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, July 19, 2017

Where - oh where - has Hans Christian Andersen's little boy gone?

The last post made a rather casual suggestion that “public administration reform” efforts have been analysed in very different ways in “developed” and “developing” countries respectively….I went so far indeed as to suggest there was a state of apartheid between two bodies of literature which are perhaps best exemplified by using the words “managerial” and “economic” for the literature which has come in the last 25 years from the OECD (using largely the concepts of New Public Management) whereas the UNDP and The World Bank use the language of “capacity development” and “politics” (the WB in the last decade certainly) in the advisory documents they have produced for what we used to call the “developing” world (mainly Africa).
In fact probably at least four bodies of literature should be distinguished - which can be grouped to a certain extent by a mixture of language and culture. I offer this table with some trepidation – it’s what I call “impressionistic” and perhaps raises more questions than it answers -

The Different Types of commentary on state reform efforts
Occupational bias of writers
overviews which give a good sense of status of reform
Eg Chris Pollitt; Chris Hood, Mark Moore, Colin Talbot
International Public Administration Reform – implications for Russia Nick Manning and Neil Parison (World Bank 2004)

West European;
Lawyers, sociologists

Eg Thoenig; Wollman

Public and Social Services in Europe ed Wollman, Kopric and Marcou (2016)

Africa and Asia
Foreign consultants

Eg Tom Carothers

Central and East European
Local consultants
Poor Policy Making in Weak States; Sorin Ionita (2006)
(Youngs et al 2009) 
A House of Cards? Building the rule of law in ECE; Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (2010)

South European?
Local consultants

People in Central Europe wanting to get a sense of how a system of government might actually be changed for the better are best advised to go to the theories of change which have been developed in the literature on international development eg the World Bank’s Reports of 2008 and 2011 which I reference in the third line of the table. The paper by Matthew Andrews which starts part 2 of the first book weaves an interesting theory around 3 words – ”acceptance”, ”authority” and ”ability”.
Is there acceptance of the need for change and reform?
·         of the specific reform idea?
·         of the monetary costs for reform?
·         of the social costs for reformers?
within the incentive fabric of the organization (not just with individuals)?

Is there authority:
·         does legislation allow people to challenge the status quo and initiate reform?
·         do formal organizational structures and rules allow reformers to do what is needed?
·         do informal organizational norms allow reformers to do what needs to be done?

Is there ability: are there enough people, with appropriate skills,
·         to conceptualize and implement the reform?
·         is technology sufficient?
·         are there appropriate information sources to help conceptualize, plan, implement, and institutionalize the reform?

My previous post had quoted extensively from Sorin Ionita’s Poor Policy Making in Weak States. Ionitsa had clearly read Matt Andrew’s work since he writes about Romania that

constraints on improving of policy management are to be found firstly in low (political) acceptance (of the legitimacy of new approaches and transparency); secondly, in low authority (meaning that nobody, for example, knows who exactly is in charge of prioritization across sectors) and only thirdly in low technical ability in institutions

A diagram in that World Bank paper shows that each of these three elements plays a different role at what are four stages - namely conceptualisation, initiation, transition and institutionalisation. However the short para headed “Individual champions matter less than networks” – was the one that hit a nerve for me.

The individual who connects nodes is the key to the network but is often not the one who has the technical idea or who is called the reform champion. His or her skill lies in the ability to bridge relational boundaries and to bring people together. Development is fostered in the presence of robust networks with skilled connectors acting at their heart.

My mind was taken back more than 30 years when, as the guy in charge of Strathclyde Region’s strategy to combat deprivation and, using my combined political and academic roles, I established an “urban change network” to bring together once a month a diverse collection of officials and councillors of different municipalities in the West of Scotland, academics and NGO people to explore how we could extend our understanding of what we were dealing with – and how our policies might make more impact. Notes were written up and circulated……and fed into a process of a more official evaluation of a deprivation strategy which had been formulated 5 years earlier.

The central core of that review (in 1981) consisted of 5 huge Community Conferences and produced a little red book called “Social Strategy for the 80s” which was of the first things a newly-elected Council approved in 1982. It was, for me, a powerful example of “embedding” change

It is a truism in the training world that it is almost impossible to get senior executives on training courses since they think they have nothing to learn – and this is particularly true of the political class. Not only do politicians (generally) think they have nothing to learn but they have managed very successfully to ensure that noone ever carries out critical assessments of their world. They commission or preside over countless inquiries into all the other systems of society – but rarely does their world come under proper scrutiny. Elections are assumed to give legitimacy to anything. Media exposure is assumed to keep politicians on their toes – but a combination of economics, patterns of media ownership and journalistic laziness has meant an end to investigative journalism and its replacement with cheap attacks on politicians which simply breeds public cynicism and indifference. And public cynicism and indifference is the oxygen in which ”impervious power” thrives!

The last of the assessments for central europe I have in my files is Mungiu-Pippidi’s from 2010 (!!) and most of the papers in that box of my table talks of the need to force the politicians in this part of the world to grow up and stop behaving like petulant schoolboys and girls. Manning and Ionitsa both emphasise the need for transparency and external pressures. Verheijen talks of the establishment of structures bringing politicians, officials, academics etc together to develop a consensus. But Ionitsa puts it most succinctly –

 ”If a strong requirement is present – and the first openings must be made at the political level – the supply can be generated fairly rapidly, especially in ex-communist countries, with their well-educated manpower. But if the demand is lacking, then the supply will be irrelevant”.

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