Implementing reforms in public systems

From a really interesting paper from the Accountability Initiative team – Yamini Aiyar, Ambrish Dongre and Vincy Davis “Education reforms, bureaucracy and the puzzles of implementation A case study from Bihar”

…we demonstrate the degree to which this self-identification as “passive agents” and “post officers” has shaped officials’ understanding of schools, the learning deficit and their own role in education administration. As “passive agents,” administrators interpret the learning challenge entirely through the prism of the administrative machine in which they are powerless cogs. In this world, behavior shifts only when “rules” and “orders,” closely monitored by superiors, demand change…

…In this hierarchical, order-driven culture, frontline agents understand “performance” entirely on the basis of responsiveness to orders and calls for compliance. Thus, even when reforms are introduced, the frontline rarely seeks to understand and internalize the logic for shifts in behavior – in this case, an explicit focus on classroom-practices and changes in pedagogy

Reforms initiated with public systems often overlook last mile implementation, and end up with an over-reliance on tighter controls, which are usually input-based, instead of focusing on outputs and outcomes. Some have even suggested fixing cameras in government offices, for instance. As this case study from Bihar shows, such reforms are usually demotivating, and only serve to perpetuate a post-office culture of governance.


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