An effective governance model


Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009
a good read.

An effective governance model
4 Dec 2009, 0322 hrs IST, ARUN MAIRA,

India aspires for faster economic growth, even exceeding China’s pace of over 10% if possible. Also, India wants inclusive

India aspires for faster economic growth, even exceeding China’s pace of over 10% if possible. Also, India wants inclusive growth. And India needs socially, politically and environmentally sustainable growth. Every list of what is required to accelerate inclusive growth in the country includes the need for better governance. The poor infrastructure, inefficiencies in public services, corruption and lack of accountability are all laid at the doorstep of poor governance.

There is nothing as practical as a good theory, scientists say, because solutions based on good theory are more likely to produce the results desired. What are some theories of governance? Webster’s dictionary gives two definitions of governance. One is: governance is ‘a method or system of government or management’. Therefore, effective governance for India would be a method or system that will produce our desired outcomes and that fits our conditions.

Three characteristics of India that its system of governance must fit are its scale, diversity and democracy. India and China are unusually-large countries. With over a billion citizens each, they are almost four times larger than the next largest country. While both are diverse, India’s diversity is incredible: the number of languages, religions and races that co-exist within one nation. Unlike China, India let the genie of democracy out of the bottle at its Independence. It now has a free and energetic media, active civil society organisations, a plethora of political parties and, of course, free and fair elections. Therefore, unlike China, ‘governance’ in India cannot any more be limited to the dictionary’s other definition of governance: government; exercise of authority, control.

Let us return then to the first definition: a system of government or management. Any system can be improved at three levels. The most superficial level is an improvement in procedures. Procedures are nested within work processes. Reengineering work processes within the system can improve efficiency much more. Most fundamental though is the architecture of the system itself. The architecture, as in a good building, must fit the context and the outcomes desired. Good architects provide the concepts and guidelines within which engineers design processes and craftsmen execute the procedures.

India’s model of governance must be founded on four architectural principles.

l Minimal critical rules: Since government in democracy must be by the people, power and responsibilities must be further devolved as the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution require. Management of states and local bodies must conform to a minimal set of critical principles, and not to manuals of centrally-determined rules and procedures which is the prevalent mode of governance. Development and deployment of the few, most critical principles is the great art of decentralised governance rather than framing of bureaucratic rules.

l Permeable boundaries: In ‘a world broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls’ (Tagore’s words), cooperation is not easy. Boundaries between institutions in India, even amongst government ministries, have become too rigid. To counter this, ‘lateral linking organisations’ must be deliberately built to cut through these walls. These can take many forms, such as shared learning forums and joint projects. The design and support of these must receive as much, if not more, attention than the design and maintenance of the up-and-down reporting and control structures of the government and management.

l Flexible resources: Diversity is attractive. It is also a great source for innovation; whereas homogenisation and specialisation create efficiency but kill creativity. India must nurture its diversity and deliberately take advantage of it, in the design of its organisations.

l Aligned aspirations: India is not one large battleship. It is a flotilla of a million boats. They will bump into each other as they sail forth in their own ways. They cannot be called to order by a central command. They will coordinate only when they all want to go towards the same vision. Therefore, a decentralised, diverse and democratic India must have a shared vision to keep the flotilla together on its journey.

A SHARED vision emerges from conversations about what people care about, not from arguments to prove who is right and who is wrong. Argumentative Indians must learn to listen to others and respect other views also. ‘Big fights’ and ‘hard talks’ on TV are entertaining but can be divisive too. Elected assemblies in India are degenerating into brawls. Therefore, the country’s democratic governance model must incorporate good processes for listening, dialogue and consensus-building, in addition to the conduct of elections that India has mastered.

The first three principles have been distilled from an analysis of complex self-adaptive systems that have the ability to learn and adapt to changing environments. Systems in nature have this ability: thus, they can adapt themselves and evolve, unlike mechanical, engineered systems that need external interventions to change them.
The fourth principle is a hallmark of human systems. Unlike plant and animal systems, human societies can consciously choose to change the ways in which they function. Studies of organisations and nations that have transformed themselves reveal the power of a shared vision of what their members want.

All four principles have been validated by examining the histories of organisations that have succeeded over long periods and against great odds by innovation and adaptation. A governance model for India, based on these architectural principles of complex self-adaptive systems, can provide the designs of management and government systems for India’s very complex system that must self-adapt from within. Analysis of governance failures in India invariably shows that one or more of the above principles have been violated.

Finally, the governance model must be based on the paradigm of ‘learning together’. What India hopes to accomplish has never been done before. Within 25 years, we must be a much larger and much more inclusive economy, with technologies and lifestyles that cannot ape those of the west because they must change too for the world to avoid an environmental catastrophe. Systems thinking, smart experimentation and rapid organisational learning are the skills we need to realise our aspiration of much faster, more inclusive and more sustainable progress to our vision.

An effective governance model- Comments & Analysis-Opinion-The Economic Times

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