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!

Friday, February 4, 2011

case study in sustainability

The EU project I spoke about yesterday was supposed (in the jargon) to „develop the capacity of the Institute of Public Administration to design and manage training to assist the implementation of the EU Acquis”. I have to confess that I struggled to see the logic of the project as it had been designed. The Institute consisted of about 20 administrative staff – the trainers they used were a mix of civil servants and academics. We had to appoint 6 regional coordinators who would select, train and manage appropriate trainers. The Institute did not have the budget for additional staff (even for their existing staff) so the 6 coordinators would be temporary appointments - responsible to the project - and not, therefore, help develop the Institute’s capacity. More seriously, most of the topics of the acquis (food safety; consumer protection; environment) are technical and specialised and do not obviously relate to the core mission of an Institute of Public Management. The project was also supposed to help the Institute set up training centres in 6 Regions – but, again, had no budget for this. Finally, for reasons too complicated to explain here, our project staff (7 key experts!) were not able to develop close working relations with the relevant Institute staff – and little or no „technical transfer” (and therefore capacity development) took place. Sure, we delivered on the tangible outputs – the training manuals; the E-learning platform; the training of trainers; more than 500 local officials trained; and the formal, signed documents for 6 regional centres – but there was absolutely no sustainability. And how could there be from a 12 month project – which, for various political reasons, was actually 6 months? My frustration showed in the Executive summary of the final Discussion paper I left behind-
• The Bulgaria state system is suffering from “training fatigue”. Too many workshops have been held – and many without sufficient preparation or follow-up. Workshops with these features are not worth holding.
• There seems little to show from the tens of millions of euros spent by projects here in the last decade on training of public servants. Training materials, standards and systems are hard to find.
• Training is too ad-hoc – and not properly related to the performance of the individual (through the development and use of core competences) or of the organisation (through, for example, strategic management)
• Laws do not implement themselves. They require political and managerial commitment and resources.
• Such commitment and resources are in limited supply. Organisations (state bodies) perform only when they are given clear (and limited) goals – and the commensurate resources and support. This requires the skills of strategic management. Helping senior management acquire these skills is – or should be - the core mission of the Institute of Public Administration.
• A serious effort needs to be undertaken to establish a network of training suppliers (or community of learners) which can, for example, share experience and materials - and help develop standards.
• It is not enough, however, to operate on the supply side. Standards will rise and training make a contribution to administrative capacity only if there is a stronger demand for more relevant training which makes a measurable impact on individual and organisational performance.
• In the first instance, this will require Human Resource Directors to be more demanding of training managers – to insist on better designed courses and materials; on proper evaluation of courses and trainers; and on the use of better trainers. A subject specialist is not a trainer. We hope this book (and the project’s paper on assessment tools) will help give some benchmarks.
• It is critical that any training intervention is based on “learning outcomes” developed in a proper dialogue between the 4 separate groups involved in any training system (funder; training managers, trainers and learners)
• senior management of state bodies should look closely at the impact of new legislation on systems, procedures, tasks and skills. Too many people seem to think that better implementation and compliance will be achieved simply by telling local officials what that new legislation says.
• Workshops have costs – both direct (trainers and materials) and indirect (staff time). There are a range of other tools available to help staff understand new legal obligations. These are outlined and briefly assessed in section 9 of the final discussion paper
• Workshops should not really be used if the purpose is simply knowledge transfer. The very term “workshop” indicates that exercises should replace lectures – to ensure that the participant is challenged in his/her thinking. Suitable exercises force the participant to examine their own (all too often hidden) assumptions and create an environment in which presentations about legal and policy frameworks become more alive and meaningful. This type of workshop aims at extending self-awareness and is generally the approach used to develop managerial skills and to create champions of change.
It was interesting to talk with the new Head of the Institute - who was our official counterpart on day to day matters. After our departure, the Institute was transferred from the "Ministry of State Admin and Admin Reform" to the Ministry of Education where it languished until it was tranferred to the Council of Ministers from which it had departed some 5 years before! Four upheavals in the course of 5 years! And during these last 2 years it has had to dispense with about 20% of its staff and operate for a significant period of time with no budget!! But shortly it will face the headache of having to manage a 10 million euro project - the 5th or 6th "capacity-building"intervention it's had in the last decade.
The painting (Les Aveugles - blind leading the blind) is one by the Walloon, Anto Carte, whose school of paintings I wrote about some weeks back

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