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!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The sovereign myth ....and the future of social democracy

For the past few years, the refrain of the MSM has been that there could be no returning to the heyday of social democracy But, since Corbyn, Trump and the recent British election, the talk is of little else…..The grip of neoliberal thinking seems at last to be broken. Globalisation is no more….

And yet…….The Crooked Timber blog alerted me to this piece on what the author calls “the sovereign myth 
One of the defining organizational facts about the state as we know it ….is that it is integrally connected with transnational finance. In part, but it’s an important part, the modern state is a creation of the bond market, and so is the modern democratic state.
Medieval mercantile cities had long been able to borrow money at better interest rates than other political units. In early modernity, states that were relatively representative and relatively commercial learned that they could do the same. First Holland, then England, gained crucial advantages in international competition from their ability to borrow cheaply; the credit market trusted representative governments that incorporated important parts of the commercial classes much more than they trusted absolute monarchs. And Britain’s ability to out-borrow France eventually contributed to the bankruptcy of the latter state and the onset of the Revolution. 
This is uncontroversial but, from many ideological perspectives, uncomfortable. It means that the growth, stability, and expansion of powerful states governed by representative democracy was in part a creation of the credit market, bondholders, and international finance. That’s not a world in which democratic decision makers ever had unconstrained sovereign decision-making authority over public finance, even in the powerful core states of the international system. It also means that the representative state emerged out of a kind of market competition for creditworthy providers of government.
The representation of those who would have to be taxed in the future to repay the debt was taken as much more credible than a king’s prediction that his son would probably find the money somewhere. Moreover, the innovative financial instruments that characterize modern financial markets were often created by, or around, public or quasi-public entities like the Bank of England and the Dutch East India Company.
And once these processes got underway, the validity of transnational debt in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was often enforced at gunboat-point by powerful states.Thus, imagined histories of democratic sovereignty over the economy cannot survive contact with the actual history of the emergence of democratic states.

I was in the mood for this sombre message since I had just emerged from reading The Roch Winds - a treacherous guide to Scotland which is as thought-provoking a vignette on the state of one of Europe’s small countries as you can find. 
much of the book is dedicated to a forensic analysis of the nebulous cluster of hopes and dreams that constitute ‘Civic Nationalism’, the ideology that increasingly sets the parameters of Scottish political discourse. In the ongoing absence of any effective opposition to the SNP’s complete dominance at Holyrood and beyond, commentary of this quality is badly needed to puncture Scotland’s self-satisfied political consensus.…….its legislation moving at stately pace through its quiet committees, its doors open to trusted representatives of Scotland’s established civic institutions, the very design of its hemispherical parliamentary chamber facilitating respectful rational exchanges.

The Scottish nationalists who have been in government in devolved Scotland for more than ten years are very good in contrasting their consensual approach with the bitter antagonisms which are evident in the Westminster parliament. But an excellent, extended review makes the point that –
Westminster is a ‘tax-and-spend’ parliament, responsible for raising the money it distributes, whereas Holyrood is ‘grant-and-spend’ assembly, responsible only for distributing funds guaranteed by Westminster’s block grant.Holyrood is protected from the elemental political forces that buffet the British Government, which carries the burden of raising the money it spends in a competitive global economy.
Politics at this level is bound to be confrontational, the angry exchanges at the dispatch box reflecting the impossibility of reconciling the divergent interests of the extra-parliamentary constituencies that fight to determine how money is spent and raised. Westminster’s power to set tax rates and pull the fiscal and monetary levers that shape the environment in which business operates subject it to pressures exerted by powerful financial and corporate interests to which the Scottish Parliament is not subject.

Of course I know that the ruthless face of finance capitalism has been evident for several years in the whole tragic saga of Greek debt but The Roch Winds is particularly powerful in its description of how, for the few days immediately before the Scottish referendum of 2014, that ruthless face presented itself when a poll was released suggesting a possible victory for the yes campaign. One of the book’s authors wrote an Open Democracy piece which tells this wonderful story –
Between 1929 and 1931, a minority Labour government tore itself to shreds in a desperate attempt to keep Britain in the Gold Standard international monetary system. Winston Churchill – then Chancellor of the Exchequer – re-established Sterling at the centre of a revived Gold Standard in 1925, revaluing it at pre-war levels despite the devastation which the First World War had inflicted on the British economy. Labour, seeking to reform rather than overthrow British capitalism, offered little in the way of an alternative.
Within the party’s social democratic orthodoxy, the stability of the international economic architecture and high finance had to be secured before Labour could focus on its own supporters amongst the industrial working class.
 Industrial areas experienced great hardship as Britain struggled on maintaining relatively liberalised trade and a highly uncompetitive currency valuation. The fiscal situation was also hindered, and the Labour government ultimately fell due to an internal feud over further cuts to unemployment benefit.
 Yet the rules of the game were dramatically changed just days and weeks after this collapse. The incoming (largely Tory) National Government took Britain off the hallowed Gold Standard, raised tariffs, subsidised industry and set about arranging preferential Commonwealth trading.Sidney Webb, the leading Fabian intellectual who had served as the Secretary of State for Dominions and Colonies in the Labour administration, responded to the situation with the exasperated cry of: “they didn’t tell us we could do that!”    

The review continues by reminding us of how 
Scottish Labour’s uninspiring defence of the Union throughout the referendum – which has cost them a Scottish working class vote that no longer has faith in the status quo – was rooted in the belief that Scotland’s public services can only be maintained within the context of British capitalism.During the Blair and Brown years Labour maintained public spending – and Scotland’s block grant – by means of a Faustian pact with finance capital: the City was allowed to let rip in return for the tax revenues it generated.
New Labour’s perceived impurities continue to be exploited ruthlessly by the SNP and the wider Yes movement, for whom ‘any effort to sustain the welfare state in the cesspit of British capitalism [is] like conducting surgery in a sewer.’The SNP have sought to claim the mantle of a purer social democracy once proudly championed by a more virtuous ‘Old Labour’, but for Gallagher et al this is just another illusion: the compromises of the New Labour era were the most recent manifestation of Labour’s continual battle to broker some form of social democratic state in the teeth of the private sector’s hostility. 
During the post-war golden era ‘Old Labour’ might indeed have had it easier: reliable economic growth generated the tax revenues necessary to fund public services, and strong unions were able to force decent wages. But it soon morphed into a messy business of incomes policies, ‘beer and sandwiches at No 10’ and currency devalutions: social democracy is always necessarily compromised, a fractious struggle to broker a truce between capital and labour.
And it has only got harder in more recent decades, the globalisation and financialisation of the world economy limiting the capacity of nation states to draw tax revenues from business, and weakened labour movements forcing governments such as those of Blair and Brown to supplement low wages with tax breaks, minimum wage legislation and easy credit. 
The 2008 crash pitched social democracy into full-blown crisis, forcing states to borrow heavily to prevent wholesale collapse of the banks, and to run up debts that must be repaid on terms dictated by finance capital, including tight controls on public spending and the maintenance of cheap, flexible labour markets.For the authors, austerity is a permanent condition enforced by vast corporate and financial interests that nation states are no longer able to control.
Any social democratic government prepared to work within the terms set by global capital will be subject to the same pressures:Labour’s inability to respond to austerity was due to the fact that under its social democratic principles it could [not] challenge it, since it was not prepared to operate outside conditions which were profitable for capital. A Scottish state governed by the SNP would have to face up to the same challenges that social democratic parties everywhere, not just Labour, are struggling to see beyond. 

A future post will try to explore the implications for social democracy......

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”.

Monday, July 17, 2017

When will it ever change???

Another long post whose basic argument I can perhaps best summarise thus –
- People were overly optimistic in 1990/91 when they talked of one or two generations being necessary for a democratic culture to take hold in central europe
- most locals in Bulgaria and Romania are fatalistic about the glacial pace of reform
- but know exactly where the blockages are
- few external academic or consultants have even bothered to look at progress in improving state capacity in this part of the world – in the ten years during which billions of euros of European Structural Funds has been under local control...

Ralf Dahrendorf was a famous German sociologist/UK statesman who wrote in 1990 an extended public letter first published under the title “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe” and then expanded as Reflections on the Revolution of our Time. In it he made the comment that it would take one or two years to create new institutions of political democracy in the recently liberated countries of central Europe; maybe five to 10 years to reform the economy and make a market economy; and 15 to 20 years to create the rule of law. But it would take maybe two generations to create a functioning civil society there. A former adviser to Vaslev Havel, Jiri Pehe, referred a few years ago to that prediction and suggested that 
what we see now is that we have completed the first two stages, the transformation of the institutions, of the framework of political democracy on the institutional level, there is a functioning market economy, which of course has certain problems, but when you take a look at the third area, the rule of the law, there is still a long way to go, and civil society is still weak and in many ways not very efficient.”

He then went on to make the useful distinction  between “democracy understood as institutions and democracy understood as culture” 
“It’s been much easier to create a democratic regime, a democratic system as a set of institutions and procedures and mechanism, than to create democracy as a kind of culture – that is, an environment in which people are actually democrats”.

These are salutary comments for those with too mechanistic an approach to institution-building.  Notwithstanding the tons of books on organisational cultures and cultural change, political cultures cannot be engineered. Above all, they will not be reformed from a project approach based on using bodyshops, cowboy companies, short-term funding from the EC Structural Funds and the logframe.
The European Commission made a decision in 1997 which shocked me to the core – that EC technical assistance to central European and Balkan countries would no longer be governed by “developmental” objectives but rather by their ability to meet the formal legal requirement of the Acquis Commaunitaire (AC)…….ie of EU membership

In the mid 90s, the Head of the European Delegation to Romania (Karen Fogg 1993-98) used to give every visiting consultant a summary of Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work – civic traditions in modern Italy (1993). This suggested that the “amoral familism” of southern Italian Regions (well caught in a 1958 book of Edward Banfield’s) effectively placed them 300 years behind the northern regions.
Romania, for its part, had some 200 years under the Ottoman and the Phanariot thumbs - but then had 50 years of autonomy during which it developed all the indications of modernity (if plunging latterly into  Fascism). The subsequent experience of Romanian communism, however, created a society in which, paradoxically, deep distrust became the norm – with villagers forcibly moved to urban areas to drive industrialisation; the medical profession enrolled to check that women were not using contraceptives or abortion; and Securitate spies numbering one in every three citizens.
The institutions of the Romanian state collapsed at Xmas 1989 and were subsequently held together simply by the informal pre-existing networks – not least those of the old Communist party and of the Securitate. Tom Gallagher’s “Theft of a Nation” superbly documented the process in 2005.

These were the days when a body of literature called “path dependency” was raising important questions about how free we are to shake off cultural values…. Authors such as de Hofstede; Ronald Inglehart; FransTrompenaars; and Richard Lewis (in his When Cultures Collide) were telling us how such values affect our everyday behaviour.  

Sorin Ionitsa’s booklet on Poor Policy Making in Weak States (2006) captured brilliantly the profound influence of the different layers of cultural values on political and administrative behavior in Romania which continue to this day. His focus was on Romania but the explanations he offers for the poor governance in that country has resonance for many other countries and therefore warrant reproduction  
- “The focus of the political parties is on winning and retaining power to the exclusion of any interest in policy – or implementation process”
- “Political figures fail to recognise and build on the programmes of previous regimes – and simply don’t understand the need for “trade-offs” in government. There is a (technocratic/academic) belief that perfect solutions exist; and that failure to achieve them is due to incompetence or bad intent”.
- “Policymaking is centred on the drafting and passing of legislation. “A policy is good or legitimate when it follows the letter of the law − and vice versa. Judgments in terms of social costs and benefits are very rare”.

“This legalistic view leaves little room for feasibility assessments in terms of social outcomes, collecting feedback or making a study of implementation mechanisms. What little memory exists regarding past policy experiences is never made explicit (in the form of books, working papers, public lectures, university courses, etc): it survives as a tacit knowledge of public servants who happened to be involved in the process at some point or other. And as central government agencies are notably numerous and unstable – i.e. appearing, changing their structure and falling into oblivion every few years - institutional memory is not something that can be perpetuated”

His booklet remains one of the few which explores such issues which are so crucial for the development of this part of the world; and he also refers to other “pre-modern” aspects of the civil service – such as unwillingness to share information and experiences across various organisational boundaries. And to the existence of a “dual system” of poorly paid lower and middle level people in frustrating jobs headed by younger, Western-educated elite which "talks the language of reform - but treats its position as a temporary placement on the way to better things".

 “Entrenched bureaucracies have learned from experience that they can always prevail in the long run by paying lip service to reforms while resisting them in a tacit way. They do not like coherent strategies, transparent regulations and written laws – they prefer the status quo, and daily instructions received by phone from above. This was how the communist regime worked; and after its collapse the old chain of command fell apart, though a deep contempt for law and transparency of action remained a ‘constant’ in involved persons’ daily activities.
Such an institutional culture is self-perpetuating in the civil service, the political class and in society at large”. “A change of generations is not going to alter the rules of the game as long as recruitment and socialization follow the same old pattern: graduates from universities with low standards are hired through clientelistic mechanisms; performance when on the job is not measured; tenure and promotion are gained via power struggles.

“In general, the average Romanian minister has little understanding of the difficulty and complexity of the tasks he or she faces, or he/she simply judges them impossible to accomplish. Thus they focus less on getting things done, and more on developing supportive networks, because having collaborators one can trust with absolute loyalty is the obsession of all local politicians - and this is the reason why they avoid formal institutional cooperation or independent expertise. In other words, policymaking is reduced to nothing more than politics by other means. And when politics becomes very personalized or personality-based, fragmented and pre-modern, turf wars becomes the rule all across the public sector.”

Ionitsa’s booklet was, of course, written more than a decade ago but I see nothing to suggest that much has changed in Romania in the intervening period. Since 2007, of course, it has been Romanian experts who have been employed as consultants but they have essentially been singing from the same song-sheet as western consultants
I’ve used the phrase “impervious regimes” to cover the mixture of autocracies, kleptocracies and incipient democracies with which I have become all too familiar in the last 27 years; have faulted the toolkits and Guides which the European Commission offers consultants; and proposed some ideas for a different, more incremental and “learning” approach.
I’m glad to say that just such a new approach began to surface a few years ago – known variously as “doing development differently”, or the iterative or political analysis…….it was presaged almost 10 years ago by the World Bank’s Governance Reforms under real world conditions written around the sorts of questions we consultants deal with on a daily basis - one paper in particular (which starts part 2 of the book) weaves a very good theory around 3 words – acceptance, authority and ability. I enthused about the approach in a 2010 post

But there is a strange apartheid in consultancy and scholastic circles between those engaged in “development”, on the one hand, and those in “organisational reform” in the developed world, on the other…..The newer EU member states are now assumed to be fully-fledged systems (apart from a bit of tinkering still needed in their judicial systems – oh…. and Hungary and Poland have gone back on some fundamental elements of liberal democracy…..!). But they all remain sovereign states – subject only to their own laws plus those enshrined in EC Directives…. Structural Funds grant billions of euros to the new member states which are managed by each country’s local consultants who use the “best practice” tools - which anyone with any familiarity with “path dependency” or “cultural” or even anthropological theory would be able to tell them are totally inappropriate to local conditions..…

But the local consultants are working to a highly rationalistic managerial framework imposed on them by the European Commission; are, for the most part, young and trained to western thought. They know that the brief projects on which they work have little sustainability but – heh – look at the hundreds of millions of euros which will continue to roll in as far as the eye can see…..!!!

Someone in central Europe needs to be brave enough to shout out that ”the Emperor has no clothes!!” To challenge the apartheid in scholastic circles….and to realise the relevance of Ionitsa’s 11- year old booklet and Governance Reforms under real world conditions 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cultural Change - a neglected topic

Two issues have dominated my life – for the first 20 years what we in Scotland initially called (in the early 70s) “multiple deprivation” but which has subsequently become better known as “inequality”. Straddling then the worlds of politics and academia, I helped shape a social strategy which is still at the heart of the Scottish Government’s work 
In the 1990s , however,  I changed both continents and roles – and found myself dealing, as a consultant, with the question of how new public management and governance systems could be built in ex-communist countries which gave ordinary ordinary citizens in ex-communist countries a realistic chance to give vent to their voice and opinions – against the “powers that be”….. who rapidly were revealed to be …….the reinvented apparachtniki…..In a recent pessimistic post about the possibility of the Romanian political culture moving forward, I referred to the theory of path dependencywhich warns that formal institutions are shaped by informal group behavior which is deeply embedded in wider cultural values; and which easily undermines the rhetoric and good intentions of those who lead the institutions…

Until last week I saw these two strands of my life as very separate - but a conversation with a friend has made me realize that there is a profound cultural link between the 2 fields of work. I start by describing the culture of West of Scotland public agencies as I experienced them in the late 1960s and 1970s; then describe the 2 key organisational innovations some of us introduced to one of the UK’s largest public bodies in the mid 70s.
Readers will forgive me for going into some detail since these innovations have been neglected in subsequent social history…..I will take up the second part of the story in my next post 

In the early days people sometimes asked what, as a western consultant, I could bring to the task of crafting state bodies in such countries. They didn’t realise that, in many respects, Scotland was, until the 80s and 90s, culturally and institutionally, more socialist than countries such as Hungary. The scale of municipal power was particularly comprehensive in Scotland where the local  council still owned three quarters of the housing stock, 90% of education and most of the local services - including buses. Only health and social security escaped its control: these were handled by Central Government. Local government simply could not cope with such massive responsibilities (although such a view was rejected at the time).
This was particularly evident in the larger housing estates in the West of Scotland which had been built for low-income "slum" dwellers in the immediate post-war period -
- there were few services in these areas
- employment was insecure
- schools in such areas had poor educational achievement and were not attractive to teachers/headmasters
- local government officials were not trained in management : and treated their staff in a dictatorial way
·         who in turn treated the public with disdain

The contemptuous treatment given by local council services seemed to squash whatever initiative people from such areas had. They learned to accept second-class services. Behind this lay working and other conditions so familiar to people in Central Europe
- the culture was one of waiting for orders from above. There were few small businesses since the Scots - - middle class have tended to go into the professions rather than setting up one's own business
- work was in large industrial plants
- for whose products there was declining demand
- rising or insecure unemployment
- monopolistic provision of local public services
- hence underfunding of services - queues and insensitive provision
- hostility to initiatives, particularly those from outside the official system.
- elements of a "one-party state" (the Labour party has controlled most of local government in Scotland for several decades).

As a young councillor in the late 60s, I made an immediate impact by the way I mobilised tenants about the patronizing way they were being treated by the local municipality, I was lucky because, Labour having lost local power to a group of “liberals”, I had the freedom to flay “the system” with all my energies. In a sense I was giving the national liberals a taste of their own medicine since they were just beginning to invent a new form of “pavement politics”…..The community groups I worked with were very effective in their various projects concerned with adult education and youth, for example and one of the most powerful lessons I learned was how much many professionals in the system disliked such initiative.
But it was still a bit of a shock to realise how suspicious my own Labour colleagues were of the people they were supposed to support! Instead they echoed the reservations and criticisms of the officials. One of the things I was learning was the subtle and often implicit ways those with power made sure they kept control – whether in the formality of language used or in the layout of meetings.

I drew on this experience when, in 1977 I wrote a major article about community development – which was reproduced in a book of Readings about the subject in the early 80s
In 1974 I found myself in a lead role as new structures were set up for Europe’s largest regional authority;  - 
At the end of Strathclyde Region's first year of existence in 1976, a major weekend seminar of all the councillors and the new Directors was held to review the experience of the new systems of decision-making. The exhilarating experience a few of us had had of working together across the boundaries of political and professional roles first to set up the new Departments and second on the deprivation strategy was something we wanted to keep. And other councillors wanted that involvement too.
 Our answer was "member-officer groups" . These were working groups of about 15 people (equal number of officials and councillors) given the responsibility to investigate a service or problem area - and to produce, within 12-18 months, an analysis and recommendations for action. Initially social service topics were selected - youth services, mental handicap, pre-school services and the elderly - since the inspiration, on the officer side, was very much from one of the senior Social Work officials.
The council's organisational structure was also treated in this way in the late 1970s (the extent of external assistance sought was that every member of the group was given a copy of a Peter Drucker book as text!) - and a group on Community Development helped pave the way for the first local authority Committee for Community Development. And eventually, in the mid-1980s, even more traditional departments such as Education succumbed to this spirit of inquiry! 
The member-officer groups broke from the conventions of municipal decision-making in various ways -
- officials and members were treated as equals
- noone was assumed to have a monopoly of truth : by virtue of ideological or professional status
- the officers nominated to the groups were generally not from Headquarters - but from the field
- evidence was invited from staff and the outside world, in many cases from clients themselves
- it represented a political statement that certain issues had been neglected in the past
- the process invited external bodies (eg voluntary organisations) to give evidence
- the reports were written in frank terms : and concerned more with how existing resources were being used than with demands for more money.
- the reports were seen as the start of a process - rather than the end - with monitoring groups established once decisions had been made. 
The achievements of the groups can be measured in such terms as -
- the acceptance, and implementation, of most of the reports : after all, the composition and the openness of the process generates its own momentum of understanding and commitment !
- the subsequent career development of many of their chairmen
- the value given to critical inquiry - instead of traditional party-bickering and over-simplification.- the quality of relations between the councillors : and with the officials 
With this new way of working, we had done two things. First discovered a mechanism for continuing the momentum of innovation which was the feature of the Council's first years. Now more people had the chance to apply their energies and skills in the search for improvement.We had, however, done more - we had stumbled on far more fruitful ways of structuring local government than the traditional one (the Committee system) which focuses on one "Service" - eg Education which defines the world in terms of the client group: of one professional group and is producer-led. And whose deliberations are very sterile - as the various actors play their allotted roles (expert, leader, oppositionist, fool etc).
 As politicians representing people who lived in families and communities, we knew that the agendas of the Committees we spent our time in were not really dealing with the concerns of the public: were too narrowly conceived; and frustrated creative exchange. For this, we needed structures which had an "area-focus" and "problem focus". We were in fact developing them –
-       in the neighbourhood structures which allowed officers, residents and councillors to take a comprehensive view of the needs of their area and the operation of local services:
-       and in the member-officer groups.
 But they were running in parallel with the traditional system.The structures we developed gave those involved (not least the officials) a great deal of satisfaction.
The challenge, however, was to make those with the conventional positions of power (the Chairmen and Directors) feel comfortable with the challenges raised by the new structures. We were aware that our basic messages to professional staff - about (a) the need to work across the boundaries of departments; (b) the need for consultative structures in the designated priority areas; and (c) the capacity of people in these areas - represented a fundamental challenge to everything professional staff stood for.
This was expressed eloquently in an article in the early 1980s - "Insisting on a more co-ordinated approach from local government to the problems of these areas, trying to open up the processes of decision-making and to apply "positive discrimination" in favour of specific (poorer) areas challenge fundamental organising beliefs about urban government - viz the belief that services should be applied uniformly, be organised on a departmental basis; and hierarchically"
 What we were doing was in fact running two separate systems - a traditional one and a more innovative one which defied traditional lines of authority. The latter was more challenging - but, paradoxically, left with the younger officials and politicians to handle.  And, during the Eighties, more "alternative" systems were developed - such as 6 Divisional Deprivation Groups which to whom the Policy sub-Committee passed the responsibility for managing the urban programme budget in their area.

For 20 years – long before “cultural change” became fashionable - I was therefore in the middle of efforts to change organisational cultures. That helped me not only to see the world from other people’s standpoints but also to learn new skills of networking.
It was for this reason that the Head of Europe’s WHO’s Health Prevention Division commissioned me in 1990 to represent her on missions to the Health Ministries of the newly-liberated countries of Central and Eastern Europe (inc Russia).
So, when the EC started its programme of Technical Assistance (PHARE), I was one of its earliest and most experienced consultants – indeed, for the paranoic Poles, too experienced (all candidates were faulted for one of 2 reasons – knowing too little about Poland or knowing too much – or rather too many of the wrong people – after my work for WHO I was seen as falling into the second category!).

In my next post I will try to explore why changing the culture of public management and governance has not been taken more seriously in central Europe……