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!

Monday, September 6, 2010

cheese, bears and impact assessment

The Sunday service was belting across the hills of the bowl in which much of Sirnea sits as we climbed up the steep backhill of our estate - and was still to be heard on our return almost three hours later after our cheese trip to the next village in the valley over the crest of the hill. The latest dog to adopt us – Bobitsa – caught up with us just before we encountered about a hundred sheep on the high meadow – which turned out to be part of a much larger flock belonging to the guys from whom we bought out first 2 kilos of sheep cheese (a strong burdurf). The area is like Shangri-lai – totally unchanged. The guys who had the cow cheese were not at home – but we were hailed by an 80 year old in a house overlooking the track who had about 20 rounds (like haggis) of cow burdurf in his cellar – for 5 euros a kilo. Then another conversation with the old couple next door – which apparently touches on the innappropriateness of a 15 year age difference in a couple. As I waited patiently with the 4 kilos weighing me down in my backpack, I was struck by the realization that the view I was looking at had been unchanged for at least 75 years. The only novelty is the old TV inside the gloomy living room.
I have been reading quite a lot recently about the way of life which has been lost. Andrew Greig’s At the Loch of the Green Corrie is a poetic evocation of (and tribute to) Norman MacCaig - one of the amazing generation of Scottish poets whose last member (Edwin Muir) past away a few weeks back. Toward its end, it paints a powerful picture of the rich but simple life of village communities before struck by television and tourists. William Blacker’s book on Maramures village life does the same – as do the Greg Mortensen books on village life in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Our last conversation is with the shepherd of the sheeps we had encountered earlier. He tells us casually that they had the previous day had a run in with a brown bear and her cubs on the wooded hill above (only a kilometre from our house!)
Now I have to get back to thinking about impact assessment. A friend has drafted a small manual on the subject to try to help improve the quality of legislation in a small transition country. Some years back I did a paper on the work we consultants do to help the establishment of meritocratic appointment systems in civil services; of fit-for-purpose public organizations; of policy and legal drafts which have some chance of achieving results; of training systems to produce more analytical and open-minded officials. The paper is number 12 on my website). The point I made was that these were all highly rationalistic exercises which challenged powerful political forces in the bureaucracies and political class of these countries – and perhaps we were all just going through the motions. More specifically I suggested that we needed to pay attention to both the demand and supply sides – and that too much technical assistance operated only on the supply side with the result that systems and procedures were produced which no one wanted. So, if impact assessments are actually to be used, we perhaps need to produce not only manuals (for those supposed to be doing it) but procedures which ensure that people are demanding higher quality work. I know that when I was Secretary of the cabinet which ran Strathclyde Region (with its 100,000 officials – teachers, police, social workers, road, water and sewage engineers etc), I refused to accept papers from the various departments unless they had an Executive summary which followed the logic of policy analysis and impact assessment. That quickly got the message out!

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