I am writing from Cape Town in South Africa, where about 90 governance specialists from around the World Bank are attending a workshop on the theme: "Implementing Effective Country Level Governance Programs". The aim of the workshop is to review the implementation of about 17 country level governance programs funded by the Governance Partnership Facility (GPF). The donors, also represented here are the governments of Great Britain, the Netherlands and Norway, through their development agencies.
The workshop is important for a simple reason. About 30 million dollars in funding has allowed the country teams represented here to innovate and experiment. They are working at the frontiers of governance, unconstrained by the usual bureaucratic obstacles that can pose challenges for innovative work in a large organization. And the GPF itself was set up to encourage a broader view of governance and its practice.
Three things have struck me in the course of today, the first day of the workshop. The first is the sheer energy in the room, and in the breakout sessions. There is a sense that something is being fashioned that will someday be powerful in driving development effectiveness. The second is the frankness of the discussions. Difficult issues are being put on the table. For example: What do you do about autocracies, countries with very little political space? Is civil society always a good thing? What if civil society organizations are useless or prone to capture? Is the World Bank itself not often an obstacle to reform? Where will the new skills and resources needed come from in a flat budget environment? What is best way to conduct 'difficult conversations" with challenging governments?
Third, I have been struck by the focus on ground level innovation. Senior managers are here, and they are basically saying that the governance agenda is not a passing fancy- which is good to know - but the stars are the country directors and task team leaders leading innovative work in the field. It has not been a day of grand theories about governance, but experiences that show what is possible if there is a willingness to experiment, permission to do so, and, of course, resources. Fascinating stories are being told, about which more later.
Above all, what I sense is a willingness to fashion new directions for the governance agenda, as the practice moves decisively from a narrow focus on public sector governance to a many-splendored phenomenon defined by experimentations in the field. What will be interesting will be to see how this shape-shifting agenda emerges from the crucible of this workshop.