About a year ago, Frank Fukuyama released an article entitled “What is governance?” in the Governance journal that became an “instant classic” in the field. Within a month it had elicited over 15 responses from prominent scholars on the Governance blog, not to mention commentary posted elsewhere—including this blog. It already has over 40 google citations, including articles in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. And a month ago, Governance journal published two more commentaries on Fukuyama’s original article (by Robert Rotberg and Craig Boardman), reinvigorating the debate.
Last week, we invited Jennifer Bussell from UC Berkeley to present her fascinating study on corruption, politics and public service reforms in the digital age. The study is based in India and draws on a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data collected in 2009 from 20 subnational states, investigating how pre-existing institutional conditions influence e-Governance reforms.
Public service reforms in the digital age constitute a new era of relations between the citizen and the state. However, scholars have argued that much of the discourse on e-Government has been normative, with fairly optimistic predictions, and wanting deeper moorings in public management theory (Coursey & Norris, 2008; Heeks & Bailur, 2007; Yildiz, 2007).
Almost two years ago Program for Results (PforR), the newest financing instrument for World Bank operations, was introduced to great expectations within the Bank and the international development community.
It is close to six months since the largest open government jamboree to date – the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Annual Summit in London last autumn. Since then the membership of the OGP continues to grow – up to 63 countries. And now a new set of regional meetings are scheduled for May through August. Open government junkies can boost their air miles accounts with a hectic world tour from Indonesia to Ireland to Costa Rica. Such gatherings should offer useful space for reflection. So what is happening on the ground?
I was intrigued by Kerala's Akshaya program. Kerala is uniquely, a most decentralized state, the only one of 17 in India to enact the Right to Public Services and, to open citizen service centers called Akshaya, run under the oversight of panchayats, 3-tier local self-governments, in 14 districts set within a 2 km radius of households. Akshaya was designed in its first phase in 2003 by the Kerala IT Mission to improve e-literacy in underserved areas and, in its second phase to provide a platform for government to citizen services through a public-private partnership. Over 60% of Kerala's 33 million citizens have been served by 2070+ Akshaya centers run by private entrepreneurs who collectively earn 30 million INR a month, creating employment for over 20,000 individuals. (For more details, see Akshaya Overview and UNDP Report on Akshaya).
Taking politics seriously
The idea political incentives play a powerful role in development—creating opportunities for change in some contexts, frustrating efforts in others—is not a new one. For many years now, academics and aid agencies have acknowledged that the uptake and impact of best practice reforms depends, in part, on the incentives of leaders and citizens, on formal and informal institutional arrangements, on historical legacies and structural drivers. And as a result, many aid agencies have made efforts to “take politics seriously.”
The post-conflict literature amongst practitioners (including the Bank’s WDR 2011 and the OECD’s INCAF) has increasingly focussed on the role of ‘inclusive enough’ political settlements as a precondition for political stability and economic growth. What does this mean? Can an understanding of political settlements help mould the Bank’s responses to moments of crisis in our client countries or inform our “business as usual” operations in countries where the seeds of future violence are apparent or looming? How do we recognize tenuous settlements, where grievances are likely to lead to an outbreak of, or return to, widespread conflict?
The WDR 2004 report certainly puts politics centre stage. Ten years on, the picture remains the same: where there’s any form of accountability relationship, there is some form of politics. A key insight of the WDR 2004 report was the trio of accountability relationships for service delivery and demand for improvement involving citizens, service providers and the government.
We are curating a new monthly series on Digital Gov in developing countries seeking fresh perspectives and insights into the policy, institutional, and technical dimensions of using technology and public management to make services work for businesses and citizens.
Over a cup of tea, on a January afternoon of freezing rain, Emily, who works on Digital for the US Government, and I met to exchange perspectives on what it takes for governments to get digital right. Although our contexts are vastly different, we agreed that there remain similar pain points in the developed and developing world. In the first edition of the Digital Gov. blog, we consider factors common to good digital service delivery.
King James had it right early on. “All Treasurers, if they do good service to their masters, must be generally hated”, he remarked after he couldn’t protect his own treasurer Lionel Cranfield from being thrown into the Tower of London in chains. Cranfield had made too many powerful enemies by opposing an expensive war the treasury couldn’t afford. His many successors through the ages can probably relate without too much difficulty.