Innovations in Public Service Delivery for Ordinary Citizens

Innovations have become key players in defining pro-poor governance. While this provides visibility to a good work of an administrator it also raises many perplexing questions. Their need, appropriateness and impact has challenged traditional bureaucracy and by doing so has brought a refreshing change in society. Interestingly, they are reified as something existing outside the bureaucracy and beyond administrative capacities. They have become the fly wheel of governance even though they tend to do what bureaucracy should be doing but fails to do. The instrumentalist state relies on innovations in service delivery and democratization of society becomes inadvertent fallout of its implementation process. New partnerships and private networks come to occupy the space where bureaucracy withdraws but their interaction is largely guided and premeditated by the state politics. The paper attempts to understand and analyze the nature and role of innovations in pro-poor governance.
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All citizens have a right to food, health, education, water, sanitation and also justice delivery. Ironically, most states have not been able to guarantee these services to their people. Despite the Monterrey (Mexico) partnership of 2002 in which nations pledged for mutual support and financial assistance for improving access to basic services, these services are failing poor people in many ways. The issue of access and unaffordability has been debated several times by the multilateral financial bodies like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank as well as the UNDP. The poor in most countries are forced to use expensive services by private providers such as expensive schools and private hospitals.

As the 2004 WDR says that even though governments devote a third of their budgets to health and education, much of the benefit is taken away by the rich[i]. Governments are not pro-poor hence their framework of governance is especially designed to exclude the poor in many ways. Bureaucracy has no incentive to be pro-poor. Some communities have tried innovative means to bypass state failure in providing to the poor. Using information and communication technology (ICT) along with social partnerships and private networking many communities have risen out of poverty. At least two examples can be mentioned here; Mahiti Shati in Gujarat and Tara Haat in Bundelkhand[ii] region of India have brought forth several initiatives through many such partnerships to transform a compulsively and aggressively pro-propertied class government into pro-poor governance. Most of these initiatives are captured as innovations.

However, this paper should not divert a reader to the role of ICT in bringing innovations but explores the necessity, nature and normative links of innovations in service delivery to the bureaucracy. This paper also attempts to amplify the bonding which exists between the innovation and pro-poor governance as the degree of their bonding depends much upon the dimensions of state politics.

When politics is not pro-poor

State is neither benign nor altruistic[iii] hence public spending in pro-poor programmes is diverted to serve the rich. A Poverty Alleviation Programme in Mexico called PRONASOL ( Programa Nacional de Solidaridad)[iv] was spending 1.2% of GDP annually on water, electricity, nutrition and education. When this six year programme was assessed it was found that the drop in poverty was a meager 3 % only. It was observed that if the budget was distributed properly the drop in poverty would have been around 64 percent. The reason for this wrongful distribution was that some communities which were politically powerful got most of the funds but the poor communities which needed them got very little.

Rise of an instrumentalist[v] state has been a direct culmination of the process which began with the Arkansas election campaign of Bill Clinton for the US Presidency in 1991. He believed like many other leaders of his times in the third way or the centrist idea of governance. The refreshing rigor and a national mission was attached to a pre-existing idea studied by the scientific management theorists in the 1920s. However the threatening ungovernability[vi] which swept through the globe with the beginning of the nineties it became imperative for the governments and people to welcome and also adjust to the idea of an efficient state. Clinton was found ‘progressive and innovative’ when he adopted the idea from Osborne and Gaebler[vii] about the ‘Reinventing State’. The idea of governance was witnessing a major shift when Al Gore as the Vice President and Head of the National Performance Review prepared a report in September 1993, ‘Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less’. The Report promised to ‘resuscitate government’ by bringing about a savings of US$ 108 billion within 5 years and this would be through a reduction of bureaucracy by 12 percent during this period.

This idea re-generated[viii] enormous interest in the concept of an efficient state which could bring down corruption, economize public transactions, streamline regulations and create new partnerships with business and peoples’ organizations. The reforms were designed to be bottom up and affect the multi-level governance systems from the local and state to the federal. This was followed by a Report to the Club of Rome and prepared by the legendary Yehezkel Dror, The Capacity to Govern (2001) which created urgency for a radical redesign of governance to meet many complex challenges in the changing times.

The Millennium Development Goals brought further pressures of meeting deadline based transformation of governance. Most important of all was the Declaration signed by 180 nations in 2000 for meeting these goals by 2015. All these nations agreed that this was not to be done by accumulating wealth, increasing investments or achieving numerical targets but by reigniting the reach of basic services such as food, water, shelter, health and education to ordinary people. This was a more comprehensive view of development as capacities are enhanced and participation becomes better ensured. However these basic services do not work through old institutions infested with syndicates of corruption, apathy and opaqueness but through institutional restructuring. To use the metaphor of Mancur Olson[ix], state is a ‘stationary bandit’ which is occupied in legitimizing the steal through taxation ,is also limiting the reach of services to ordinary people through a strong kleptocracy[x] which works for those who can pay.

This massive ‘restructuring’, ‘reinvention’ or ‘redesigning’ raised scientific standards of accrediting welfare strategies and measurement of performance. These two requirements of performance measurement and evaluation of implementation which had always been kept in the waiting within the public policy domains now become the fly wheel of governance.Governance was inadvertently split into innovations and best practices so that a clarity of measurement standards could be highlighted but in most cases the larger picture of governance was getting diluted to the new demands of ‘an accounting state’.

This paper argues that innovations and evaluation of best practices are imperative to meet the demands of poverty reduction but in may not provide a complete landscape of reforms. Administrative reforms are linked to the nature of the state hence a neo-liberal centrist state model may apparently be transforming sloppy and unfair welfare services through decentralizing public spending yet in reality may remain the same.[xi] An advancing research on implementation has piled up evidence about the not so benign and altruistic nature of the welfare state which is also a significant reason for its failure. Thus public service delivery requires to be lifted out of the instrumentalist state and be firmly placed within the participatory model backed by remedies against information asymmetry and kleptocracy. Many examples have been analyzed to understand the multidimensional nature of public service delivery rather than a state centric dissemination of a privilege to ordinary citizens.

A porous instrumentalist state

Once it is accepted that the public service delivery provisions are affected and influenced by the nature of the state, it becomes necessary to exemplify the factors which contribute, facilitate or retard the process of state building. Massive demonstrations and mass upsurge of people across the world exposed the control of states by interest groups rather than people. States had become unproductive and ineffective.( Buchanan 1975). Most of the countries in transition witnessed historically excluded people on streets refusing to remain marginalized anymore. This put before governments a need for governance reform which on one hand gave people access to markets it also had to arrange for transparent and accountable administrative arrangements which people could approach without fear or obstruction.

Another important reason for reform and strengthening of the state was the pressure from international donors on debt servicing. Most of these states had dwindling reserves. This brought the World Bank and IMF close to restructuring governance in these countries as a matter of necessity to resuscitate backfiring programmes of development due to a lax and corrupt bureaucracy. This whole process of reform apparently is based in the constitution of the country so that the rights of people do not become confined to selective rule making. Trubek and Gallanter (1974, pp.1062-1102) linked efficiency in governance to a rule making process which is not dominated by a person or a group. Thus people have to be participatory in this process.

Francis Fukuyama in State Building, Governance and World Order in the Twenty First Century,(2004) suggests strengthening the state rather than limiting or opposing it. The emphasis is on training and capacity building. This form of Citizens engagement includes all measures and/or institutional arrangements that link citizens more directly into the decision-making process of a State as to enable them to influence the public policies and programmes in a manner that impact positively on their economic and social lives (UNDESA, 2007). US history has given ample evidence about the consistent effort to build administrative capacities through elimination of patronage but as Fukuyama finds that most of these American efforts were devoid of local knowledge. Public service delivery reforms could be harnessed as composite outreach programmes for people with a strong embedded ness into local ethnographic and sociological understanding by the implementer. Till this is realized there would be an accountability gap in the service dissemination process making it ineffective and mundane.

An instrumentalist state can be differentiated on grounds of citizen’s engagement. Citizen engagement includes all measures and/or institutional arrangements that link citizens more directly into the decision-making process of a State as to enable them to influence public policies and programmes in a manner that impact positively on their economic and social lives (UNDESA, 2007)

While the former looks at it subordinate to technical experts who contribute to development, the latter treats this as an indispensable factor in service delivery provisions. Public service delivery reforms have raised a renewed debate on the nature of the state. Nicos Paulantzas (1969) has expressed that the coordinated directorates, planning groups and policy reforms are suspect since they believe that social groups and classes are reducible to inter-personal relations between individuals rather than being constituted as objective relations of production. Thus an instrumentalist state is driven by individual choices rather than collective and democratic choices. Most factors which govern the instrumentalist state are ruled by external factors which are not generated within the state . Paulantzas refers to a disequilibria or ‘unstable equilibria’ between the economic, political and ideological positions.

Innovations as catalysts in service delivery

‘Innovations’ are some kind of rhetoric to describe a good effort made by the bureaucracy. Administrative organizations are always expected to serve people through a constant effort towards a democratization of governance but instead of being creative and inspirational the machinery sinks into ‘orthodoxy’[xii] to become dysfunctional and unproductive. Innovations tend to retrieve many of the lost characteristics of administration. A voluminous study of innovations and best practices is being carried out in the Government Innovators Network at the Ash Institute of Democratic Governance at the KSG in Harvard University and also at the Governance knowledge Centre at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. An analysis of these efforts exemplify the fact that most innovations are simply outreach drives of bureaucracy or social partnerships and standardization of accountability patterns which never existed before. Considering the vast expanse of the unchallenged rule of orthodoxy in public administration these are bold efforts and the rhetoric of ‘innovations’ raises them to a level of visibility leading to their replication in other areas also. Innovations have also found to be porous and elastic as far as interaction with people is concerned. Hence are open and liberal in absorbing or sometimes transcending the limitations and demands of macro cultures and subcultures which are becoming more robust in contemporary times but also intransigent for regular bureaucracy.

Fox and Miller (1996) provide a very important argument which has been able to explain the suspected demise or irrelevance of bureaucracy in postmodern public administration which focuses upon reinvention and downsizing. Starting with a basic premise that theoretical presuppositions condition how things are perceived (p.8) they move on to explain that the rational utility maximizing individuals created a rational-legal model of bureaucracy. Reality is constructed by human beings and is never objective or concrete. Thus Fox and Miller suggest that many of these categories that we uncritically employ in daily discourse are reifications , that is, socially constructed categories that are mistaken for things that exist “out there” in the world of “objective reality”.(p.8) Such reified categories are thought to exist independent of human social interaction. Bureaucracy is one such reified category. Actually it is not since it is an extension of the society, bureaucrats are under the same constitution and live in the society which is ruled, pushed or ignored by bureaucracy of which he/she is a part. Thus, notwithstanding reification, all such institutions and others as well are part of the social processes and thus need not alienate themselves from them. This explains how bureaucracies are victims of repeated rule orientation and patterns of social practices which construct a reified image of the machinery. In reality bureaucracies are not the ‘dominant theme’[xiii] of public administration as this space is now shared with new partnerships, collaborations and associations called by Fox and Miller (p.9) as ‘an indeterminate collection of phenomenological moments’ or ‘a public energy field’. A field is always open for a discourse hence innovations are important since they can drive refreshing discourses in public policy implementation.

Some fundamental questions can be raised as a prelude to the discourse on Innovations.

Besides the absence of a universally accepted definition of ‘Innovations’, there questions look for answers in this new discourse on innovations and in their ability to strengthen governance. These are questions about implementing governance programmes and tend to create some anxiety for the implementer. First, why are innovations needed for public service delivery to ordinary people in recent times? Secondly, how can the same bureaucracy be trusted with epochal changes when the machinery has been targeted for obstructing them all these years? Third, what is the nature of innovations for ordinary people?

This paper admits about keeping the understanding about ordinary citizens confined to those which cluster around the poverty line even if many of them do not fall below it. They are people with sufficient reason to participate in the mainstream governance but find no incentive or institutional support to do so. For analytical convenience ordinary people are the ones which fall under all of the following categories;

  1. Exclusively Rural-BPL (Below Poverty Line) ratings to be done under fifty cents segregation
  2. Rural poor –b/w 50 cents and $ one.
  3. Urban Poor right under $ one category
  4. Middle class category in urban areas who are clustered not very far away from the poverty line due to economic slump and market unpredictability.

However a more appropriate understanding of ordinary citizens which transcends the developed-developing dichotomies uses the term to describe all those teeming millions who wait to receive state services without much ability to influence it. Ian O’Flynn’s (2006) suggests that the rise of ordinary citizens is as an outcome of increased deliberativeness in democratic systems in recent times. This is in recognition of the fact that due to prevailing elitism in democratic functioning a majority of citizens have become politically marginalized. This also resonated with campaigns of feminists, environmentalists and multiculturalists around the globe. Flynn (2006:1) highlights the increased visibility of ordinary citizen due to ‘the growing levels of political disaffection among ordinary citizens and the concomitant atrophying of civic life.’ The elitist model of democracy which obstructed the moral and social benefits accruing out of the participation of ordinary citizens was being replaced but the new model which aspired for sustainable innovations in an otherwise loathsome, apathetic and immobile public domain.

Understanding what people want?

There have been some extremely disconcerting facts about governance which have paved the way for innovations based reforms in public service delivery. There is a deepening disbelief and distrust against governments in developing countries especially countries of South Asia because of which ordinary people have alienated from governments.[xiv]This has enabled or encouraged military dictators to control the seat of power and weaken achievements of democratic governance with ease. Thus the requirement of accountability and the need for transparent administration is now distressing many non-performing governments which are detested and hated by their citizens. The recent mass upsurge in Iran against the fundamentalist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and in support of Mir Hussein Maussavi, second was the people’s uprising against land grabbing in Central China indicate that ordinary people cannot be ignored anymore.

A situation such as this if allowed to happen will detract much of the developmental task including funding for innovative projects by scaring away foreign investors. This in turn also raises social issues which undermine institutional stability and loss of trust from ordinary citizens in society. To prevent any undermining of democratic governments it is important that faith is restored in ordinary citizens[xv] so that they are attracted to participate in the democratic processes which respects rule of law, access to justice and human rights. In figure 1 given below it is clearly demonstrated that people in all countries aspire for an expression of their will and a democratic government. In all 19 nations polled, majorities agree with the democratic principle that “the will of the people should be the basis for the authority of government”—a principle enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 60th anniversary is being celebrated this year. On average 85 percent agree—52 percent strongly. Across the 19 nations, 74 percent say that the “will of the people” should have more influence than it currently does. The poll of 17,525 respondents was conducted between January 10 and March 20, 2008 by, a collaborative research project involving research centers from around the world and managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. Interviews were conducted in 19 nations, though in three of them not all questions were asked.

Those nations interviewed include most of the world's largest nations—China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Russia—as well as Argentina, Azerbaijan, Britain, Egypt, France, Iran, Jordan, Mexico, Poland, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine, and the Palestinian Territories. These nations represent 59 percent of the world population.

However, the failure of democracy in most states in recent times is due to its lack of capacity to innovate. The neo-liberal state has, in reaction to its agenda, consolidated ordinary people. It has raised a bogey of basic services for ordinary people on one hand and renewed expectations from governments to meet heightened aspirations of people. Yet it fails to realize capacity building required to deliver.

Just as it was not possible to export ‘democracy packages’ to less developed countries as part of the foreign direct investments in the globalization times, it has been impossible to export pro-poor training packages from successful states to failed states. As Rizvi suggests, these should be ‘home grown’ (2008:192). If due to some compulsions this requirement is bypassed there occurs a gulf between the elites who control governments and ordinary citizens who cluster around the poverty line. A restoration of trust requires a delivery of services with speed, transparency and in full confidence of participating civil society. Every society has need to regain its own ethnographic profile to design their own systems to deliver in the best possible manner.

Innovations for bridging the gulf:

There has been a growing gulf between the rich and the poor in both developed as well as developing countries. This is leading to extreme marginalization and distancing of ordinary people from some of the basic requirements of leading a normal life, such as food, health, education, water and employment. Situation is worsening to such an extent that just a view of some of the major research reports from across the world would reveal the extent of catastrophe.

A Report[xvi] by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that income inequality and the gulf between the rich and the poor has been widening and deepening. Shockingly, the United States[xvii] has the third worst level of income inequality and poverty among the group’s 30 member states. Some 691,000 children went hungry in America in 2007, a rise of 50 percent over the previous year, while one in eight Americans overall struggled to feed themselves. James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center in USA, predicted the 2008 numbers would show even more hunger. The figures are reported in a study on food security conducted annually by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

OECD states in Western Europe, along with Japan, South Korea, Canada and Australia, all recorded better figures than the US, as did Central and Eastern European states, including Poland and Hungary. The 300-page report, entitled “Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD countries,” concluded that “the economic growth of recent decades has benefitted the rich more than the poor.” Wealth inequality is far higher than reported income disparities. A very thin layer of population which is less than 1 % of population has amassed unprecedented affluence and capital accumulation in a manner of twisting and subverting state institutional and regulatory measures. The report cited estimates that average income inequality across the OECD was 7 to 8 percent higher in the mid-2000s than in the mid-1980s as the poor man’s income gradually was being transferred to the rich as market advanced.

The World Development Report 2008 (World Bank) focusing on ‘Agriculture for Development’ suggests the need for immediate action in rural regions. ‘Three out of four poor people in developing countries—883 million people—lived in rural areas in 2002. Most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, directly or indirectly. So a more dynamic and inclusive agriculture could dramatically reduce rural poverty, helping to meet the Millennium Development Goal on poverty and hunger.’ The process of economic development is one of continuous restructuring of roles of both the government and people especially when 600 millions of rural population or three out of every four people in developing countries would show no decline till 2025 in South Asia. While agriculture need to be promoted to reach the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 it is important to look at the three levels at which this task would have to be operated upon. ‘One agriculture based, one transforming and one urbanized’.(2008: pp.1-2). Several forms and structures of innovative policy initiatives would be required to increasingly decentralize, broaden and address the shifts which institutions and communities would be forced to undertake in the process of change. Services would be forced to deviate from the regular run of the mill kind of processes to newer arrangements which bring speed, cost-effectiveness, transparency along with the ability to replicate and sustain the innovative service delivery mechanism. These services have become the only means towards capacity building of ordinary people.

There are other reasons to search for innovative strategies for development. Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright (2003:4) relates the loss of democratic vitality not just to poverty and powerlessness of ordinary people but also specifically to the size and complexity of public services and the State activities. Fung and Wright suggest that the ‘problem has more to do with the specific design of our institutions than with the tasks they face as such.’(Ibid). Therefore the fundamental challenge becomes to devise innovative transformative and democratic strategies which advance egalitarianism, social justice, collective decision making, and community solidarity besides flourishing of individuals in a way that they realize their own potentials too.

To summarize;

  1. Innovations fill the gap created by the limited ability of representative democracy and impermeable steel frame of bureaucracy. Gaps define the gulf between functionality and dysfunctionality and between formulation and implementation processes. It also shrinks the gap created through public choice and distribution of public funding to appropriate communities which have the capacities to deliver welfare policies.
  2. Innovations require a knowledge based administration and administrators who are keen to learn. These administrators do not have to wait for experimentation but have to develop an intuitive base through interaction with people so that policies may be prevented from backfiring. This would require a tech savvy decision maker who is exposed to the global currents of thinking as innovations transcend time and physical limitations of implementation and capital.

Critique of innovations

There are various titles to ‘administrative innovation’ such as ‘New Public Management’ (Hoods and Jackson 1991), ‘Reinventing Government’ (Osborne and Gaebler), ‘Administrative Reforms’ ( B.Guy Peters) to a ‘Global Management Revolution’ (Donald Kettl). It has taken to many terms for expressing service delivery systems such as an ‘entrepreneurial government’, ‘accountable governance’, ‘public-private partnership’ and ‘participatory governance’.

Innovations are part of the instrumentalist state hence not all scholars of public administration have been comfortable with the innovation based reforms. Scholars such as Lynn Jr (1996) and Overman Boyd (1994) have criticized it as a ‘hostage to best practices tradition’, with all its associated limitations of being unreliable, unstable and insufficiently analyzed as possible models. As Stanford Borins in Innovations in Governance (2008) a research publication of the Ash Institute of Democratic Governance at the Kennedy School of Government at the Harvard University suggests; there are three main critiques of ‘best practice or innovation based research’ in governance,

1)    It rarely attempts to verify self-reported claims,

2)    Organizations lauded for best practices today may without warning fail tomorrow

3)    Best practices research focuses solely upon the characteristics of successful organizations rather than comparing the mediocre and the failing.

However, research studies undertaken by institutions of governance across the world have tried to overcome this handicap of ‘best practice research’. The Ford Foundation funding has helped besides the Kennedy School of Government many other institutions in China, Brazil, Chile, East Africa, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines and South Africa. Its anchoring at the Ash Institute under the group called Government Innovators Network has emerged to help administrators share their experiences and concerns.

In the end innovations also emerge out of failed practices and therefore the lone focus on them may create a perverted proclivity to success stories only and governance may not be able to set performance standards for reaching services to ordinary people.



End Notes

[i] WDR 2004 writes, ‘In Nepal 46 percent of education spending accrues to the richest fifth, only 11 percent to the poorest. In India the richest fifth receives three times the curative health care subsidy of the poorest fifth.’ (p.3)

[ii] Check GKC literature at

[iii] Buchana and Tullock 1962

[iv] WDR 2004, p.7.

[v] A state which exists only as an instrument to manage affairs of the government.

[vi] Dror p.9

[vii] Osborne and Gaebler 1992

[viii] After 90 years of the Scientific Management revolution in administration and management and experimenting with the welfare state.

[ix] The Rise and Decline of Nations, 1982

[x] The idea of Kleptocracy has emerged with the growing understanding about the self-aggrandizing nature of the welfare state. Kleptocracy fulfils its own personal agenda rather than opening access to public goods for all ordinary citizens in the state. Mancur Olson in his latest work , Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships’ has elaborated on this idea of Kleptocracy.

[xi] The idea of the state as a ‘stationary bandit’ in The Rise and Decline of Nations explains the symptomatic methodological individualism embedded in the nature of the state.

[xii] Waldo,D 1948

[xiii] Fox and Miller ,1996, p.9

[xiv] ‘While a degree of wariness and skepticism about the government may be healthy,the erosion of trust is clearly a danger signal in a democracy.The erosion of popular confidence in the government has important societal consequences that are not always fully grasped. It denudes the government of its legitimacy,hinders its ability to govern, and paves the way for demogogues and authoritarian rule.’Rizvi 2008: 189.

[xv] "The perception that governments are not responsive to the popular will appears to be contributing to the low levels of confidence in government found around the world," noted Steven Kull, who directs both the WPO and its parent organization, the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

[xvi] Michael Förster and Mark Pearson eds.Oct 2008, Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, OECD Publishing, Look into for details of the Report in:,3343,en_2649_201185_41502445_1_1_1_1,00.html

[xvii] The average income of the richest 10 percent is US$93,000 in purchasing power parities, the highest level in the OECD. However, the poorest 10% of the US citizens have an income of US$5,800 per year—about 20% lower than the average for OECD countries.” The report noted, however, that available statistics showed that wealth inequality was substantially higher than income distribution in every country. In the US, it was estimated that the top 10 percent hold 71 percent of the national wealth (compared to 28 percent of total income), while the top 1 percent control between 25 to 33 percent of total net worth.


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