The silent ‘change agents’ in government
October 26, 2016 Editor 0
Sometimes, the drive comes from the senior echelons of government – a reform-minded government leader, an important minister or an agency head. At times, there is pressure from donors. Often, the two combine: The initial idea comes from a donor, which a powerful person in government then takes up as an agenda.
Many reforms happen in this top-down way. But, often, there are questions about their sustainability. Commitment to reforms may not be widespread. Once donor pressure wears off, or once the bold reformer at the top moves on (or loses interest or energy), reform initiatives dissipate. Sometimes, the reforms happen on paper, but implementation remains deficient. Top-down reform initiatives often fail to take on board the front-line officials. Implementation thus suffers, especially when the attention of the top-down driver shifts elsewhere.
The 2015 World Development Report, Mind, Society and Behavior, thus points to the need to understand the motivations and behavioral characteristics of different players, such as politicians and government bureaucrats, and how these affect their decisions and actions. The WDR argues that such an understanding helps design policy interventions and reforms that stand a chance of success even in seemingly intractable situations.
This brings us to a third way of reform, less common but potentially more powerful – one that is driven by the middle tiers of bureaucracy. Reforms initiated in the trenches enjoy, almost by definition, the commitment of those responsible for implementation. Reforms may also be better designed, since the officials know exactly what is feasible and where there are pitfalls. A single bottom-up reform may not be very bold. But one reform may lead to another, and the cumulative impact may make a big difference.
Donor programs usually don’t regard mid-level officials as key drivers of reforms. It is often assumed that such officials will oppose reforms and they should thus be bypassed or, at best, co-opted in some fashion. Such assumptions lead to many lost opportunities. Mid-level officials can often be good initiators of reform if they are properly inspired and engaged. The attitudes and perceptions of this important tier of the bureaucracy have an important bearing on the formulation of policies and regulations, as well as on their implementation. These attitudes are shaped by an awareness of business-related issues, or a lack of it.
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Categories: World Bank PSD
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