ISGPP Conversation on Birthing New Age Public Servants


By Tunji Olaopa

The thrust of Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) think-tanking is governance. This is executed with the deployment of the twin instruments of research and executive education, to intervene in the policy process to get governments to work better. One key word is governance. Governance is about how power is distributed and shared, how policies are formulated, priorities set and stakeholders made accountable. Governance can be subsumed under public administration and public policy. The enthronement of excellence and functionality of any system in governance is a conscious and continuous effort that is regularly reviewed, negotiated and re-negotiated for optimal delivery and benefits to all concerned.

This onerous task recently drew many like minds to Ibadan for the launch of the collaborative Graduate Programme of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy and the Lead City University, Ibadan, where the issues and the focus was on public administration, policy formulation and execution, capacity building and many more. This event which debuted strategic private-private sector collaboration was headlined by a distinguished lecture titled Governance Competences in the 21st Century: Birthing the New Age Nigerian Public Manager. The impressive gathering brilliantly took the pulse and diagnosis of the state of public administration in Nigeria.

The seminar traced the historical trajectory of public administration especially the shifts in models adopted and used across the world. It established that the Nigerian public sector, as an institution, is ageing with its glorious years far behind it. The reform efforts to build new skills and competencies required to manage the dynamics of a knowledge and information age have failed to take off the ground and achieve results. It affirmed that though the public service started very well, it has since become frozen in tradition, failing to recreate and properly align itself with the realities of modern public administration impetus and dictates of governance. The Nigeria public service has continued to operate within the traditional public administration paradigm which was an invention of the industrial revolution era. Consequently, there is often a discrepancy between the thrust of public sector management and governance efforts in developing national contexts and wider shifts in the nature of governance and contemporary approaches to public management.

It was noted that different development models associate bureaucracy with economic growth and identified merit-based appointments and career stability mitigated by performance measurement, rewards and sanction and market-indexed wage structure for public servants as key factors in the effectiveness of public administration and public policy. However, public administration and public policy in the twenty-first century is undergoing dramatic changes. Globalisation and the pluralisation of service provision stand as the driving forces behind these changes. The policy problems faced by governments are increasingly complex and global, rather than simple, linear, and national in focus. And yet the prevailing paradigms through which public administration and public policy education are designed and implemented have remained relatively static and do not fully encompass the significance or implications of these wider changes for public sector governance.

The gathering that drew intellectuals, policy makers, industry chieftains, the civil society, significant representation from international development agencies and public administration practitioners among others, painted a gloomy picture of a human capital crisis in Nigeria. It noted that the capability readiness of public institutions to drive vision and transitions to national transformation is at its core. There has been a paradigm shift in the philosophy of public administration from the conventional Weberian ‘I am directed’ traditional model, the New Public Management (NPM) model which had limited success across the world, to the more accountable system of Public Value (PV) Management system. It was identified that the drivers of this new model of public administration must be thoroughbred public managers who must be creative, committed, flexible, adaptable and resilient. These managers must be multi-skilled, open to learn, unlearn and re-learn. With these, the public managers who must be compliant with the complexities and dynamics of the 21st century will possess strategic supervisory and maintenance skills, function effectively in teams that are focused on tasks and not organised around hierarchy. They will be able to hold their own on the global stage with the necessary competences and knowledge of significant transnational issues.

Although the public sector has often been viewed as rather traditional in terms of jobs and career development, change is likely to permeate, as in an ever more competitive environment seeking to attract the best and brightest, progress will require organisations to respond to these changing trends. It has been widely argued that governments around the world are presently teetering on the precipice of significant transformation. Such wide scale and radical reform is necessary so that public services of the future will be fit for purpose within a new rapidly changing world. Whilst some of the drivers of this change are external to government and relate to shifts in the broader population, others relate to the nature of work and employment. Together, it is suggested that we are about to see significant changes both to what public servants do and the ways in which they do it. What public servants do, it is argued, will change due to shifts in the external environment and citizen expectations of government.

We are at the frontier of significant changes to the shape and nature of public services. We are also witnessing major changes in the organisation of work. Taken together, these developments could transform the activities the public service workforce undertakes and the way in which it operates. Evidence suggests there will be significant changes in what public services do in the future as demographics shift, new technologies emerge and citizen expectations change. The proceedings of the day recognized that the questions of ethics, emotional labour and relational exchanges between public servants and citizens will inform the desired attributes of the public service workforce. Alongside these, are developments in the nature of work and career trajectories and structures are changing and the traditional boundaries of jobs are starting to break down as people seek portfolio careers and organisations seek individuals with a mix of specialized and generalist competences who can move from project to project rather than fit a defined role. These changes to work will require public service organisations to respond if they are to recruit the talent they need.

At the end of the day, it was made clear that Nigeria needs a major push to reform its public management system. This reform process will require a high level of knowledge and adequacy skills acquired by public officials in the policy making, implementation and reforms designs processes. There is therefore no gainsaying the fact that unless the process and means of manpower training and development in the public service are re-conceptualised and re-engineered, it would be quite difficult, if not impossible, to produce public managers that are competent enough to craft and execute suitable reforms that make for public growth and development.

The forum agreed that the challenge before the public service is the urgent need for the creation of the conducive atmosphere for productivity and this starts from the point of building capacities, capabilities and competences of the pubic manager. This, expectedly, will result in rebuilding the confidence in leadership and governance. The necessary changes, according to experts present, must happen at the speed of change, wholesome and able to reshape the culture of leadership.

It further added that the skills deficit in the Nigerian public service has impeded its growth and critical contributions, stifled the creation of a value based public service that runs on sound management philosophy. It becomes very necessary for governance to be holistic, involving all; from the top down. The public managers working this drill will be able to hold their own on the global stage with the necessary competences and knowledge of significant transnational issues. To this new generation of managers, change would be welcome and accepted positively. However, those that will manage these changes need capacity and capability that are not those provided in regular training programmes. That is where it behove the Ministeries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to utilize training institutions beyond the regular training programmes.

A broad range of different skills associated with the 21st century public service were identified. Some of these relate to technical skills such as decision making and analysis of evidence, and professional and commercial skills as well as the foundational requirement of administrative skills; to more human factors such as communication, collaboration, co-production, interpersonal, people management and international literacy skills; and others still to conceptual elements such as diagnosis, design and the ability to be flexible. While many of these skills are in the public services, these are not necessarily planned for in a systematic way nor are they possessed by a critical mass that could aggregate to affect overall IQ of the service. Many of those skills that will require further development in the future relate to different ways of seeing the world than necessarily to specific technical or specialist skills. The important skills of the future will be ‘softer’ in nature than the professionalised and technical skills that presently dominate recruitment and promotion processes.

The presentations as well as different interventions at the seminar agreed that public service workforce fails to deliver premium because of lack in terms of strategic workforce planning further compounded by the phenomenon of poor leadership sophistication as with the fish that gets rotten in the head. Besides, the development of skills and availability of training and education opportunities is not always as closely tied to people and performance management as it might be. This needs careful consideration for the future, particularly where there may be a context in which the next generations expect different things in terms of the workforce and respect different forms of levers. Recruiting the future generations may involve more than simply thinking about the types of benefit packages that are made available but will also involve appealing to a value base and interest in making a difference. In attracting new recruits the public service has a challenge in telling a positive narrative about itself, the breadth of different opportunities available and the chance to make a difference.

ISGPP entry into the business of public sector manpower development is driven by these obvious gaps and expectations. The ISGPP Graduate Programme curricula recognize the need to put in place a new paradigm for collaborative rethinking of the way the business of government is conducted. It also recognizes theoretical confusion created by the conflicting interplay of weberianism (traditional ‘I am directed’ public administration tradition) and two generations managerialism with the public value governance variant that is prevalent in discourse; which are the software on which Nigerian public sector operates.

It is with this sense that ISGPP designed the Executive Master in Public Administartion (MPA), Postgraduate Diploma and wide-ranging Certificate programmes to birth a strong critical mass of public administrators who with hands-on tested knowledge, skills and competences drive a new ‘re-professionalization’ agenda with Nigerian national transformation as a compelling proposition. This employs the dual mode ‘theory-experiential balance training’ delivery model with in-built internship/practical attachment, and reinforced with multimedia propelled learning laboratories and, online-face-to-face learning model. All these are combined to deliver the most cost-effective learning to the doorsteps of learners.

On a final note, the concerted stand of those present at the important gathering was that Nigeria requires a new generation of public managers who need more than just mechanical technical skills and careers. They need broad generalist and specialized knowledge, skills and competences and must pass the tests of public-spiritedness like the priesthood of the Levitical order; the tests of professionalism and of leadership. It is the combination of these three competences that will equip public managers to rethink the assumptions and first principles of our inherited public institutions as instruments of democratic consolidation.

*Dr. Tunji Olaopa is the  Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy