administrative reform


What is this website for?

 I had hoped this website would allow a sharing of experience between those who care about the effectiveness of programmes of Technical Assistance in improving government systems in "transition" countries – and who are not afraid to speak out! After a year, this has not happened (my fault - lack of website profile) - and I have therefore transferred my energies to a daily blog at

However the site remains possibly the most interesting resource on public management reform for change agents - whether inside or outside government. To date I've uploaded 21 paper to "key papers" - that's about 1,000 pages. Just over half of them are my own papers, some examples of the policy briefs I've done for various clients; others more reflective about my experience over the past 20 years of working Technical Assistance field (it gets worse and worse); or what I feel I;ve learned about organisational change. Two of the papers in "Key Papers" are extensive bibliographical references - with the googlebooks being directly accessible.

And the blog does not really age - and it contains useful website references. 


 April 2010

1. Sharing of concerns about technical assistance for developing administrative capacity – its tools and systems

“Be careful of your wishes – they may be granted!” goes an old saying. Having spent the 1990s living in Central Europe and leading projects to develop the systems (if not the capacity) for central and local government, I moved in 1999 to Central Asia and the Caucasus on a similar mission[1].

By 2007 I wanted an opportunity to return to Europe and work in Romania or Bulgaria to see what light the experience of these two most recent members of the EU could throw on the conundrum of administrative reform in post-communist countries.

Over the past 15 years, I have tried to articulate the growing concerns[2] I have had about the programmes of technical assistance in this field. These concerns initially focussed on the impossibility of short (2 year) projects making any sustained impact on administrative behaviour and cultures – particularly when they were carried out by western “experts” who had little experience of consultancy; of the comparative aspects of their particular field; nor of the country in which they were working. But in the last few years the focus of my concern has shifted to -

  • the theory and tools of change which the international community has developed to encourage what it now calls “good governance”[3]
  • the effectiveness of the EU procurement system

 2. Who cares?

And one of my additional frustrations has been how few people seemed to care. In the 1990s I used my contacts in the European Parliament to raise my initial concerns – but I belonged to no constituency – and had no answers. Some unease was, however, developing about the effectiveness of particularly the TACIS programme[4]. Two years back, the EU totally revamped its system of technical assistance. The new programme promised more continuity (ie larger and longer projects) – but, two years on, none of this is evident[5]. And, unlike other international development bodies, the EU has no specialists at HQ overseeing quality, no system of peer review and no learning community[6]. It veritably is an “accidental” system! Of course it has a strong monitoring and evaluation system – but does not seem to understand how similar this is to the Soviet model it purports to replace!

And the EU disburses so much money to academia and for evaluations by policy institutes that few seem willing to “bite the hand that feeds it”. I find it ironic that the EU system uses the weapon of “anticorruption strategies” against the prospective and new member states – when it is the sheer scale of the Funds it is throwing into these countries (plus the antics of many of the consultancy companies of the older member states) which are the main cause of that corruption!


3. Not “good practice” – but context

Having the opportunity to live, on average, 20 months in 9 different ex-communist countries develops an appreciation of histories and cultures - and their differences. I got quite angry in Central Asia with Price Waterhouse personnel talking of “best practice” in public administration. What earthly use were, for example, public-private partnerships when a private sector did not exist? Since Huntingdon[7] it has been difficult – if not politically incorrect - to talk about cultures. So it requires some audacity to suggest that those of us who engage in consultancy work in the field of administrative reform need to recognise at least three very different contexts for their work[8] – and adjust our tools and expectations accordingly -

  • 2004 member states; The first wave of post-communist entrants in 2004 had consisted of countries[9] whose history and geography placed them firmly within what might be called an “autonomous” model of social organisation and public administration[10].
  • CIS countries have a more difficult cultural context – they have been and generally remain authoritarian and closed; lack the tradition of inter-war institutions of democracy and capitalism; and the pull of EU Accession as an incentive to reform.
  • The countries in the Neighbourhood group are overlain with varying degrees of Austro-Hungarian, Byzantine and Ottoman traditions – let alone the experience of the last 100 years of border struggles and communism. That affects how business (public and private) is done – and how easily countries can adapt (let alone accept) European norms of public administration.

 4. Purpose of the website

Bulgaria and Romania had joined the EU some 9 months before I moved to Sofia. I came to it without preconceptions about the country – but interested in using my 12 month stay in the country to understand the stage which their reform of public administration had reached; the role EU programmes of Technical Assistance were playing in that change; and the lessons for models of administrative reform. There were two coincidences –

  • That the project of which I became Team Leader was a project concerned to develop the country’s training system to increase its capacity to implement new (EU) policies. In other words the legitimate focus of my work was implementation gap or capacity – and what sort of training could help deal with it.
  • That the EU’s concern about the Bulgaria’s administrative capacity led it to freeze some EU funds in the spring of 2008 and to issue a strong report in July 2008

Frankly, I was shocked by what I experienced in Bulgaria. A paper from the project ("Learnin g from Experience") delicately deals with some of the issues and is available in "key papers" on this site. The issues are dealt with on a wider basis in the critique of technical assistance which is also there.  

And I was even more appalled by my subsequent (brief) experience of Romania - encountering the young "public managers" more than 300 of whom have been selected and trained by the EU and then let loose - at inflated salaries but managing noone. At the Institute of Public Administration 5 of them controlled a project with Stalinist dedication and utterly castrated my interest.

This site has been set up –

  • To speculate about the possible factors which make administrative reform difficult in SE Europe and the Balkans
  • To describe and assess the system which the EU has put in place to help develop the administrative capacity of these countries
  • To explore the implications of these speculations for models and tools of administrative reform elsewhere

And to do so in a manner which will encourage sharing of experience and which will help those committed to stronger reform efforts.

Ronald G Young; October 2009

[1] For 5 years, trying to help lay the foundations of a more meritocratic civil service; for 2 trying to help efforts to bring a system of local government alive.

[2] Eg “Missionaries, Mercenaries or Witchdoctors – a critical assessment of technical assistance for public administration reform” paper delivered to 14th Annual Conference of NISPAcee – and available in the book of those proceedings

[3] For one of the few critiques – see M Grindle “Good Enough Governance”

[4] In auditors’ reports

[5] indeed the twinning programmes which have now become the main EU tool, for example, for its “Neighbourhood strategy” actually  intensifies the problems this section has itemised.

[6] I do recognise that various “toolkits” have been developed recently – but they (and the associated training) are aimed exclusively at EU staff. No attempt is ever made to involve or use the insights of those who actually do the work – the free-lance “consultants”

[7] The Clash of Civilisations

[8] This is elaborated in a separate paper

[9] Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia

[10] By this I refer to a social belief that individual efforts (entrepreneurial or political) will produce results. So many of the countries of this area have only emerged from centuries of subjugation.