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!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Leadership central europe - part VII

Reflecting further on the 5 posts, my concerns about the effectiveness of training programmes in transition countries can perhaps best be summarised in 4 words – "wrong focus" and "wrong theory"! And the way ahead can be summarised in two words – "context" and "leadership".

Wrong Focus
• The EC has funded (in Technical Assistance) and continues to fund (under Structural Funds) too many training projects in transition countries with insufficient focus on building a training capacity. Indeed it undermines national training institutes by the resources its projects gives to private trainers and companies under its procurement rules.
• these programmes have, in addition, concentrated on the supply side (training individual trainers; drafting course material; and funding course) to the almost total exclusion of the demand side (helping organisational managers define their real needs and building stronger inderstanding of and pressure for quality training)
• they focus on lower rather than higher levels of organisations. (It’s the easy option – senior management will rarely admit its deficiencies and need to learn).
• And the programmes assume knowledge rather than skill needs. (It’s easier to provide – through traditional rote learning).

Wrong theory
Most of the training programmes I’ve seen implicitly assume that the performance of state bodies (insofar as it measured in transition countries) can be improved by better knowledge of junior staff. This may be true of the sort of training project I’m currently involved with – aimed at those municipal staff who handle bids for EC funds and manage such projects – but is not true of the general management course which National Training Institutes run. And the mission of such Institutes is surely to help improve the performance of state bodies.
Poor organisational performance is generally due to a mix of poor management systems, lack of strategic leadership and political interference. And Improving them is more a matter of skills and attitude than knowledge!

I am not alone in questioning the effectiveness of the programmes to train public officials.. I was very encouraged a few months back by the publication of a paper - Training and Beyond; seeking better practices for capacity development by Jenny Pearson - which, in a much more referenced (but sometimes turgid) way, expresses the same concerns and indicates the number of people who now seem to share them in what, in the last decade has become the up-and-coming field of capacity development.

Context, context, context
All interventions should therefore start from proper contextual analysis of existing administrative capacity – and constraints. The focus then should be on organisational change – not training - to ensure that proper consideration is given to the full range of possible interventions, of which training is only a small part (see pages 33-37 of the Pearson paper for a good overview). Of course this is not easy – but, if this is not the starting point, then people will fail to pose the correct questions; to learn the required skills; and therefore to waste a lot of money.
Official documents have begun to recognise this in recent years. The EC’s Backbone Strategy admits that its projects need to be better grounded in the context; in its "drivers of change" work, the UK's ODI has pioneered ways of identifying power constraints; and the World Bank’s recent Governance Reforms under real world conditions is written around the sorts of questions which have given my work as a consultant its real edge-
1. How do we build broad coalitions of influentials in favour of change? What do we do about powerful vested interests?
2. How do we help reformers transform indifferent, or even hostile, public opinion into support for reform objectives?
3. How do we instigate citizen demand for good governance and accountability to sustain governance reform?
The paper I wrote earlier in the year for the Varna Conference (Time for the long game - not the logframe) drew attention to the crumbling of key building blocks of administrative reform in many of the EC’s new member states in the last few years. Francis Cardona’s Can Civil Service Reforms Last? The European Union’s 5th Enlargement and Future Policy Orientation – published in early 2010 - is just the latest evidence. It shows how appointments are becoming politicised again. In 2007 Tony Verheijen had published a paper for the World Bank entitled Administrative capacity in the new member states – the limits of innovation which painted a fairly bleak picture. So in 2009, did Meyer-Sahling’s paper for SIGMA - Sustainability of civil service reforms in central and eastern Europe five years after accession. Sorin Ionitsa and Tom Gallagher have painted a vivid picture of the fate of administrative reform in one of these countries – Romania – and offered different levels of explanation for it.

If that is the context, how does one get around it? Clearly politicians in these countries need to grow up and stop behaving like petulant and thieving magpies. But how does that happen?
Manning and Ionitsa emphasise the need for transparency and external pressures (civil society) to try to get politicians to act more seriously.
Verheijen and Cardona talk more idealistically of the need to establish structures which bringing politicians, officials, academics etc together to develop a consensus. It happened, certainly, in the Baltic states – but there are always dangers in holding up one country as an example. When things go wrong, as they generally do, the corrupt and incompetent use this to damn reform. And one of the difficulties so many transition countries have is the inability of its elites to work cooperatively.

I have to wonder whether there is not a place now for the sort of initiative which impressed me when I visited Pittsburgh more than 20 years ago. As an old industrial city, it was experiencing social and economic dislocation – and someone started a quiet movement which brought the potential leaders of tomorrow in its various sectors (commerce, political, administrative, trade union, religious etc) into a regular academic setting to confront the city’s problems. Leadership Pittsburgh has been replicated across other cities and has had 2 profound effects – it forged crucial personal links of respect and understanding; and it made most of those who attended think about their wider responsibilities and the needs of the city.

Going back to the Director of the Training Institute - my advice to him would therefore be - Think Big! Reach out! Have passion!

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