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!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chinese repression

A year ago, I was waiting impatiently to make my exit from Beijing. Everything I’ve read about events there since then confirms me in my judgement that this was a society in which I simply could not live – despite the enthusiasm which my young German colleagues seemed to have for it. Last week it was first this amazing Open Letter- then an outline of the scale of the Securitate control system which governs people's lives in China. And today it was the touching final blog of a frequent blogger before he disappeared into the Chinese prison system. For an interesting debate about the current Chinese situation see here.
I’ve shared my enthusiasm here for the detective stories from Qiu Xiaolong based on Shanghai in the 1990s which give a better sense of political realities (systemic corruption) than most social science writing about the country. Yesterday my visit to the Anthony Frost English bookshop unearthed the 1930s detective mysteries of the Dutch diplomat Robert van Gulik who celebrated the work of Judge Dee, magistrate of Han-yuan in 666AD – followed by today’s discovery of someone even closer to power and corruption (in Beijing) who has turned his experiences into detective stories.

another EC rethink

The criticism I have been making foe some years of EC Technical Assistance has related to hhe relevance of project management philosophy in the context of what I have called "non-accession" countries eg those who have been the focus of its Neighbourhood Policy. This was launched in 2003 and aimed to create a “ring of friends” by extending aid and benefits, such as access to the single market, in return for economic and political reforms. Yet the EU has little to show for the billions of euros it has spent. Belarus remains Europe’s last dictatorship, Ukraine is moving backwards, the Arab-Israeli conflict is unresolved and punctuated by violence, and north Africa has languished, until this year, under the rule of autocrats. In the south the EU has focused mainly on economic development; this area gets the lion’s share of neighbourhood-policy funds.
A report this week tells us that The Economist tells us that
Europe has a wealth of experience in helping to reform former totalitarian states. The democratisation of eastern Europe, though incomplete, is a striking success for the “soft power” of the EU, a body without much of the hard sort. But if enlargement has been the EU’s most successful foreign-policy tool, the attempt to promote reform in borderland countries with little hope of joining has largely been a failure. Nicolas Sarkozy’s vanity project, the “Union for the Mediterranean”, a political club that has been paralysed since its inception in 2008, has if anything boosted Arab monarchs and presidents-for-life.
Stability has been paramount for many reasons: preserving Arab-Israeli peace treaties; fighting jihadist terrorism; curbing weapons of mass destruction; protecting oil and gas supplies; and preventing mass migration to Europe. These are not trivial concerns. Europe must deal with the neighbours it has, not the ones it would like. Its mistake was to lose belief in their ability to change for the better. But now that the Arab world is being remade from within, European policy must change too.
The EU’s foreign-policy chief, Cathy Ashton, is being showered with ideas: Germany says EU support (including lifting barriers to agricultural trade) should be linked to democratic reforms. Italy wants more “carrots” to encourage orderly but rapid change, including an upgrade of relations with Egypt and Tunisia and a new system to manage migration. France, Spain and four others plead for more spending in the south and boosting the Union for the Mediterranean, with few or no conditions.
Remember 1989
The end of communism in the east was a great blessing for Europe. The fall of dictators in the south could be too, though the transition is bound to be more uncertain. In 1989 western Europe’s communist foes collapsed; the people rose up against the resented Soviet occupier and were attracted by the West. In the Arab world it is the West’s awkward allies that are falling, and the people there have long resented Western overlordship.
So far the revolts of 2011 have been strikingly free of Islamist, anti-imperial and even anti-Israeli ideology. Such sentiments could yet be stirred if Europe appears to be colluding with hated rulers. The uprisings have removed Europe’s dilemma over pursing stability or democracy—its interests against its values. Stability is gone; interests and values are the same. The only answer is to embrace, help and protect those who want democracy.
I have a feeling that this word "democracy"is misleading us again. Another blog puts
a more realistic gloss on things.
We really do need to unpick this term "democracy"! One of the thoughts I am trying to develop at the moment is the artificiality of the distinction the EC has bmade in its TA work between democracy assistance and administrative reform. I don't think you can't separate the two.
graphic is Tudor Banus againwith critics saying that recent events in north Africa have highlighted its ineffectual nature. Stricter "conditionality" attached to EU funds and greater "differentiation" between how much target states receive are two ideas due to come up in a forthcoming review of the policy, a commission spokeswoman said on Thursday (24 February). In a letter to EU high representative Catherine Ashton this month, France, Spain and four smaller EU members said the Union should give less money to its post-Soviet neighbours in the east and more to southern neighbours on the Mediterranean rim. An analysis paper attached to the letter noted that out of the €12 billion set aside for the European Neighbourhood Policy from 2007 to 2013, just €1.80 is being spent per capita in Egypt and €7 in Tunisia compared to €25 in Moldova. But two-thirds of overall ENP money already goes to the south - since the countries in question are more populous.
„We do recognise that lessons need to be learnt," Natasha Butler said of the recent turmoil in north Africa. "There has been a sea change in the region and we are ready for a sea change in terms of our approach," she added. "That means we are ready to strengthen differentiation, we are ready to move more on conditionalities."
Devised in 2004 as a means of building better relations with the Union's closest neighbours, the ENP has recently taken flak from a wide range of people. British Prime Minister David Cameron this week said it needed "radical reform" after EU financial assistance worth around €1.7 billion for countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in recent years failed to bring about the political and market reforms they were supposed to.
The European Commission has promised a "sea change" to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP),

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fiddling while Bucharest....builds

In her recent blogs, Sarah has been giving great coverage to the destructionivists who occupy all positions of power and (apparently influence) here in Romania – and the Ceaucescu tendencies in particular of Mayor Oprescu (a surgeon no less) in relation to old Bucharest buildings.
The inclusion of buildings on a list of protected patrimony means nothing to him – nor laws which forbid eviction of people during winter months.
Today, we are witnessing a second 'systematisation' of Bucharest, which has accelerated since 2005. Its new face sees towers rising up to twenty floors in architectural zones replacing buildings of historical and architectural value. They are spilling into neighbouring areas - look no further than the recent Roman Catholic Cathedral, St Joseph's.
The segment affected by the demolitions included a mass of buildings of traditional architectural heritage representative of the capital. Now they are gone. Hotel Marna, the Nicolae Dobre House, the Constantin Radulescu House, The Dacia cinema, the house where the national poet Mihai Eminescu lived with Veronica Micle to name just a few...all gone. Gone forever. Irreplaceable jewels impossible to rebuild, impossible to replicate. Hala Matache comes next if it hasn't gone already. Twenty storey eye-sores will replace them. Bucharest is being deleted. An inestimable cultural value belonging to the Roumanian people has disappeared in the hands of the Mayor of Bucharest, Sorin Oprescu. The man has no Roumanian culture and no respect for it. This is how City Hall 'manages' historic Bucharest.
Dinu C. Giurescu is named after his grandfather, Constantin, who lived,as previously mentioned, at str. Berzei, 47, destroyed by Ceausescu. He carries the 'C' in his name proudly in memory, and spent his childhood in this house. He said, "We know the roads are congested but that does not justify returning to Ceausescu's demolition process of the few remaining historic streets left in Bucharest. There are monuments on str Berzei - noble, nostalgic and beautiful. The street is a sample of Old Bucharest which, by some miracle, survived [zic Nicolae Ceausescu's urban planning]." Indeed they did survive Ceausescu - but they have not survived Oprescu.
Does Oprescu realise what he is doing? Does he have any idea how loathed he is? Does he not give any thought to what he has done to Roumanian culture, history, architecture and patrimony? To the Roumanian people? Does this man have any conscience?.I think not. He is blinded by money and his own self-importance. Indeed, Roumania's latest urban dictator in a Mayor's position. How could this cardiologist break so many hearts?
The reaction of my Romanian partner is interesting – despite her admiration for European conservation she’s none too sympathetic to the few local protestors who turned up when the bulldozers crushed the old shell which has been standing for years on the corner across from the Mandache market (and the hotel next to it). “What have they been doing in the last 20 years when the old buildings have been empty and crumbling?” she asks. Clearly people like Valentin Mandache have been trying to develop an appreciation of the charm of the Romanian architectural tradition - his website gives us every day a delightful feature from the older buildings here. But he has said nothing about the demolitions which have, rightly, aroused Sarah’s ire. Protestors such as are a forlorn minority. And I came across a publication yesterday which may explain this passivity. Produced by the Romanian Architectural association Arhitect, it was a nicely bound 2 volume collection (in Romanian and English) of articles from their professional journal over the past 20 years – entitled After Twenty Years. I was initially excited to have a chance to follow the thoughts of the profession but was surprised to note an absence of diagrams, sketches, drawings or pictures. And, when I settled down to read the text, I was quite horrified with its abstract gibberish – all drawn, it seemed, from Western semiotics and having little or nothing to do with the tactile business of buildings. Of course, in a country where everyone builds their own houses, Romanian architects are in a curious position!
As I was writing this, I remembered an article Simon Jenkins had written last year on how close Britain came to the same destruction of its history-
We have forgotten, who ever knew, how close familiar Britain came in the 60s to going the way of eastern Europe. Those who regarded themselves as in the van of taste wanted British cities demolished. The architecture and town planning professions, led by the Royal Institute of British Architects, were almost universally destructive. Victorian Britain was derided as ugly, largely because it stood in the way of fees. Scorn was heaped on Gilbert Scott's Foreign Office and his St Pancras hotel. The only Victorian buildings mostly left sacrosanct were places of worship. Nobody could afford to rebuild them. To celebrate its 50th birthday, the Victorian Society has published Victorians Revalued, a book recalling its battle honours. It is a noble record. Back in the 60s the society was the SAS of the conservation movement. It was founded after the demolition of the Euston Arch in 1961, a vandalism personally approved by the philistine Harold Macmillan, desperate to appear modern. Two environment ministers, Geoffrey Rippon and Peter Walker, planned to demolish the "government precinct", including the Foreign Office, and the entire eastern side of Bishopsgate in the City. The architects Leslie Martin and Colin Buchanan proposed to flatten the south end of Whitehall from Downing Street to the river, and the houses of parliament.
Five years of relentless campaigning by the Victorian Society defeated most of these plans. At the same time, with Nikolaus Pevsner and John Betjeman in lead, the society saved St Pancras. Next came a signal triumph over the Greater London Council at Covent Garden. In Liverpool, battle was joined against Graeme Shankland's plan to demolish the entire city centre, at the same time as T Dan Smith's Newcastle started to vanish under the wrecker's ball.
The story of these campaigns reads like a history of the Great War. Lost were the battles of Eaton and Trentham halls, the Coal Exchange and Barings bank in the City, the Imperial Institute in Kensington, Birmingham's Central library and Leeds's Park Row. Won were the battles of Carlton House Terrace, Covent Garden, King's Cross and Liverpool's Albert Dock. A climax came in 1974 with the V&A's sensationally successful 1974 exhibition, The Destruction of the English Country House. Before then a house was being destroyed almost every week; afterwards destruction virtually ceased. Never was art more potent.
It is hard in retrospect to appreciate how cliff-edge were these David and Goliath contests, and how desperately alone were the Davids. Against them were big money, big government and big architecture. The RIBA represented not a profession, let alone an art, but a financial lobby. At public inquiries, developers and architects called witnesses to argue for demolition – often corrupt art historians – whose payments were never revealed. Those whose sole concern was public aesthetics had to use their own time and money. Time and again they won. The survival of Victorian Britain was their reward. The story was not just public against private interest. It needed a revolution in taste.
Many factors brought about a change. The charm of Betjeman's poetic propaganda depicted the 19th century not as grimly Dickensian but as quaint and loveable (helped by ITV's Upstairs Downstairs). Clean air and restoration revealed the decorative subtlety of the Victorians' gothic and classical themes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Norman Lewis - the quiet explorer

I’m discovering that truth is stranger than fiction – or rather that (some) biographies can make for more gripping reading than novels. A few months ago, the book which stunned me was The Orientalist – in search of a man caught between east and west. This is the incredible tale of one Lev Nussimbaum - born into Baku and a world subsequently destroyed by Communism and Fascism and the ideologies of class and race. The book vividly describes the 'wild west', oil-rich city of Baku in the 1920s, the cabaret of Weimar Germany and a whole host of strange and eccentric characters: Viereck, the writer and Nazi sympathizer, Ernst 'Putzi' , Hitler's Harvard-educated press secretary, Baron Omar-Rolf, Erika Lowendahl, a Jazz-age poetess whom Lev marries, Varian Fry whose mission it is to save two hundred of Europe's top intellectuals and artists from the grip of the Nazis and Italo Balbo, founder of the Italian Air Force who sets up a futurist experiment in the deserts of Libya. Through one largely unknown man we learn so much about that lost world.

And these last few days I’ve been reading Semi-invisible Man – the life of Norman Lewis by Julian Evans. I have read enough of Norman Lewis to recognise that he was up there as one of the inspirations for the new breed of travel writers but had not properly appreciated his other writing – nor the sort of life he had, right until his 90s. Norman Lewis spent his life foraging around some of the world's most dangerous places, from civil-war Spain to remote corners of Asia and drug-ravaged Latin America. From all of them Lewis returned vividly-written accounts which found their way into more than 30 books and many pieces of inspired journalism. Some see Lewis as the equal of Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. He was a superb reporter of the civilisations being crushed by modernity. After an arduous jaunt around Spain just before the civil war he produced Spanish Adventure . It was followed three years later by Sand And Sea In Arabia. The outbreak of war found Lewis in Cuba, where he left his wife and son (for their safety, he said) and returned to England to enlist. He found a slot in the Intelligence Corps which dispatched him to French North Africa and then to Italy, where he found the inspiration for Naples '44 (published in 1978), the book that many regard as his masterwork. It tells the story of people scraping a living in a half-ruined ancient city that had been overrun by conquering foreign armies.
After the war Lewis seems to have found his voice. For 30 years he travelled incessantly and published book after book. Among the better known: The Volcanoes Above Us (1957); A Small War Made To Order (1966); The Sicilian Specialist (1974); An Empire In The East (1993); In Sicily (2000). All this was interspersed with journalism for titles such as the New Yorker, the Sunday Times, the New Statesman and Granta. In most of his writing, he gave voice to the outrage which people like John Pilger have subsequently made a vocation.

uncertainty and capacity - part VIII of a critique

It’s been a tough few days as I completely revamped my Varna paper in the light of the EC papers of 2007/2008. The focus has shifted from the neglected role of consultants and politicians to the capacity of the EC policy-making system; instead of a cri-de-coeur, it’s become a case-study and has therefore a new title “Reforming the reformers”.
I was initially happy – to discover (however belatedly) that the criticisms some of us had been making about the system had been recognised and acted upon. Ironically, however, it made me realise that my 2006 analysis had not gone far enough and, in particular, had not followed through on the issues embodied in my later 5 questions•
"Do the organisations which pay us practice what they and we preach on the ground about good organisational principles?
• Does the knowledge and experience we have as individual consultants actually help us identify and implement interventions which fit the context in which we are working?
• Do we have the space and skills to make that happen?
• What are the bodies which employ consultants doing to explore such questions – and to deal with the deficiencies which I dare to suggest would be revealed?
• Do any of us have a clue about how to turn kleptocratic regimes into systems that recognise the meaning of public service?”
The very language of Technical Assistance assumes certainty of knowledge (inputs-outputs) and relationships of power – of superiority (“experts”) and inferiority (“beneficiaries”). What happens when we start from the following assumptions?
• Technical Assistance built on projects (and the project management philosophy which enshrines that) may be OK for constructing buildings but is not appropriate for assisting in the development of public institutions (Such criticism has been made of Technical Assistance in the development field – but has not yet made the crossing to those who work in the (bureaucratically separate) world of institution-building in post-communist countries)
• Institutions grow – and noone really understands that process
• Administrative reform has little basis in scientific evidence – just look at the 99 contradictory proverbs underlying it which Hood and Jackson identified in their (out of print) 1999 book. The discipline of public administration from which it springs is promiscuous in its multi-disciplinary borrowing.
• Once one accepts the world of uncertainty in which we are working, it is not enough to talk about more flexibility in the first few months to adjust project details. This is just the old machine metaphor at work again – one last twist of the spanner and hey presto, it’s working!

Robert Chambers writings have been so very good at exploring alternatives – which is why I gave that excerpt of his a few posts back. And my 2006 critique used an excellent table of his at page 12 table 4 which indicated the direction in which Technical Assistance needed to go
I found it interesting that the Court latched on to capacity development (giving appropriate references) in its 2007 paper whereas the EC response was a bit sniffy about that perspective and made no attempt to pick that concept apart (as the Morgan paper I referenced does). I vividly remember my own discovery of the “capacity” concept in 2006. That should give a clue to the inadequacy of TA work – I am a well-read and conscientious consultant and yet I had to reinvent the wheel of capacity development. It was only after I had developed the diagrams you will find at the end of the 2006 paper that I discovered the literature and debate on capacity development – at the same time it seems as the EC.

catalysts to change

I’ve been remiss in making so little mention of the momentous events going on in the north of Afirca and in Yemen. Others more expert than I are covering the issues very well – I was particularly interested to see the discussion about the role played by outsiders in guiding the protestors. An 83 year old American citizen - Gene Sharp – has emerged from the shadows and seems to have played a role in various recent revolutions and his website has some useful guidance for citizen activists in autocratic regimes. Serbians also seem to have been active tutors
The Guardian’s development blog had a very useful post on the catalysing conditions -
Tertiary enrolment – school leavers going to higher education – in Egypt has risen from 14% to 28% since 1990, and in Tunisia from 8% to 34%. Egyptian high school graduates account for 42% of the workforce, but 80% of the unemployed. According to the global employment trends from the International Labour Organisation, Arab countries need to generate more than 50 million jobs in the next decade just to stabilise employment. These conditions have created a large body of disaffected youth, a boiling pot of frustration that is now spilling over at governments that have failed to provide employment opportunities. But the reasons for unrest aren't all economic. Increases in literacy and education, alongside urbanisation and the expansion of the media, have extended political consciousness and broadened demands for political participation. Despite national increases in living standards, the region's repressive, authoritarian regimes are often plagued by corruption and nepotism. Dani Rodrik, a development economist, points out that economic growth does not buy stability unless political institutions mature at the same time. This shows that widely used measures of development such as the MDGs and the HDI are, by themselves, insufficient to determine development priorities: much greater attention needs to be played to inequality, but not only inequality of income.
Middle Eastern countries have had, at least until recently, one of the most equal income distributions in the world. Egypt, for example, registered a Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality) of 32 in 2005, far lower than the 47 achieved by the US in the same year. This suggests that access to gainful employment and acute inequalities in political power also need to be considered. These issues are not unique to the Middle East. But the histories of countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria demonstrate that as societies transform and urbanise, aspirations grow and people expect more of their governments.
However, economic inequalities within, rather than between, countries are becoming more important as the proportion of middle-income countries grow: research from the Institute of Development Studies shows there is a new "bottom billion" of 960 million poor people – 72% of the world's poor – who live not in low, but in middle-income countries. This is a dramatic change from just two decades ago, when 93% of poor people lived in low-income countries.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rethinking Technical Assistance - part VII

The more I looked at the EC's reform of TA - the 2008 Backbone strategy - the more I realised that it is simply saying that everyone just needed to try a bit harder. The document sets out 8 „principles” and 5 „axes” – a sophistication which should raise alarm bells! The principles embody all the right words - flexibility, demand-led, result-orientation, harmonised, country-owned, quality control of companies etc – but the 5 axes are simply the 5 stages of the project management cycle (which remains sacrosanct). And the more I thought about the paper, the more I realised the superficiality of my own 2006 analysis which had focussed on procedural aspects - rather than the issues embodied in my later 5 questions.
Let’s face it - the Court of Auditors consists of accountants. The EC officials who drafted the response are managers. Neither accountants nor public managers are specialists in administrative reform or social science methodology and able to deal properly with the ends-means issue involved in such social interventions as administrative reform. The language of the logframe has them imprisoned in a system which believes in short causal links between activities and outcomes; if the outcomes don’t happen, then it’s the project designers, managers or implementers to blame! It’s that simple! The possibility of a more complex – if not chaotic – world does not occur to them. I’m now trying to explore what the consequences of such a (more plausible) world view might be for Technical Assistance in my field. Of course several websites are already devoted to this alternative view in the general field of development - but not PAR see Aid on the edge of chaos

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The context in which we work

One of the problems about institution building in non-accession countries which I haven’t touched on is the weakness of the our understanding of the way power in many post-communist countries. Because countries quickly introduced elections and have open, competition between parties, the word „democracy” is used – and the imagery associated with this word therefore governs our choice of intervention mechanisms for administrative reform. Azerbaijan was a seminal experience for me – when I realised that it had the inverse of the „normal” political-civil service relationship. I was used to a system where Ministers temporararily occupy positions of power – and civil servants were the more permanent system whose perceptions and behaviour needed to be challenged. In countries like Azerbaijan it was (and is) the other way around – the Ministers were the permanent feature (except for the Minister of Economic development in 2006 who was thrown into prison for being too ambitious!) and the civil servants who were there at their whim. There was therefore no challenge. Too many western experts are taken in by the terms and language they and others use – and assume they are dealing with systems similar to those at home.
I referred recently to the typology of the 1996 book by Linz and Stepan which suggested the term „Sultanistic” for one type of post-totalitarian regime. The word did not, sadly, catch on. A new article on the Russian situation suggests the term „neo-feudalism” for the system there.
The Russian system is fundamentally far more solid and durable than most Western comment allows. Its strength emanates from a basic principle: It is much easier for subjects to solve their problems individually than to challenge national institutions collectively. This is because what Westerners would call corruption is not a scourge of the system but the basic principle of its normal functioning. Corruption in Russia is a form of transactional grease in the absence of any generally accepted and legally codified alternative. Built under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s “power vertical” provides a mechanism for the relatively simple conversion of power into money, and vice versa. At every level of the hierarchy a certain degree of bribery and clientalist parochialism is not only tolerated but presupposed in exchange for unconditional loyalty and a part of the take for one’s superiors. The system is based on the economic freedom of its citizens, but cautious political restrictions on these freedoms generate the wealth of the biggest beneficiaries. There is a cascade of floors and ceilings to the restrictions on freedom, so it is a feudalism with more levels than the old kind. But it works fundamentally the same way: The weak pay tribute “up”, and the strong provide protection “down.”
The Putin phenomenon reflects the fact that Russian leaders of the 1990s preferred a mediocre officer with no noteworthy achievements to become the new President instead of, for example, experienced if imperfect men like Yevgeny Primakov and Yuri Luzhkov, both of whom were quite popular at that time. The rise of Putin, who barely progressed to the rank of lieutenant colonel in Soviet times and who later became famous only for his corrupt businesses in the St. Petersburg city hall, became typical of personnel choices in the 2000s. Inefficient bureaucrats by the hundreds recruited even less able people to occupy crucial positions in their ministries and committees, content in the knowledge that such mediocrities could not compete with or displace them. As a result, Russian governance suffers today less from a “power oligarchy” than from a dictatorship of incompetence.
On the one hand, Russia has built a system in which the execution of state powers has become a monopolistic business. It is controlled mainly by friends and colleagues of the system’s creator, Vladimir Putin, and faithfully operated by the most dutiful and least talented newcomers. All big national business is associated with the federal authorities or controlled by them; local entrepreneurs still try to bargain with regional bureaucracy. All of the new fortunes made in the 2000s belong to Putin’s friends and people who helped him build this “negative vertical.” Therefore, in the coming years, competition inside the elite will diminish, the quality of governance will deteriorate further, and what is left of effective management will collapse. Yet to change these trends would nevertheless be a totally illogical step for the political class.
At the same time, a huge social group wants to join this system, not oppose it (in contrast to the final years of the Soviet Union). In a way, this is like wanting to join a Ponzi scheme at the bottom in hopes that one may not stay at the bottom, and that in any event one will be better off than those left outside the scheme altogether. As the de-professionalization of government advances (along with the “commercialization” of state services) competition among non-professionals will grow, since these have never been in short supply. Therefore, in the future a less internally competitive ruling elite will be able to co-opt any number of adherents.
The Russian elite has essentially “piratized” and privatized one of the world’s richest countries. It is so grateful for this privilege that it may insist on Mr. Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012 for 12 more dismal years. By then the young liberal cohorts on whom so many Western analysts pinned their hopes for change will have grown up. The mediocre among them will be part of the system. Most of the best of them, no doubt, will no longer reside in Russia.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

improving the system - part VI

What conclusions do I draw from my belated discovery of the critical 2007 EC Court of Auditors Report on Technical Cooperation – and the rediscovery of the curiously entitled EC response A Backbone strategy of July 2008?

• how isolated individual consultants like myself are?
• How poor my internet surfing is?
• how responsive the EU systems is?

I would concede the first and third – but in fact my surfing is pretty good and I discovered this paper only by accessing the new EC site on development cooperation which has taken the place of my old EuropAid site. The paper doesn’t appear on a google search.
And the 2008 EC response is a good topic for both textual analysis and monitoring. Certainly I need to recast my paper for Varna – which becomes less an individual cri de coeur and more a case study in EC policy-making and implementation. My questions now become –
• How did the Court of Auditors pick up on these criticisms?
• What role did the monitoring reports of the period play?
• How coherent is the EC 2008 strategy response? At first sight it seems to be „all over the place” and not actually working from a clear problem identification
• How have the 81 European Delegations in charge of programmes understood the issue?
• How have they framed their responses? Formalistically (though action plans)? Or realistically – through a limited number of actions?
- do they in fact the capacity to do what is expected of them - with only 2-3 staff for such things?
• How are the results being monitored?
• What use is actually being made of experienced people like me?

I certainly haven’t noticed any changes – the European Delegation in China actually compunded felonies by imposing in December 2009 a unilateral requirement of an action plan from me within one month of my arrival instead of the several months given in the ToR for the Inception report – and stuck to this despite the lack of a counterpart appointment. It was one of the factors which led to my resignation.
The EC seems to suffer from an inherent schizophrenia about consultants in its work. On the one hand it chose 2 decades ago to go for procuring private consultancies rather than building its own internal system. But, whenever the choice presents itself (eg on Twinning; and BackBone strategy) it indulges in the populist attack on consultants. It would be better if it did at least make a distinction between the consultancy companies (who make the profit) and the individuals who work for them on a casual basis. The 2008 document has an interesting section which says
This entails on the one hand promoting the involvement of organisations other than commercial firms (such as public institutions, universities, non-profit organisations, think tanks, etc.), and on the other hand making more use of local and regional expertise (and more generally facilitating South-South cooperation). Particular attention will be given to facilitating the dissemination of know-how, the extension of learning systems, training, etc.through appropriate guidance, training and dissemination of good practices, raise awareness of the existing mechanisms available for mobilising expertise in public bodies. This includes:
- a) greater use of the negotiated procedure (already allowed by the PRAG in case of publicsector bodies or to non-profit institutions or associations);
- b) use of grant contracts (possibly and where relevant by direct agreement) to provide TC through non-traditional sources.

Part V - Court of Auditors' 2007 Report

I have a discovered a great Report from the EU Court of Auditors on Technical Cooperation (2007) here and recommendations which very much fit the drift of my arguments.
Recommendation 3; Design of capacity development projects should be improved, by facilitating effective ownership and leadership of the national part of the process, by better defining specific capacity development objectives and related technical assistance requirements, by avoiding overly complex implementation structures, by being more realistic in terms of objectives to be achieved and by planning longer implementation periods.

Recommendation 4; The procedures governing the project preparation and start-up phase, including the procurement of technical assistance, should be reviewed, in order to create more time for implementation, and more flexibility should be allowed during the inception phase to adjust the project design and/or the Terms of Reference for the technical assistance to changes in circumstances.

Recommendation 5; The evaluation criteria in technical assistance tenders should be reviewed, in order to better reflect the quality and previous experience of the experts and the consultancy company.

Recommendation 6; More options should be considered regarding procurement possibilities to allow the best possible choice of technical expertise, including expertise from public institutions and expertise available in the beneficiary country or the region.

Recommendation 7; The Commission should increase its use of technical assistance through coordinated programmes and apply, where possible, implementation arrangements which encourage local ownership.

Recommendation 8; Technical assistance performance by companies and experts should be assessed systematically and a management information system for recording, reporting and consulting this performance should be developed.

And I now remember the EC's Backbone strategy of July 2008 which followed that report

Part IV - strengthening the backbone

PLEASE TRY THE (most popular) POSTS BELOW - they are better than this one!!
The last few posts have been pursuing the question which my draft for NISPAcee's Conference in May leaves open - "if I’m so unhappy about the EC’s approach to institution building (through Technical Assistance – TA) in kleptocratic countries, how would I improve it?"
The first steps in any such change are, of course, to assess the situation – describe how the systems works and assess how well it works – and then find out what the various stakeholders think.

The 2007 European Court of Auditors' assessment of the EC Technical Cooperation programme was a good start. It spurred the Commission to produce its "Backbone strategy" which my present draft to the NISPAcee Conference in Varna currently assesses here .
Given the bureaucratic constraints on policy change (particularly given the upheavals involved in creating the External Service), it is hardly surprising that the Backbone strategy says that the strategy is OK and it is staff of the 81 EC Delegations which manage it that needs to wise up. These staff are well trained in procurement issues - but not so knowledgable about the substance of the sectoral work they manage; nor particularly skilled in contractual management. The EC has been publishing Manuals and Guidelines for its Delegation staff in recent years to help them understand the conceptual issues involved in institution building - see this one on capacity development in 2009.
Basically the delegations are enjoined to -
- get better ToR
- select consultants more carefully
- allow them more flexibility

Easier said than done? And still they hardly mention the people who actually do the work - the independent consultants like myself. Strange!
The European Centre for Policy Development Management in Brussels published in 2007 one of the very few papers I know which focuses on the people actually carrying out TA – and asks how their work can be supported and improved

For more on the Court of Auditors' Report - and the EC response, see tomorrow's post

My recent visit to Sofia set off a paean of praise to that city which should be extended to the whole country – at least as far as its landscapes and townscapes are concerned. And, compared to Romania, it is possible to travel around the country and taste this varied scenery in superb ethnic houses remarkably cheaply. In 2007 I discovered by accident a small book on these places produced by the Bulgarian Association for Alternative Tourism – and was very pleased to come across the 2010 version on my last trip.

The Guardian has a good story about some fundamental changes the Conservatives want to make to public services in Britain which were never mentioned in the manifesto. Democracy is in shambles in that country. The previous government commissioned a paper on this issue to a fairly right-wing body which failed to produce convincing evidence of the benefits of further contracting out of public services. See also here an article about the likely effect on the health service.

The painting is Stanley Spencer's wartime "Welders"

Guest post from Robert Chambers

I've just come across a post by Robert Chambers which is highly relevant to my attack on the logframe.
In my 1997 book Whose Reality Counts I presented two alternative paradigms - as I then understood them – which contrasted things with people, as shown in the table below
Things People

mode; blueprint - process
Goals; pre-set, closed - open, evolving
assumptions; reductionist - holistic
technology; table d'hote - a la carte
with locals; instructing - enabling
locals seen
as; beneficiaries - partners
force-flow; supply-push - demand-pull

The ‘things–people’ distinction is useful for identifying and understanding relationships between many phenomena and for diagnosing problems. It points up the contrasts between disciplinary and professional orientations: the things paradigm is more associated with engineering and economics, the people paradigm more with anthropology and sociology. And the contrasts in the two columns indicate differences which are evident in much practice. At the same time, there are many cross-overs and cross-applications.
One key difference is that the things paradigm works in contexts (including human contexts) in which inputs and receiving environments are relatively uniform and controlled, and there is clear causality leading to desired outcomes.

Because of this narrow applicability, many of the errors and failures of development policy and practice have stemmed from the dominance of the things paradigm. This dominance goes back at least to the Marshall Plan, to the creation of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to development projects in the 1950s and 1960s devoted to infrastructure such as harbours, railways, roads, communications, dams and irrigation projects, and to the idea that Third World countries had to catch up with capital investment in ‘infant industries’. These all gave primacy to things over people.
Engineers and economists were in charge. It was they who set norms and procedures. For the infrastructure projects of the time, these largely made sense. But the things paradigm was then embedded in the values, culture, hierarchies and staffing of the World Bank and of bilateral and other organisations.

Non-economist social scientists were few, of low status, and regarded at best as useful to call in to deal with any ‘people problem’ in implementation once the planning had been done. So top-down, standardised approaches and methods came to be imposed on diverse, uncontrollable and unpredictable people and conditions, often with bad results.
There followed a long and continuing struggle for a better balance that put people first, with their participation from the start and throughout in projects and programmes. There were calls for a new professionalism to shift the balance, effectively from things more towards people. There was progress. For many reasons the balance did indeed shift.
Some attempts to introduce top down routinized procedures were abandoned. Participation and empowerment became part of the rhetoric even if less often of the reality of development. Local people were much less regarded as a residual. People living in poverty, women, children, those who were vulnerable, marginalised and socially subordinate, were given more priority. Though there remained far to go, their knowledge, aspirations, capabilities and priorities were better recognised and brought more into development processes. Especially in the 1990s, the centre of gravity of the balance between things and people began to shift towards people.

But the 2000s brought reversals. ‘Things’-related procedures were increasingly imposed on processes and people. In much development practice, problems were aggravated by the way linear logic, assumptions of predictability, objectively verifiable indicators, impact assessments, logframes and results-based management were more and more required by donors and lenders. More and more the assumption took hold that ‘we know what to do’ and all development required was more money. Good practice and performance, so often dependent on intangible personal and inter-personal unmeasurables like commitment, honesty, energy and trust, were undermined and sapped by the spreading culture in much development of targets, indicators and measurement, and the implicit and even explicit orientation of ‘If it can’t be measured, it won’t happen’.
‘Rigorous’ impact assessment was increasingly demanded. The so-called gold standard for this became randomised control trials (RCTs). These can make sense for medical research where there are many highly standardised units (people and their bodies) and inputs (immunisations, medicines, treatments) but misfit the realities of the complexity of social and much other change, with their uncontrolled conditions, multiple treatments, multiple and indeterminate causation, and unpredictable emergence .
In such contexts, RCTs are liable to postpone and limit learning, and to be costly, slow and inconclusive. Another contested manifestation of this control orientation has been the logframe. Thought by many in the late 1990s to fit realities and programme and project needs so badly and to have so many defects that it would die a natural death, the logframe has to the contrary flourished and spread to become a methodological monoculture in donor requirements.

So in the name of rigour and accountability what fits and works better in the controllable, predictable, standardised and measurable conditions of the things and procedures paradigm has been increasingly applied to the uncontrollable, unpredictable, diverse and less measurable paradigm of people and processes.
The misfit is little perceived by those furthest from field realities and with most power. But then all power deceives. Aid recipients do not tell donors what they experience. They think about future funding. Because funds and power are involved, these tightening and constraining shifts pass largely unremarked and unchallenged.

And what can be called ‘things procedures’ like the logframe are convenient for understaffed donors: they transfer transaction costs and any blame to those whom they fund. Recipients of aid funds are like frogs in the proverbial slowly heating pot and they adapt; but more than the frogs, they increasingly feel the pain. They do less and do it less well. They would like to jump out but fear for their survival if they did.
In my next post, subtitled Expanding Paradigms, I examine the limitations of this simple binary opposition of things and people. Shifts in technology and advances in the complexity sciences are starting to transform these paradigms, helping bring nuance to and even transcend these longstanding divides.
For the second part of his post see here

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fighting the logframe - part III

There is, perhaps, a certain arrogance in the argument underlying my position about Technical Assistance – and the last few posts. My basic objection is to the rigidity of project “Terms of Reference”. But let’s look at it from the EU point of view – they have a complex procurement system which starts with a strategic plan for a country – which is a statement of priorities and the result of a negotiation with the beneficiary country.
An independent expert then drafts a detailed project specification setting out an intervention logic and the activities which need to be carried out – which is discussed with and approved by the beneficiary (stage 2).
Someone else (in the winning contractor’s company) drafts a methodology around this – which is scored by a team of evaluators (generally including the beneficiary.
And then someone like me comes along (at stage 4) and says “this is all a lot of nonsense, we’re going to do something different”.
I got away with this in Azerbaijan partly because the ToR were loosely written; partly because the project was blocked and it seemed sensible to work with more cooperative people in other parts of the system; and partly because of the trust there was between myself and a Brussels desk-officer. And I got away with it in Kyrgyzstan because the overthrowal of a President patently creates a new situation requiring some creative policy jumps.
Am I seriously arguing that this flexibility should be the norm?

Well, yes I am - at least for projects in countries which are not in the accession queue.
I realise that the EU system is worried that such flexibility would leave it open to legal challenges from the losing contractors – nothing is so heinous in such procurement systems as subsequent departures from the advertised specifications. But this just shows the nonsense of the “commodification of the intellect” which is embodied in the EU system of procuring services. An earlier post identified the drafting of project Terms of reference as a gaping black hole – nothing is known publicly about the skills and background of those who carry it out. I’ve done it a couple of times – a long time ago. And, naturally, have no idea whether it was well done or not (this would have required some conversations with those who drafted bids around it as well as those who tried to implement the project).
All I know is that project Terms of Reference are treated as a bible by those in the companies who draft the bids for the subsequent competition – the rules of competition require this. Like has to be compared with like!
Of course, there is an opportunity for the new Team Leader to suggest some changes during the Inception stage (the first few weeks) – but, if this is the first time in the country, this requires some arrogance. And also a lot of paperwork! So the specification of the independent expert drafted some 18-24 months earlier is the key – but what model of change did they use? After how long in the country? And with what sort of dialectic with the European Delegation?
And why the ridiculous pretence about rationality embodied in the logframe? This is fine for the construction of buildings - but administrative reform is a completely differemt process

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Success in spite of the logframe - Part II

I'm revisiting some of my projects - trying to show how the successes came in spite of rather than because of the project management system the EU uses.

In February 2005 I arrived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to start an 18 month project working with a Minister (without Portfolio) to develop the local government system. We actually had three offices – one in the capital and 2 in our 2 pilot Oblasts – and our job was to a mixture of policy advice and training. It also required us to produce a Roadmap for the development of local government (although there was already a decentralisation strategy). Just as I was finishing the Inception Report, I had to flee the country because of unrest which swept the President from power. I returned after a week to a bit of a political vacuum – but the municipalities were still there so we proceeded with the initial needs assessment which we did through focus group discussions.
I had a basic question – we were a short project in a field where there were already 2-3 donors (eg UNDP; Urban Institute) who had carved out an important role over the past 5 years and more. What, I wondered, was the distinctive contribution our small and brief project could make? The project design did not seem to have considered this question.
The first answer was that, unlike the other donors, we had a base in the field – 2 local offices – which gave us some special insights into the needs of remote village municipalities. Our intensive focus group sessions (see para 6 of this paper) and the drafting of the Roadmap also helped keep our minds constantly open to new ideas – and made me realise that one of our potential roles was to help ensure that the voice of remote people was heard in the capital. I got a bit angry, for example, with all the talk there about the “lack of municipal capacity” – and therefore wrote a whole new 100 page document on the issue of capacity development, turning the argument into one which rather questioned central commitment and capacity How do people measure municipal capacity? I asked and then suggested
that question can strictly be answered only in relation to the delegated tasks – since patently municipalities do not currently have the resources or the personnel to begin to perform “affairs of local significance”. And state bodies may therefore seem to be in the best position to answer the question since they delegate so many of their tasks to municipalities - for example the task of collecting national taxes . But it is hardly fair to give an organisation tasks it doesn’t want and for which it is not paid - and then blame it when it doesn’t carry them out “properly” (in the view of state bodies)! We argue later that the capacity of an organisation is built as it has the opportunity to take decisions for itself and learns from doing. It is exactly the same process as good parenting. Of course inexperienced young people will make mistakes – but it is the job of responsible parents who care about their children to create the conditions in which their children learn for themselves – at minimal cost to themselves and others. And some of the qualities therefore needed in those purporting to offer support to local government are care and compassion.
We held 70 workshops for the municipalities – with 1,500 participants. Motivation and appreciation was very high (the photo is a session in Atbashy). Early on in the project’s life, however, we took the view that training activities were transient events and that we should attempt to encourage a local learning capacity. Training is sustainable only if we work with motivated people – if they can then apply what they have learned and have follow-up. Initially we wanted to focus on target groups (eg newly-elected municipal Heads) but the elections took place in December 2005 and events meant that we were unable to start that particular work until May 2006, a few months from the scheduled end of the project (although I got a 6 month extension). We therefore started to focus on the entire (village) municipality – and in April 2006 experimented with a new more holistic approach to training
• A practising and successful German mayor carrying out interviews the day before the workshop with both municipal people and community activists
• His then making an initial presentation at the workshop to all staff, councillors and activists about the issues which had emerged from those interviews – and some examples about how these issues had been dealt with in other places
• Participants then going into working groups to develop options
• The full group then assessing which options to develop
• The project then organised regular follow-up, monitoring visits

This proved to be a very successful formula – with its focus on practical problems; encouraging people to work together on them; giving examples of where and how successful initiatives had been taken; and following up with regular visits to discuss progress. The spirit this created contrasts with that which often accompanies traditional training courses. The project’s Developing Municipal Capacity publication identified 10 factors which made it difficult to practice traditional training – and offers a typology of learning.
We did not initially understand the significance of the concept of a Roadmap – and it is one also which our beneficiaries also had some initial problems with. But, as we explain in the introduction to the readers of the document,
“A road map does not suggest a route – YOU choose the route. A roadmap simply locates the key features (mountains, rivers and swamps) you need to be aware of when trying to travel from the A to the B of your choice. So this is not an attempt to force foreign models on the local situation. Another point about a road map is that it cannot cover every changing detail nor tell you how you should approach certain situations – sometimes a large bump in the road or impatience can have fatal consequences. So a road map is only a guide - local knowledge, judgment and skills are needed to get you to your destination! And, like a map, you don’t have to read it all – only the sections which are relevant for your journey!”
The Roadmap contains powerful insights into the difficulties being experienced by the country in policy implementation.
To be continued

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Succeeding in spite of the system - Part I

My latest paper paints a dark picture of the world of Technical Assistance in ex-communist countries where I have worked for the past 20 years. In fact there are some bright splashes (successes) – but, as the Morgan quote in yesterday’s post suggests, they have been despite rather than because of the rules of the game. And, before I explore the question of a better system for this work, I need perhaps to say something about the positive experiences I have had in my various projects – and how these came about.
Frankly, it took some time for me to adjust to the role of adviser or „expert” – and it was just as well that everyone was learning in the 1990s about how systems in these countries could best be transformed. I was better in the early years at analysis (setting out the reality of CzechoSlovak and Romanian local government in the early 1990s) and ad-hoc advice than at institution-building – which only really started in the mid 1990s with the work setting up 2 Regional Development Agencies in North-East Hungary where they seemed pretty capable without my input and where indeed one of my counterparts, reporting on the results of his study visit, memorably said „I learned that I have nothing to learn”! My first experience of leading a major project at a national level was in Uzbekistan between 1999 and 2002 – where they were more interested in techniques for career development and EU experience of local government than change per se. So it was a good opportunity for me to read up on these subjects - as is evident on this paper I gave them on EU experience of transfer of functions.

Azerbaijan 2003-2004 was, however, my first real consultancy – and success. I was supposed to work with the Presidential Office on the implementation of a Civil Service Law which the international community had saddled then with. They didn’t know what to do with it (Ministers appointed family and friends) – and the World Bank (and a previous Team Leader) had given up. Noone seemed very interested in challenging the kleptocracy. Painstakingly I set out the various steps needed to make a reality of the Law - building on a confidential document I had found about the need for change. The old President died - and his son took over. My office was in the Presidential Academy for Public Administration - next to the Presidential Office – and I decided to start working with some of it staff. Jointly with 2 of the staff we wrote the first books in the Azeri language on PAR, civil service reform and HRM - the spirit of which is captured here. And I started to do training sessions with public officials. None of this (books;training) was in the ToR. And slowly I got signals from the Presidential Office that I could and should go public with arguments for a more meritocratic systems of appointments – and this I did with interviews in newspapers and even an hour’s TV show. A few weeks after I had finished the project, a Presidential Decree established the Civil Service Agency along the lines my project had recommended – and the very day I arrived back in Baku in March 2005 to escape the Bishkek Revolution, the 40 year old lawyer I had worked with and was lunching with was called to the Presidential Office to be appointed Head (Minister) of the Agency! Six years on, it is going strong. A potential disaster was turned into a great success by doing things which were not in the project specification. In those days, there was no European Delegation - and my desk officer in Brussels was supportive!!
To be continued

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is there a better way?

At the beginning of the week I completed an updated version of the critique I have been making for some years about the EU’s Technical Assistance programmes in ex-communist countries. These have paid people like myself for the past 20 years to live in places like Baku, Beijing, Bishkek, Bucharest, Prague, Riga, Miskolc, Sofia and Tashkent; write reports; and organise training – all in the name of institutional development and better governance. Before I get to the sands of Varna in May, I need to sort out the basic question of whether there is in fact a better system for helping transition countries improve their public management than that currently on offer from the EU. But let’s cut to the chase with 3 basic questions –
• What is the EU system?
• What’s wrong with it?
• Is there a better way?

1. The elements of the system. The EU system of technical assistance to countries not yet members of the EU is based on principles of competition and project management. These govern the operation of two distinct programmes; one for private consultancies; the other (“twinning”) for state bodies. Don’t ask me how the split is made – I have never seen an EU paper which discusses this but I sense that twinning is more to do with the effective implementation of the legal norms of the European acquis than with institutional development per se.

1.1 Twinning with equivalent member state bodies. In principle “twinning” brings the promise of institutional rather than mere individual support – although, when the idea was first mooted in 1997 (when I was actually working in TAIEX), I for one was highly sceptical. My reservations were as follows –
• A good manager does not make a good adviser
• Public officials know only the system of one country
• A state body is highly unlikely to make its good people available – rather those it can afford to lose eg just about to retire

Basically a form is completed requesting twinning – which, after local assessment and approval, is circulated to EU member states whose bodies then make bids which are selected by the local European Delegations. A normal twinning will last 12-18 months – and will consist of a resident national adviser and study visits.

1.2 Consultants from private companies. National programmes are developed by countries – which set priorities for institutional development. Terms of Reference are developed by consultants and sent to a short list of 6-7 contractors which are selected by European delegations on the basis of “expressions of interest” they make and their suitability for the particular projects. Projects would typically consist of 2-3 foreign experts who would stay in the country for 18-24 months and have a budget for employing a mix of local and international experts; study visits and equipment. About 5 years ago, the life of the projects was supposed to be lengthened – but I have seen little sign of this.

2. What’s wrong with it?. It’s not easy to find assessments of either type of programme. I know of a couple of articles about the twinning experience - in 2002 and in 2007. I’ve written a fair amount about the private consultancy part of the business over the years – and suggested that the project design and procurement process is rather haphazard; that projects are too inflexible (arriving 2 years after need was first articulated); projects too short; and too many beneficiaries not sufficiently interested in change. The need for what the jargon calls “local ownership” has been recognised by donors in recent years – but it remains a meaningless slogan if the locals don’t have the experience to know what’s available; how to select priorities and to separate good from bad practice. In fact the critique of Technical Assistance goes back a long way – and was usefully summarised in 2002 by Peter Morgan in one of the few historical treatments of the subject. This was part of a major UNDP initiative entitled Reforming Technical Cooperation which was critical of the weak contribution of technical assistance to capacity development. Morgan's paper backs up my hostility to the logframe -
An organisational device of the North American construction industry – the project – was adopted to organise most TA. From the beginning, this process stunted IDO capacities for creative experimentation, for process facilitation, and for incremental discovery
3. Is there a better way? I have not really thought too much about the options - since I don’t sense that many people share my concerns and are actively seeking for alternatives. In my approach to training, I have suggested “balance” as a key principle. And perhaps this is also the key here.
Para 7 of my paper sets out some options which I will look at in more detail in my next post.
Right now I'm in Ploiesti - on my way to the mountains.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

British reform

We tend to assume that the EU’s older member states have settled constitutional and organisational arrangements – but nothing stays still for a moment in the UK. On 15 December last, the UK Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee apparently launched a new inquiry on Good Governance and Civil Service Reform. Its remit is straightforward –
As part of the inquiry the Committee is looking to devise a framework, or set of principles, within which the Civil Service can be effectively scrutinised and measured. The Committee will examine the following issues:
• What is meant by the Prime Minister’s term “post-bureaucratic age” and what its implications for good governance are.
• How the Civil Service may need to adapt and reform.
• How such reform can be sustained and realised.
The first written evidence can be read as a pdf file at the top of the list here.The paper by Chris Hood and Martin Lodge is, as always, worth reading – and their verbal evidence is also available there.
I discovered this material thanks to a fantastic site which gives the detailed technical lowdown on all matters relating to the new constitutional (or intergovernmental) relationships which now form government in the UK. This also put me on to the evidence currently being considered about a possible new settlement for Scotland Another interesting-looking new blog on the new developments in the UK's political and legal arrangements is from the independent Constitution Unit.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Despite technical difficulties with the NISPAcee site, I seem to have managed – thanks to the ever-helpful Jan Andruch - to meet the deadline for the delivery of my paper on the way public admin academics seem to walk around the issue of how political and consultancy systems pervert administrative reform in countries in this neighbourhood and east. Typically, when I had a version which seemed at least coherent, I came across new papers which at least need referencing - if not nudging me to a new coherence!
First I come across an important SIGMA paper whose provocative title „Can Civil Service Reforms last? suggests it shares the critical spirit of my new draft.
I had managed to work into the paper at least a reference to a good overview of the huge amount of Technical Assistance which Romania has received to improve its policy-making process – and the utter lack of its impact. I had not, however, been able to find anything about one of the favourite EC mechanisms to help develop the capacity of state bodies here in central Europe – twinning. Now I have found two – first an excellent paper on the Romanian experience of Twinning in judicial reformand a 2002 paper by Papdimitriou.
My paper (as always) takes aim at the EC – which has been tying itself in knots in recent years with all the rethinking and reorgansiation of its external aid on which it spends so many thousands of millions of our euros. One of the few people who seems able not only to make sense of all this but to contribute in a clear and original way is Simon Maxwell whose blog I have just added to this site’s links. One of his most recent posts gives a fascinating perspective on the challenge of the EU’s new External Service. And if, like me, you need to know who the hell is doing what in the new structure – have a look here
The painting is by a contemporary Romanian Eugen Raportoru - to whom I have just been introduced on Romania TVR Cultura - as a result of which I have discovered a great Romanian art blogger (see links)

Monday, February 14, 2011

elephants in european administrative space

I’ve uploaded to the website the paper I want to present to the Varna Conference in May of NISPAcee - the body which has, for the past 20 years, done a valiant job of encouraging the development of studies and training in public administration in the countries of central and eastern Europe (CECE). The original title was The Elephant in the Room because I wanted to focus on consultants whose activities are ignored in the writing on reform in the area - but then realised that, as part of my criticism was the way their models abstracted from political realities, I needed to bring the politicians in as well. And, in order to mock the dreadful EU jargon, I substituted „administrative space” for „room”. But, since discovering changes which the EC has been making to the TA system, its now called Reforming the reformers an dhas a very different content. And a few days ago, I read with some interest but some frustration a post about a new culture of learning – and it reminded me of some distinctions I had made in a paper I wrote for the Bulgarian project in 2008. I excerpted the section – and it’s available here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

problems of democratic transition and consolidation

Most of the world (with the obvious exception of Chinese rulers) celebrates the achievement of Egyptian „people power” – but how little analysis about the prospects which lie ahead. One of the exceptions is a piece by an Egyptian activist which goes beyond the superficial reporting of the Western media; warns about the military; and gives a rare insight into what workers have been doing. Read the full article (and the good discussion thread) here.

Central and Eastern Europe countries seem to offer the most recent examples of (differential) experiences of the fall of dictatorships. I have referred several times to the Romanian experience which Tom Gallagher has described most clearly in his Theft of a nation – Romania since the fall of communism
Romania is patently the worst of the recent accession countries. It got rid of a dictator - but the same personnel and system persisted for almost a decade. It has a constitutional and electoral system which splits power between a Presidency and 2 parliamentary bodies and makes coherent action extraordinarily difficult for the coalition governments which have become the basic feature of its governments. And the culture of every man for himself makes it almost impossible to work consensually and in the public good. For a good example of the lawlessness which passes for government here in Romania see the post of 12 Feb on this site.

But I don’t think the central European countries offer much useful experience to the Egyptians and Tunisians. For a start they did not have the decades of military rule which Egypt has experienced – indeed the military in most of these countries has been and remains a joke (despite their salaries and pensions). Turkey and the south American dictators of the end of the last century are the better parallel. And, despite being in the EU Neighbourhood programme of technical assistance, neither Egypt or Tunisia have any prospect of European accession – which was the basic incentive for (formal) institutional changes for the central European countries. Almost two decades ago, when I started this latest phase of my life, working in central Europe, I read thirstily the literature which was pouring out then on the mechanics of transition – how countries which had been under dictatorships could make the transition to democracies (see section 3 of this annotated bibliography on my website.
The best was one which drew on the Spanish and south American experience and was produced in 1996 by Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan - Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation – S Europe, S America and post-communist Europe. It’s a remarkable and definitive book – which initially establishes the basic classifications to conduct the assessments on the extent to which the transformations are consolidated and then analyses each country and region in considerable detail and profundity. They suggest a four-part classification for non-democratic regimes
• Authoritarian
• Totalitarian
• Post-totalitarian
• sultanistic

A "consolidated" democracy is one which combines behavioural (elite), attitudinal (public) and constitutional elements. Five conditions are suggested –
• Free and lively civil society
• Relatively autonomous and valued political society
• Rule of law to ensure legal guarantees for citizens' freedoms and independent associational life
• Usable state bureaucracy
• Institutionalised economic society

Each of these interacts with the others - and affects the outcome of transition. They also bring in five other important, but less major, variables - (a) the leadership basis of the prior regime, (b) who controls the transition, (c) international influences, (c) political economy of legitimacy and coercion (relationship between citizen perceptions of economic efficacy and of regime legitimacy) and (e) constitution-making environments. This study is the culmination of a lifetime's study of the transformation process; is written elegantly and with very detailed references for follow-up study. A summarising article they wrote at the same time can be found here.
A different type of book from Elster J, Offe C Preuss U was their Institutional Design in Post-Communist Societies - Rebuilding the Ship at Sea (1998) which focussed on Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria.
Those activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy–the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years. And while I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who receive $1.3 billion annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a “civilian” government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics (like for example Turkey), guarantee Egypt will continue to follow the US foreign policy whether it’s the undesired peace with Apartheid State of Israel, safe passage for the US navy in the Suez Canal, the continuation of the Gaza siege and exports of natural gas to Israel at subsidized rates. The “civilian” government is not about cabinet members who do not wear military uniforms. A civilian government means a government that fully represents the Egyptian people’s demands and desires without any intervention from the brass. And I see this hard to be accomplished or allowed by the junta.
The military has been the ruling institution in this country since 1952. Its leaders are part of the establishment. And while the young officers and soldiers are our allies, we cannot for one second lend our trust and confidence to the generals. Moreover, those army leaders need to be investigated. I want to know more about their involvement in the business sector.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

who knows of reforms of kleptocratic regimes?

Three things account for my silence of the last three days – a particularly foul bout of the flu; a powerful novel 1,000 page book The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell which recounts, from old age, the activities of a senior 30 year old SS bureaucrat throughout the harrowing years of the war; and my attempt to draft a paper for the May Conference of the Network of Schools of Public Administration in centraland eastern europe (NISPAcee). I’ve got a fair amount of text and have reached the critical stage of drafting a first Executive Summary of the key points I seem to be arguing –
The Schools which form NISPAcee train officials from state administration in both EU member countries and in those which neighbour the EU - but their courses have little or no impact in shaping the perspectives and behaviour of public officials particularly at a senior level where the agenda is set by politics with both a large and small „p”.

More seriously, the content of their teaching is conducted at a high level of rationality – and takes little account of the political context of the work of the public service (particularly appointments and promotion) in CEEC nor of the questionable basis of many of the new models of pubic management they have adopted with such enthusiasm.

The same is true of the intervention tools used by the (large) consultancy industry funded by the EU which fail to account of the highly charged political environment of most CEEC countries – and which therefore make little impact.

The design and delivery of technical assistance of administrative reform is, in any case, fatally split between anonymous individual consultants and EU officials (on the one hand) who design the programmes and Terms of Reference according to unknown assumptions about drivers of change – and the actual consultants who have to manage the projects exactly as designed – regardless of their relevance to the situation they confront on the ground several years later.

As long as accession was the name of the game, this perhaps didn’t matter too much since the „beneficiaries” of Technical Assistance in accession countries had little choice than to comply with external advice.

It is a completely different matter with, for example, Neighbourhood countries – where the language of „local ownership” has to be taken more seriously.

The rhetoric about and programmes for anti-corruption cloak the reality that a systemically corrupt New Class has arisen in many CEEC countries – which makes a mockery of administrative reform and improved public services. The global financial crisis was just the last nail in the coffin.

It is insufficiently recognised that the language of „beneficiaries” and „experts” contradicts utterly the dynamics of a normal client-consultant relationship.

Despite the many evaluations of EU programmes of Technical Assistance which have been carried out, I am not aware of any real (as distinct from formalistic) assessments of the impact of (and lessons from) the large amounts of money spent on the various blocks of work in such fields as functional review, rule of law, civil service reform etc

I know of no examples of the successful transformation of kleptocratic regimes into operational democracies – nor of the possible drivers of such a transformation.

Another heroic example from China – a blind activist released from prison but surrounded in his house day and night by more than 20 state louts is able to smuggle out an eloquent video of his experience which you can see here. He and his wife are beaten senseless for this gesture.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

purple heather

The last post mentioned the book on „wabi sabi” which I’m reading. One of its elements is the appreciation as art objects of ordinary, natural things and of artefacts constructed from nature such as wood, stone and terra cotta. Those brought up on the seaboard of the Atlantic Ocean (as I was) generally come to love the smooth polished pebbles and dramatically carved rocks you find everywhere on the West Coast of Scotland – pounded into shape by the powerful Ocean. I even put one of the photographs I had taken of a rock as an illustration for the front cover of my last book – In Transit – notes on good governance. And one of my most precious collections is a set of Uzbek terra cotta figurines showing various basic occuptations such as a barbour, ceramic maker, beggar etc
I was very pleasantly surprised to find, on my last day in Sofia, pots of purple (unfortunately more red than violet) heather – a well-known Scottish plant which gives our mountains their lovely, special hue in late summer - a plant which is apparently quite rife also in Bulgaria!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

com-panion-ship - sharing bread

I can’t leave Sofia without my thanks to my great hosts and friends. But it’s invidious to mention them now since I wouldn’t know who to put first - the Bulgarian alphabetical listings use the first „given” name - not the family name. Just as they shake their head to indicate agreement. Very contrary! Suffice to say that, apart from the company, paintings and laughs, I had (and gave) great food – I haven’t mentioned Jovo’s great artist spread on Sunday afternoon in his studio – salads and pickled vegetables with pastrami and home-made Raki (from muscat grape) then slow-cooked beef with home-made brown bread and the special Brestovitza red wine prepared privately and sold only to friends by one of the vinoculture experts there. Jovo and Yassen are my first artist friends (apart from Bogdan in Ploiesti) and I have learned so much about Bulgarian painting from them. I was reminded, during the meal, of the spirit in which I was given a meal in a converted church in Jersey City by a Monsignor I had met at a Ditchley Park weekend devoted to urban renewal in the mid 1980s. He was the leader of a community cooperative which now owned much of the real estate of this poor neighbourhood - and the meal he and his Board members offered me (before I caught the plane back to the UK after my 6 week's Fellowship in the USA) celebrated the features of "companionship"- literally "breaking bread with (pane -con)".....It seems to share the qualities of "wabi sabi" – the japanese art of impermanence - which I am reading about at the moment in a delightful book by Andrew Juniper. It explains about the tea-drinking ceremony - whcih I have always appreciated since my days in Uzbekistan
Jovo’s studio is in a special apartment on the outskirts (a huge town in its own rights which had sprouted in the last decade) within sight of his flat – and he has a very distinctive style with elongated nudes with heads bowed which have a touch of Matisse. As we were about to leave, a friend and well-known cartoonist (Ilian Savkov) dropped in – and gave me some more names for my list. He draws daily cartoons for the Daily Standard.
I knew I would not have an easy departure on Tuesday morning - since the car wouldn't start on Sunday - despite a bit of exercise I had given it on Satruday. Once again Ivo came to the rescue - helping to push start it and taking me to a friend who had a cable sorted out in a jiff and for only 10 euros. Thanks Ivo!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Back to the serious stuff

I’ve been indulging myself during the past 2 weeks – both in my activities here in Sofia and the blogposts which have followed them. Time to get serious! I reproduced yesterday an example of a great blogpost – from one of the BBC correspondents. It was an extended brainstorm and produced high-level responses – unlike newspaper threads. I have another good example today – from the archdruid report – which raises the issue of systems thinking.
I’ve been trying to get my head around the implications of systems thinking for some time – I flagged the issue up here … and here. I can understand very well the implications for government policy-making – namely that it should have more respect for the natural order (Lovelock’s Gaia thesis is the logical extreme of that); and more reliance on community-level decision-making. Reliance on market mechanisms too - provided, however, that the basic preconditions of a market are present, namely free entry, free flow of information, multiple suppliers and proper costing of external costs. The word „market” is, in our times, has almost religious value – and is attached (by big business) to processes and operations which are utterly oligopolistic and which have nothing to do with the market. It is not so much socialism as big business which is the enemy of the market. I digress….but, methinks, it’s an important digression.
The implications for organisations of the systems approach is something which I have more difficulty with – even although there is a 500 page book which will spell out this for you which you can access at the bottom of the September 3 post.

I have in the next week to tryo to draft a paper which I have been putting off – for the next NISPAcee Conference (for institutes of public admin in east and central europe) which is being held this year in Varna, just down the road from here. I sent them this outline some months back -
I have spent 40 years of my life on various endeavours concerned to make public service systems more responsive to citizens.
The first 20 years was in Scotland – as an academic and political leader in municipal and regional government to which I helped introduce community development principles and practice. But, at the same time, I supported the various efforts at establishing a corporate management capacity – to ensure that the political leaders had some analysis at hand to allow them to deal with the power of the various specialised professions which dominated service delivery in those days. One of the important principles to me then was that of the pincer movement – achieving change from a combination of challenges from above and below.
These were the years when it was possible to believe that politics was an honourable profession and that (local) government could deliver results for its citizens.

My last 20 years has been spent living and working in central europe and central asia as a consultant to national state bodies in their various decentralisation and civil service reform efforts.
This period has coincided with a global enthusiasm for (and, much more recently, a certain reaction against) all things concerned with the private sector. The political system in most countries got too close to that sector – and is now, perhaps fatally, burned.
And the reform effort - which was initially driven by committed individuals - has become sanitised and castrated by technocrats and the project management from which earlier reform efforts might have benefited.
All of which has made it difficult for those working in transition countries to offer the expected models of good practice. Throughout the 40 years, I have tried to follow the relevant literature on improving government – and to share what lessons my own experience seemed to suggest with those interested. For example, at the 2006 NISPAcee Conference, I offered one of the critical papers on Technical Assistance which led to the establishment the following year of the working group on PA Reform. Its most important section was - Those of us who have got involved in these programmes of advising governments in these countries confront a real moral challenge. We are daring to advise these countries construct effective organisations; we are employed by organisations supposed to have the expertise in how to put systems together to ensure that appropriate intervention strategies emerge to deal with the organisational and social problems of these countries; we are supposed to have the knowledge and skills to help develop appropriate knowledge and skills in others! But how many of us can give positive answers to the following 5 questions? -
• Do the organisations which pay us practice what they and we preach on the ground about good organisational principles?
• Does the knowledge and experience we have as individual consultants actually help us identify and implement interventions which fit the context in which we are working?
• Do we have the skills to make that happen?
• What are the bodies which employ consultants doing to explore such questions – and to deal with the deficiencies which I dare to suggest would be revealed?
• Do any of us have a clue about how to turn kleptocratic regimes into systems that recognise the meaning of public service?

At Varna, I would like to take the gloves off – and suggest some unpalatable lessons from the last few decades – for both training institutes and the EC. But, above all, for us as individuals!

The graphic is another Tudor Banus - "sens de la vie"