The report of the Sixth Pay Commission has been accepted by the government. Following increased salaries, citizens expect the IAS to achieve strategic goals of development. However, few operable norms are available to guide effective real-time decision-making, for instance, why some IAS officers are able to articulate the will of politicians through well-designed projects, or what kind of “political interference” may have beneficial effects. The job of the IAS is comparable to the activities of American planners (e.g., promoting economic development, providing social services) and this provides an opportunity to identify usable norms from the American planning tradition. What do IAS officers do? They design the future, that is, try to change existing situations to preferred ones by deciding on issues affecting the citizens. The most common normative guide is found in the rational decision-making model, which starts with goal identification based on a known singular public interest, followed by listing of all possible alternatives with their consequences, and finally selecting the alternative, most likely to lead to goal achievement. Evidence for the breakdown of the rational model was available even in the ’50s. American planners found that the Chicago Housing Authority had set multiple and conflicting goals, was following a pluralistic concept of public interest; project and site selections were made on “political”, rather than “technical” grounds. The ICS also understood the importance of political engagement during the ’50s and ’60s. Right after Independence, Mangat Rai stated that “from the first day of independence the administration was indeed in politics”. Later, Lall found that “in reality the political and practical considerations are often inseparable” and L P Singh advised trainee IAS officers: “practically all government is politics — anything you do has political implication”. Therefore, politics led to the breakdown of the rational model and weaker versions of technical rationality appeared to support decision-making. Applied to the IAS, three styles of decision-making are noticeable. First is Beckman’s hands-off approach in which IAS officers operate within the latitude given by the political executive. Second is Davidoff’s advocacy model, which suggests that IAS officers lean into the political system. Administrators are not disinterested bureaucrats, but actively advocate values. Third is Lindblom’s incremental framework in which public administrators decide in small steps based on their past experience of the political processes and the local context.
Besides politics, Bryson and Roering’s strategic model added citizen-participation and goal achievement to decision-making. Adopting practices from the private sector, strategic planning focuses on programme goal-setting and achievement, through analysis of external opportunities and internal strengths and weaknesses of the organisation. Finally, the “practice movement” based on Habermasian ideas led to a paradigm shift during the ’80s, and the focus shifted to conversation with citizens and investigating the practices of practitioners, leading to well-known concepts such as, community participation, mediation and consensus building. Accordingly, decision-making by IAS officers is contextual, occurs in the midst of politics and with citizen-participation. Furthermore, with the breakdown of the rational model, the IAS have little, by way of general theories or universal rules, to guide them. One approach is to identify norms from a study of practices of effective administrators. Roger Waldon’s recent analysis of varied activities of American planners, their products, their interactions and their impacts has led to the identification of the following themes, which are associated with effective decision-making: practising smart politics, finding “champions for ideas”, focusing on citizen involvement, and paying attention to follow-up. Political engagement is necessary because decisions made by IAS officers affect individuals, groups of people and interest groups, each having different goals and different notions to achieve their goals. Smart politics is to step away from technical rigour and come to terms with political governance — working with political leaders, combining sound administrative practices and procedures with development agendas, and delivering on goals. Second, IAS officers have to go out and find support for their ideas because “no idea is good enough to succeed on the power of the idea alone”. Ideas have to fit into ongoing development agendas and administrative responses have to be based on an understanding of what the political leaders and citizens need. Third, in this internet-era of citizen involvement, understanding and respecting the decisions of the “public” and learning to use citizen-engagement opportunities to achieve goals become important. Lastly, pursuing initiatives from launch to finish is critical — things don’t get done on their own, and flexibility in making choices during follow-up leads to goal-achievement. (The author is a civil servant. Views are personal.)
6 months ago