Opinion
August 2, 2012

Setting the scene for international public sector development

When new International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino launches a CIDA project on democratic governance in a fragile state like South Sudan, what should he expect? If you were the consultant assigned, where would you begin? Understanding the context for collaborating on the issues with development agencies on the ground is a good start.

Whether in a post-conflict state or a region ravaged by natural disaster, context draws upon what is known in development circles as “political economy” to assess the situation. But context is also about having a vision, tracking changes and trends, and understanding the diversity, culture, and relationships of institutions and people.

Life haunted us with images of malnourished, starving children, the victims of civil war, ethnic cleansing, and geopolitics in 1968 Biafra. How do political economy and myriad sophisticated tools – tied aid, conditionalities, south-south cooperation, results based management, value for money – help explain what to do? Languaging the situation does not change things; people do, armed with information.

It is debatable whether political economy is more reliable in discerning priorities for action or in reshaping public opinion. The Commonwealth, for example, responded to a 2011 DFID assessment with a self-image of comparatively effective governance and development against a backdrop of:

  • 54 countries in all regions, representing 31% of the world’s population;
  • 32 small states, 24 of which are small island developing states;
  • 11 high, 14 upper-middle, 17 lower-middle, and 12 low-income countries;
  • 63% of the world’s poor, with 47% of country populations living in poverty;
  • Deficits in gender equity, youth participation, and human rights; and
  • One million public servants in need of leadership development.

Different realities call for different approaches. The Overseas Development Institute’s 2011 report Mapping Progress: Evidence for a New Development Outlook confirmed in case studies that the drivers of development progress are leadership, policy, institutional foundations, and international partnerships.

The challenges today are complex, unpredictable, and vexing – restoring public finances and trust, combating corruption, harnessing technology, managing performance, renewing public service capacity. Advice must be crafted and given with a duty of care for the setting and context. The people of South Sudan may be counting on it one day soon.


John Wilkins was a Commonwealth diplomat and a career public servant in Canada.  He is Executive in Residence with the Public Management Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University (jwilkins@schulich.yorku.ca or johnkwilkins@gmail.com).

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Opinion
 
Can government remember? Is it condemned to repeat mistakes? Or does...
 
In 2011, the World Economic Forum presented its vision of a...
 
Written by  Benjamin Selinger and Gabriel Flores A real challenge for...
 
We’ve added a blog. It does not replace the engaging op-ed...
 
In the near future, the RCAF will release the recommendations of...
 
Most attention in Canada is focused on today’s federal budget. But...
 
The February 5th Public Sector Quality Fair suggests that different ways...
 
Unprecedented realities demand new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing,...
 
2012 has been a very tumultuous year in the world of...
 
As the public sector faces its uncertain future, one key area...
 
The U.S. government 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results have...
 
I attended the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference (GTEC) last week...
 
I can remember when technology promised the end of paper and,...
 
At the GTEC Distinction Awards Monday night, there was ample cause...
 
There’s nothing like a Frankenstorm to make one ponder the value...
 
The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has released a report...
 
My car was in for a “recall” repair the other day,...
 
Governments are busy downsizing. But how much are they doing to...
 
Readers’ Digest Canada recently conducted a poll that found the Canadian...
 
It was minus ten Celsius, damp, with a wind chill that...
 
A U.K. House of Commons report by the Public Administration Select...
 
What’s in store for the public service of Quebec? We heard...
 
Most Americans … believe the government should invest more in providing...
 
Robert Thompson, the head of the government of Newfoundland’s Executive Council,...
 
“The public service is being asked to do the impossible,” says...
 
Even diplomats aren’t immune to the trends spawned by social media....
 
In the government’s Action Plan for Open Government, Ottawa commits to...
 
When new International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino launches a CIDA project...
 
“Do you see me? I’m electrified!” beamed Mark Tewksbury, as Emilie...
 
“Follow those who seek the truth. Run from those who have...
 
Covey became famous by articulating enduring principles of behaviour. Looking at...
 
Launched with so much optimism ten years ago, the government of...
 
What happens when a minister asks: “What’s the solution to the...
 
Ironically, at a time when governments should be ramping up to...
 
It’s no secret that the government workforce is changing in both...
 
Yesterday I chaired a Toronto session, sponsored by IBM, that looked...
 
Over the past few years there has been much dissatisfaction directed...
 
Do we read books anymore? Travel on airplanes or trains these...
 
In February, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper announced the formation...
 
It is unlikely that any international affairs expert could have predicted...
 
As a new professional in municipal government, the notion that municipal...
 
The U.K. Big Society project includes the reform of government service...
 
A few years ago, my colleague Paul Crookall and I wrote...
 
Wayne Wouters has got the perfect balance between telling it like...
 
Quote of the week “Departments have invested significant cost and effort...
 
Le présent article a été composé sur un wiki par la...
 
Stacked in different colours and piled high on our desks, paper...
 
President Obama has it right, and it’s a message that all...
 
A report released by RBC tells us that the fears of...
 
Quote of the week “…these changes (must) be grounded in the...
 
It’s no secret that service delivery is a concern of governments:...
 
If there is one area of government that continues to change...
 
Quote of the week “Departments have invested significant cost and effort...
 
Gene Dodaro is the Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accounting...
 
You may remember Vivek Kundra as the U.S. federal government Chief...
 
The Irish government is determined to reform government, including the way...
 
The federal Parliamentary Budget Officer has stated what everyone in Ottawa...
 
Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion examining the role of...
 
In a document entitled “Our Values at Work,” the Secretary of...
 
This report from the UK Public Administration Committee looks at the...
 
To maximize (social media) potential within your organization, intelligent risk management...
 
Robert Fonberg, Deputy Minister of Defence, was launching the Government of...
 
Yet another MP – Nancy Duncan – is attacking the credibility...
 
One area where there was virtually no discussion from any of...
 
Not too long ago, Canadians were challenged by their political leaders...
 
It is becoming apparent that we are entering a new phase...
 
Most Canadians were glued to their televisions on February 28 when...
 
The recent decision to prorogue Parliament on December 30th was yet...
 
Le 31 mars dernier, le greffier du Bureau du Conseil privé...
 
Après avoir passé plusieurs années à combattre le gaspillage et à...
 
After years of attacking waste and piling new administrative rules on...
 
What keeps new public servants awake at night? The latent potential...
 
To say that over the past decade, the nature and forms...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
Can government remember? Is it condemned to repeat mistakes? Or does...