspiration - partly because I don't actually have all of the ingredients which I am told are required but partly because it's more fun! There's a moral there!
Or think of all the self-help (and diet) books which have been published in the last 50 years. I have a fascinating book 50 self-help classics - 50 inspirational books to transform your life from timeless sages to contemporary gurus. Have they made people happier, slimmer?? Can they?

The word "manual" comes from the world of military, construction or do-it-yourself. Manuals give (or should!) clear and logical descriptions of the steps required to assemble a machine or artefact. Human beings and organisations are not, however, machines!!
There are no short-cuts to organisational change - although the project cycle management approach which is the basis of EC Technical Assistance would have us believe there are!!
A marvellous book appeared in 1991 (sadly long out of print) and set out and classified 99 different - and mutually inconsistent - principles and injunctions which various serious writers had offered over the decades for helping managers in the public sector operate it effectively!
And more than a decade ago, two books ridiculed the simplistic nature of the offerings of management consultants in the private sector. Management Gurus - what makes them and how to become one appeared in 1996 (one of my googlebooks) and The Witchdoctors-making sense of the management gurus (also 1996). If the books had any effect, it was only to drive consultants into the more gullible public sector! (see Daid Craig's "Plundering the Public Sector" for proof that I'm not joking!)

I used to criticise the EC for not giving any intellectual leadership to those working on its programmes of technical assistance. Well, they have certainly made up for lost time in the last few years. At the last count I had 12 substantial manuals in my virtual library from them, the last one with the curious sub-title of " backbone strategy" (for improving the operation of their PIUs). But, in my view at any rate, they are not fit for much.

One of the longest- running and appreciated radio programmes in the UK is BBC's Desert Island Discs. The format is simple. A famous person is interviewed about his/her life and, on the belief that they have been shipwrecked and have to select the most important music and a single book to keep them company. Excerpts of their favourite music are played. At the end, the question is asked "Apart from the bible, what book would you wish to take with you??"!! (Presumably they now add "or Koran"?)

The question for today is what single book would you put in the hands of your beneficiary?
In Uzbekistan I gave the Deputy Prime Minister I was working with either Guy Peter's The Future of Governing; four emerging models or Chris Hood's The art of the state (see my google books). I think it was the former. Both books suggest that all writing on government reform can be reduced to 4 schools of thinking. This sort of classification I always find helpful.

In Azerbaijan, I gave my beneficiary (who was subsequently appointed Minister for the new Civil Service Agency which came from my work) a Russian version of Robert Greene's "48 laws of power"! Greene is a modern Machiavelli. And life for a reformer is tough in Azerbaijan!

And, in the mid-1990s, I used to buy and distribute Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Effective People since it was about the only title in those days translated into central european languages.

If you had to choose one book for your beneficiary, what would it be??

Sunday, March 21, 2010


It's been very therapeutic experiencing the season's change - the drip of melting snow; the thump as it lands on the terrace at the back; the gradual exposure of the grass; the dogs luxuriating in the earth and sun.
Earlier blogs complained about the backbreaking work involved in having wood as the main heating - but my flabby and fattening body was grateful for the physical toil involved in having a rural retreat.
Over the weekend I have printed out the 100 pages or so of my 2 blogs - and have to make sure that the more interesting entries are not lost to posterity! So - be prepared for some recycling of old material!

There must have been a vicarious strand in me since amongst the books I have collected in the past couple of years are quite a few which celebrate nature and isolation. I started with Robert McFarlane's amazing "Mountains of the Mind", then found Roger Deakin's "Wildwood - a journey through trees" and then Richard Mabey's "Beechcombings - the narratives of trees". The latest were McFarlane's "The Wild Places"; and "Song of the Rolling Earth: A Highland Odyssey" by John Lister-Kay.

We all enjoy books about the joys and frustrations of rural living. Peter Mayle made it all fashionable - but there are so many accounts - Harry Clifton's poetic "On the Spine of Italy - a year in the Abruzzi" (1999); Peter Graham's superb "Mourjou - the life and food of an auvergne village" (1998); Michael Viney's "A Year's Turning" (1996) about life in a remote Irish location to which they moved in the late 1970s. And I've just found Tahir Shah - whose "Caliph's House" and "In Arabian Nights" take us further afield to Morocco.

The combination of economic crises, urban pressures and crazy management systems have made "simple living" a more attractive option. Ghazi and Jones's "Downshifting - the guide to happier, simpler living" appeared 12 years ago (1997) - and it was in 1998 that the sociologist Richard Sennett published "The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism" in which he saw soul-destroying consequences in our new work habits,endless hours spent at flexible jobs, performing abstract tasks on computer screens. Last year, in "The Craftsman" Sennett suggested that skilled labour could be a way to resist corporate mediocrity. The environmentalist writer Bill McKibben proposed something similar in "Deep Economy" which condemned the ruinous effects of endless economic expansion and urged readers to live smaller, simpler, more local lives. This artisanal revival has been particularly pronounced among foodies, thanks in part to the writer Michael Pollan, who helped popularize an American variant of the Italian culinary-agrarian movement known as Slow Food. In "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defence of Food" Pollan surveys and explains the excesses of the industrial food chain and praises small farms and local produce.

These ideas have crept farther toward the mainstream in the wake of the economic collapse, which inspired calls for a return to "real work", a return, in other words, to activities more tangible (and, it was hoped, less perilous) than complex swaps of abstract financial products.
Of course, it's easy for me to talk - I'm comfortable financially (as long as the banks don't go bust) - and can always jump into my car and do the odd bit of consultancy in Bulgaria or Macedonia; or take in a concert at Brasov or Bucharest. And, if I had only the village gossip for social contact (rather than the internet) I might be driven up the wall! But for the moment, let me indulge my fancy and be one more small voice arguing for a return to more natural living.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

back again

The last few months have been difficult - hope this is not an outbreak of the winter problems I epxerienced 3 year's running more than 20 years ago in Scotland! The last assignment seems to have been the catalyst - but return to the sun and snow of the Carpathian mountains is as healthy a recipe as one can find. I was miserable in Beijing (today - I see from the news - covered in a yellow sandstorm!) - and really don't have to be so at my age. I reckon I've earned enough - and it's about time I got myself sorted out - for starters finding a decent house in an interesting and sensible area. We've lived long enough in a tiny flat in central Bucharest. The 20 paintings on the wall rather overwhelm!
And by sensible I mean in a country whose language I speak; with some basic facilities; and close to the sea. France is the obvious country - although prices are now a bit ridiculous. Brittany and midi-Pyrenees are the most attractive - with their proximity to the sea. Bulgaria and Turkey also attract. I'm making arrangements to visit Brittany to check things out there - so the blog will be intermittent.
By the way, the painting is by Dobre Dobrev - another marvellous Bulgarian painter from the inter-war years.

Apart from sawing logs today, I took some time to review the blogs on both of my websites. Although the pictures and layout of this blog are inviting, the content of the old website was actually more interesting a year ago as I tracked the progress on the house between April and October. Those interested in life in the mountains should have a look.

Last week's find was the recipes of Nigel Slater - http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/nigelslaterrecipes