Thursday, January 7, 2010

We keep complaining about poor administrative capacity...

When I was a research assistant in the Scottish civil service for a year aq few years ago, I remember being pretty scathing about the number of courses civil servants went on every year. If I remember correctly, they had the right to select whatever courses they thought might be useful, subject to budget availability, and were obliged to go on 2 weeks of courses every year - mostly on management and personal organisation type stuff.

At the time this seemed to me to be a bit ridiculous and the reports back were generally that it was all a lot of fluff - how hard can management be after all? But having then spent 3 years working in the civil service in Mozambique, it struck me that absolutely nobody had ever had a course in management. From the top down, any training which had taken place was either academic, or as part of some specific donor project and of a fairly precise technical nature. A couple of people of more motivated people might have read a management book or two but apart from that, no management training.

Now, I've never had anay management training either, but I'm not really managing anything or anyone. But one of the things that strikes you when you begin working in such a place is the lack of structure and procedures, the apparent ad-hoc nature of meetings and work programmes, the last minute dashes to fulfill annual obligations even though everyone knew about them. The lack of clarity about who is responsible for what. So maybe some donor money would be well spent on providing some decent management courses for mid-to high level civil servants.

Now that I think about it, what was also clear actually, was that responsibilities were only clear when the issue in question was a hot topic and the Minister had delegated responsibility. In fact that was common for all things - if the Minister was interested and pressurised on a certain point, things happened. If not, no. So that suggests that political motivation is key. But that's not to say that the management which comes underneath, and which is required to deliver, is not important.

This all comes on the back of my working on yet another industrial policy document for a place which is swiming in policy documents and strategies. But that's perhaps best left for another post...

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