Changing the mindset of Civil Servants on bringing Public Administration Reform: Sharing the Bangladeshi experience

In this piece, I have tried to outline my views on an important subject based on my four years’ practical experience working at AIT with the “Managing at the Top 2” (MATT2) Project. My work has been related to arranging a series of Regional Exposure Visit (REV) programs in Thailand.

Since 2008, AIT Extension has undertaken this collaborative capacity development intervention to aid civil servants of Bangladesh Civil Service in collaboration with the Department for International Development (DFID), UK, the main contractor (Helm Corporation), and the Ministry of Public Administration, People’s Republic of Bangladesh (formerly known as Ministry of Establishment). The combined effort is part of the Managing at the Top 2 (MATT-2) Project which started in 2006 (MATT I ran from 1999 - 2002). The project aims to develop a citizen-centered service mindset amongst civil servants as well as to increase their management capability to bring positive changes into government organization in Bangladesh. To achieve these goals, the project aims to create a critical mass of 1,800 reform-minded civil servants. 

Unlike passive administrative reform initiatives that the Government of Bangladesh has previously carried out the MATT-2 process is participatory and uses a bottom-up approach in introducing change to the system. Civil servants have to participate in months-long process by putting minds and bodies in the simulative change-driven situation through facilitative learning processes both at Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre (BPATC), Bangladesh and Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand (other batches conduct their Regional Exposure Visit programs at the Singapore Civil Service College and in Malaysia at INTAN). In this way the civil servants are trained to create collaborative environment for planning which was unusual in their regular civil service system. These future change managers selected from various government organizations are mixed together and given enough windows to practice effective communication, to lead, to collect collective consensus and thus to start making little changes in the way that their works could bring about positive results.

This kind of learning simulation was entirely new for the civil servants, and it was one of the key reform intervention elements that they were mandated to learn. Based on observation of nine different  REV batches (a total of 388 civil servants) at AIT, a wide range of experience having versatile mindsets, competencies, creativity and thus an extensive spectrum in the ability to absorb concepts was noted. Some of these learnings are reflected in their work outputs.

Variations could be observed within the working teams and importantly the distinct leadership styles of the team leaders. These styles ranged from ‘traditional administrators’ to ‘fully involved’ and ‘management by clear leadership’. It was interesting to note that in certain batches, teams were very well managed by their team leaders, who remained more involved, with a real sense of team cohesiveness developing throughout the process. It was clear that the team leader’s heavy engagement enhanced the work outputs of the teams. With clearer leadership, team members were at ease helping each other with individual tasks and sharing a number of functional responsibilities of the team.

It was also found that there were a number of ‘conceptual’ differences. These surfaced while discussing the “Performance Improvement Projects” (PIPs) and “Individual Action Plans” (IAPs). A number of civil servants had deviations in differentiating between ‘reforms’ (substantive changes in the way things are done in order to achieve improvements in end results), ‘activities’ (the process to bring the reforms into being), and ‘tools’ (necessary technology or procedures).

Contrasting opinions were perceived in connection to conceptual issues, on ‘thinking outside the box’ and identifying the ‘bigger picture’. While being asked on how they would evaluate the project’s success, we found that much attention was given to micro-level activities as opposed to seeing the bigger picture (the reform area, the overall improvement, or the change factors) the bigger project as a whole.

It was shown from their action plans that about a quarter of the civil servants paid direct attention to improving the quality of service to clients (internal and external). They were completely aware of the fact that customer-centered public service is one of the important and ultimate goals of reform. Out of 388 action plans, equal considerations were given to using computerized systems (database, on-line facilities / familiarities, website, etc.) chiefly to support and enhance their work process, to foster management of functionaries and thus to increase productivity. The table below reflects this importance. 

No.

Issues addressed in the action plans

No. of Action Plan

%

1

Income generation activities for clients

4

1

2

Internal/team capacity development

45

12

3

Using computerized system

74

19

4

Management and productivity improvement

69

18

5

Standard operation procedure

74

19

6

Awareness raising in organizations

19

5

7

Customer service quality enhancement

103

27


Nevertheless, all the civil servants were fully aware of the importance of reform, and reform priorities as well as the red tape that could obstruct the reform process. Hard evidence from the interests and issues reflected in 388 Individual Action Plans reveals that positive change can be achieved at the micro-level, which may later create a positive impact on change in macro-level policies. Most of the officials chose initiatives that are achievable. The officials were also clear on procedural matters (how and what steps) to get approval for new ideas.

Undoubtedly, this type of transformational program is a challenge to civil servants, as they have to adapt to new skills and methods of doing their work. However, the efforts so far had been fruitful as we are aware of their improved delivery system, particularly in departments that deal directly with the public. For example, an international passport, which took about a week to issue before, can now be obtained within one day.

Similarly, people used to wait for a long time at the counters of public utilities to pay utility bills, but now these can be processed in a matter of minutes through the “One Stop Service”.

Civil servants play a crucial role in the country’s administration and, as such, they needed to keep abreast of developments. It is worth to mention here that besides financial compensation, civil servants would like also to be recognized and appreciated for their work. More training opportunities to civil servants could certainly help them to upgrade and seek higher positions within the service.

On our part, we will continue to encourage and motivate civil servants by giving them necessary training and exposure to give of their best, and hopefully this will be harmonized by similar encouragement from the government and donors.

 

 




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