For Lucy, with Love

Writing to Lucy.
Writing to Lucy.

By Haidy Ear-Dupuy, Shaista Hussain

We write a letter to an aspiring governance specialist who is making her way in the web of development practitioners, and challenging the complexities of people, their interests and institutions.

We recently attended a conference that drew on the OECD’s Governance Practitioner’s Handbook to discuss lessons from operational practice in the sector. We decided to write a letter to the central character Lucy, an aspiring governance specialist who is making her way in the web of development practitioners, and challenging the complexities of people, their interests and institutions.

Dear Lucy,

In a recent governance training conducted by ADB, the OECD, DAC-GovNet and GIZ, we were introduced to many of the governance challenges you’ve faced as a new governance advisor. What and how should the governance advisor help partner government to tackle public sector reform, politics, institutions, and stakeholders in operational practice? How do we overcome our own institutional challenges? Would the reforms proposed for countries fit into our own quest to reform our own institutions?

As you know by now, there is no secret recipe to help governments carry out governance reform. You, as a governance advisor, will have to learn to be good at thinking on your own. All the lessons learned in school—such as the theory of change, best practices, and how to sequence governance intervention—will have to be tested as we make our way in a real life situation. Given the limited budgets that governments face, improving public service delivery rests on a combination of given budget and increasing the efficiency of the service delivery system by strengthening the connection between government and its people.   

As both of us attended this training, the important question we wanted to ask was – how to have a governance system that truly serves the people? We believe that a good governance advisor will make note of what color glasses the stakeholders are wearing, and pick up the glasses to see what it is like from their perspective. 

To understand the interest of the stakeholders and institutions, we need a good team composed of people with the right skills to help us navigate the reform landscape. We look for three kinds of expertise:

  1. The technical expert who has the textbook knowledge, coupled with the real world experience, to pick the right tools from the toolbox to recommend to the government.
  2. A well-connected individual who can access the right people, help the team identify the champion, and know who are the actors in the system.
  3. Finally, the last and perhaps the hardest one to find is someone who understands the political institutions and can help the team with his/her knowledge of them, where the bottlenecks are, and what are the likely points of resistance or strength. This last team member who is also an ‘insider’ is often the most difficult to find.

The composition of the team, though, is just the beginning. Each team member will have to determine how to navigate the country’s institutions that have evolved over the years, the incentives of each of the actors in the institutions. What motivates them and what would make these actors want to support the reform. Do these actors even see a need for change? Do they want to make the change happen?

As expected, we still have some questions that remain unanswered. The complex process of helping a country bring about change takes time. Most of us do not have the luxury of 15-20 years to achieve this goal, as our projects only last three or five years. How will an initiative started by a limited-term project be sustained over time? What should we consider when we start the project? Can we help our own institution have a longer perspective when planning to support reform?  What are the flexibility measures that should be in place to allow projects to adapt to the context of a particular country? This perhaps is a letter for another day…

One thing was crystal-clear throughout the event – the will and determination to bring about governance reform must be firm within the system; international support can only help steer the process part of the way. The journey must be taken by the country and its people, without much separation between citizens and the government. The two entities must work toward a common objective with active communication and continued interactions.

We hope to hear back from you as we call upon other Lucys of the world to share their experience with us.


Haidy and Shaista