Strengthening Capacities for Development Management

Meredith Edwards is currently Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra. She began her career at the University of Canberra before joining the Commonwealth Public Service, where, from 1983 to 1997, she worked in many departments advising on some major social policy, education and labour-market issues. She became Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1993 and held that position until 1997. She served as Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Canberra from August 1997 to August 2002. She was appointed a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences, Australia, in 1994 and a Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration, Australia, in 2001. Professor Edwards is currently a member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration. Edwards was awarded the Order of Australia in 1992 for her services to education and welfare.

This presentation was given on 07 April 2014 for the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA). The following speaking notes have been provided by the author.
Definition of Capacity Building: ‘The process of developing competencies and capabilities in individuals, groups, organisations, sectors or countries which will lead to sustained and self-generating performance improvement’ (AUSAID)
  • The key development management challenge is not ‘what’ should be done in terms of the goals (or development policy) (reflected in post 2015 MDG agenda) but the process of ‘how’ to pursue those policies – the challenge is to tailor management processes to the context.
  • Focus on two aspects of this ‘how’ challenge: the challenge of transformative governance and the challenge of inclusive governance, including leadership that values inclusive participation in public decision making.
I wish to start with the main CEPA paper’s call for transformational governance, which is aimed at undermining traditional mechanisms governing the distribution of power by promoting new principles, patterns and procedures for states to follow. The paper effectively sees a failure in governments’ governance with a crisis of trust in the public service and big gaps in capacity and skills at all levels. Transformation of governance is the priority challenge identified in the paper, which calls for a new vision of capacity building as being vital.
I want to take this position further and draw attention to relevant literature that deals with some essential features of transformative governance and which in that literature is called ‘Experimentalist Governance’.

Five Basic Elements (B,K and S 2014):
  1. Initial reflection and discussion among all stakeholders with a broadly shared perception of a common problem.
  2. Setting of general or framework goals (e.g. adequate education or good water quality) by national government and lower level entities with provisional measures to gauge their achievement.
  3. Lower level or local units (public and or private and frontline workers e.g. teachers, police) given broad discretion to pursue and implement these ends as they see fit adapted to local conditions.
  4. As a condition of autonomy, local units report regularly on their performance and participate in peer reviews in which their results are compared with those units employing other means tothe same general ends – the centre facilitates by providing services and/or inducements to enable mutual learning among local units. Local units might depart from set rules if they feel it is counterproductive to follow them but their discretion is limited by the need to be transparent which prompts review and may lead to rule changes – an accountability mechanism.
  5. Goals and practices are periodically re- evaluated and where appropriate revised in the light of the results of peer review and shared purposes. 
This framework is put forward by Charles Sabel and others who claim that where these five elements operate together ‘they can constitute a form of governance that fosters desirable forms of participatory problem solving’. (B, K and S 2014:3)
Distinctiveness of Experimentalist Approach
The term experimentalist is used in the sense that it is designed to achieve (a) local adaptation and (b) aggregate learning by combining discretion with responsibility to report and explain, as well as by the pooling of information about what works. The model has the following characteristics:
  1. Combines decentralized control and autonomy at the local level with central coordination of evaluation of results. Centre doesn’t monitor compliance with set standards but provides the support to the frontline e.g. in community policing the central department provides relevant and timely information about movement of criminals from one area to another, provides relevant consultation services after incidents with services tailored to local needs.
  2. Reflects the practice of learning by monitoring implementation and continuous improvement (versus command and control). This process provides transparency of practices to facilitate diagnosis and improvement.
  3. Incentives are built into the design – not to induce compliance but to induce actors toengage in investigation, information sharing and deliberation about problems that might otherwise only be dimly understood.
  4. Stakeholder participation is central to obtain and reconcile diverse interests. e.g. in community policing and its design, and the setting of priorities based on local knowledge to configure strategies and coordinate with non-government actors.
Overall there are some distinctive features in an experimentalist regime: non-bureaucratic administration arrangements that combine accountability with local initiative in ways that facilitate learning from implementation; autonomy is offered to lower levels to adjust implementation to the local context but with new forms of accountability around that; accountability is achieved less through simple rules than local actors accountable to explaining to their peers reasons for their choices; successes can be generalized through pooled learning; as well as elaborate horizontal consultation processes.
‘Peer review is thus a mechanism both for learning systematically from diverse experience and for holding actors accountable for their actions’ (B, K and S 2014:5).
‘The approach is participatory, deliberative, locally- informed, and adaptive problem-solving’ (B and S 2014:6) – especially suited to uncertain and diverse environments where central actors ‘cannot readily foresee the local effects of rules’ and where unforeseeable changes can undermine even effective rules (p.12). With limited foresight of central players, cooperation of civil society actors is indispensable to success of experimentalist regimes.
Note that experimentalist governance meets the five core principles behind any capacity building program in public administration and which are identified in the main paper: ownership, sustainability, participation, mobilization of local resources and a change process (p.6). It also meets the key road map features outlined in the paper. (p.12)
Overall, often it is less a lack of technical skills or even resources that are critical but more a matter of organisations not performing as well as they could. Two things are often missing:
  • Organisations that need the chance to experiment and learn without the fear of immediate failure or interference or retribution.
  • Individual and group attitudes are key to improving on organisational performance and for this is needed trust, collaboration, civic engagement, openness etc. or building of social capital to create a sense of mutually beneficial action. Without a will to collaborate, moretechnical skills or even resources won’t make much difference (Morgan 1998: 9-10).
So from this perspective the capacity problem is systemic – organizational performance is as much due to interlocking external relationships with others as from internal structure and functioning and also increasingly one organization cannot solve problems on their own.

Capacity building above all else requires strong leadership at all levels; indeed it has been claimed that for capacity building, it is leadership that matters most (AusAID 2014). But as important and not emphasized nearly enough is the right type of leadership to facilitate successful transformative or experimentalist governance and what is missing from most models is attention to a key capacity ingredient: inclusive cultures in the development process which requires a particular style of leadership that understands the importance of ensuring all who should be involved are involved. That takes strong leadership at all levels from national to local; but also at the individual, institutional and societal levels.
The paper gives leadership priority attention:  asking for a national strategy which requires transformational, committed, competent and ethical leadership. Indeed: ‘There is growing consensus that it is the most vital element in the development of national and local good governance’. (Paper p.11)


That leadership should reflect the population it deals with and women in particular need more representation in leadership ranks and in public decision-making positions.   The Chinese talk about women holding up half the sky. As Hilary Clinton has said, in her support for an initiative to have women holding 50% of all public sector jobs by 2050 - if that is so, then you might want to hear what women think should be done underneath the sky.
It is well known that the more women participate in economies and societies the more employment there is and the more education there is for children. With diversity comes more productive organisations. Greater gender equality is ‘smart economics’ (World Bank), enhances productivity, improves other development outcomes for the next generation as well as making institutions - government and non government - more representative.
A recent Australian study of women and leadership in the pubic sector found what is reflected elsewhere in the private sector, namely, the significant indirect discrimination as well as structural causes that occur when laws, policies and programmes might appear to be gender-neutral but in fact have a detrimental effect on women – unintentionally modelled often on male ways of doing business or based on stereotypical expectations and attitudes. e.g. male clubs.

The oft quoted ‘merit principle’ as the stated criterion for selection and promotion is largely compromised especially when it comes to women who are underrepresented in decision making levels of the public service. The more authoritarian are leaders and stereotypical in behaviour, the more decision making power is appropriated and government misses out on the benefits of the contribution to productivity and decision making of important segments of society.
A recent study in indigenous communities in Australia put forward two main arguments:
  • That gender disaggregation is not normally featured in most evaluation and monitoring activities yet the (as yet limited) data available suggests gender could be a core factor in success of policy/program outcomes.
  • Case studies demonstrate that when gender and cultural protocols are used in stakeholder engagement in indigenous communities, there is greater community ownership and leadership in achieving positive outcomes as they foster community acceptance and support for government initiatives.
The concluding recommendation of this study is that gender and cultural analysis should be incorporated into policy/program design implementation, reporting and evaluation (Yap and Biddle 2014).
Cultures and related behaviours can be unique to communities including men and women being assigned different roles – women’s business can differ from men’s and can affect how a person communicates with the opposite sex.
‘Cultural, kinship and gender rules are often complex land multi-layered and difficult for outsiders to fully understand’ (op cit p.2). So there is a need to design engagement processes to more effectively take into account powerful informal leadership roles many women may take which is not yet well recognized by governments.
To build state capacity to mainstream gender equality requires a suite of strategies to increase women’s voice in decision making.
This approach is taken by the OECD in its just-released paper on ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Rights in the post-2015 Agenda’ (2014), where the following actions are proposed to make a difference:
‘….it is essential to put women and girls front and centre of the post-2015 framework’ by:
  • Retaining a stand-alone gender equality and women’s empowerment goal and addressing gender equality throughout the post-2015 development agenda.
  • Confronting and transforming the social norms and institutions that discriminate against women and girls, such as the acceptability of domestic violence.
  • Gathering and using high quality data to monitor progress and build evidence about what works.
  • Tracking governments’ expenditure and the proportion of all development co-operation focused on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. (2013: 3) 
The UN needs to mainstream a gender perspective into all data collections, policies and programs of the UN system – a resolution of UN Women post 2015.

The World Bank has devised a set of guiding principles for a capacity development strategy, (p.13) which is similar to experimentalist governance principles and appears to incorporate principles enunciated in our background paper. The steps in the World Bank strategy design include:
  • Clarify the development goals.
  • Identify problems through the institutional diagnostic with stakeholders.
  • Formulate solution options for institutional issues: change strategy and process.
  • Coordinate interventions to support planning and capacity development.
  • Construct a results framework and monitoring and evaluation arrangements.
  • Articulate and validate the strategy with stakeholders. 
The emphasis is therefore on collaborative and local solutions to priority problems using capacity development as a strategic instrument to lead to transformative and sustainable change.

AusAID (2014) AusAID’s Capacity Building – Lessons Learned, AusAID.

Clinton, Hilary (2013) Secretary Clinton’s Keynote Address, at Women in Public Service Project Institute, Bryn Mawr College, July 9.

Edwards Meredith et al (2013) Not yet 50/50: barriers to the progress of senior women in the Australian Public Service,

Grainne de Burca, Keohane, Robert .O and Sabel, Charles (2014) ‘Global Experimentalist Governance” (forthcoming).

Morgan, Peter (1998) Capacity and Capacity Development – some strategies, Note prepared for the Political and Social Policies Division CIDA, October

OECD (2014) Gender equality and women’s rights in the plst-2015 agenda: a foundation for sustainable development, OECD and Post 2015 Reflectiions, Element 3, paper 1, OECD.

Sabel, Charles F and Simon, Willimam H (2011), ‘Minimisalism and Experimentalism in the Administrative State, Georgetown Law Journal, v.100;53.

Sabel Charles F and Zeitlin Jonathan (2011) “Experimentalist Governance” in David Levi-Faur (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Governance.

UN, Economic and Social Counci, CEPA (2014) Strengthening national and local capacities for sustainable development management, Note by the Secretariat prepared by Najat Zarouk, January.

UN (2010) Gender Justice: Key to achieving the milennium development goals, Report, September.

UN women (2013) The Gender Dimension of the Millenium Development Goals Report, July.

World Bank Institute (2011) Steps for Designing a Results-Focused Capacity Development Strategy’, The World Bank.

World Bank (2012) Better Results from Public Sector Institutions’, February

Yap Mandy and Biddle Nicholas (2014) , Gender and Cultural Inclusivity in Remote Service Delivery