Thursday, March 29, 2012

Eureka- Unraveling the Bureaucratic Maze!

“Eureka”…I screamed within my mind.

Wow…i thought...may be I can get a Nobel Prize for theorising the Decision-Making patterns within a public bureaucracy and for unraveling the mind of the Civil Servants that take some key decisions especially in developing countries.

My construct is a framework explaining “Decision Making by a Bureaucracy” based on my own vague and fictional understanding of civil servants some of whom live with the dictums ‘I am Supreme’- IAS for short and ‘No One Else Can Know Better’. This confidence is rooted in the sound common sense that Civil Servants apply while taking big decisions. Their common sense is often based on their memories of what had worked for them decades ago when they joined as a young Civil Servant and when they created wonders in their field. (Doesn’t matter if the times, technology and public expectations have changed…also I have not figured out yet why with such great achievements of these civil servants years ago… we don’t see much of the fruits of their actions in our world!!)

I just got carried away. So here I return to my model of Decision making in the Civil Services. The classical model of decision making that Herbert Simon propounded claimed that Rational Decision Making was not possible as there were limits to rationality in real like situations. He believed that decision making however can be based on best available knowledge of the subject matter and the surrounding context.

Most civil servants would have studied the Simon’s Model in their training academies (they are anyway so well read that they ought to know) and indeed they have taken the model very seriously. Even when objective facts, data and information is available and a decision based on logic and clear impact assessment is possible, the civil servants do not wish to demean the words of Simon.

Thus the perfect Civil Servant overlooks objective facts, ignores reasoning, dismisses arguments (especially if the non-sense rational argument comes from a “Junior Officer”) and is guided inherently by his or her divine Common Sense. Apart from their past experiences, this “Common Sense” is, in turn, based on a common understanding of what is good for the Civil Servants.

Thus at times, the Civil Servants’ good lies in toeing the line of pressure groups, political masters, their own families, their own desires to continue in their positions or to get better placements (to serve the public better), their vast circle of friends (who are obviously attached to the civil servant out of love and affection and not attached to the position that the civil servant holds) and other such noble influences.

Another great feature of the bureaucratic decision-making is the absolute reliance on the gut based approach to decision-making and a zero tolerance for any specialist knowledge of the subject matter. A specialist with his subject knowledge, logic, objectivity and reason does not stand a chance in the Civil Service that loves to operate like a king who applies his wisdom based purely on gut feeling. After all governance is an Art and one is born as a leader to lead.

Decision-making by civil servants follows what I call a “Reverse Flow”. First, a decision is made as to what we really want as a decision (based on unstated goals). Thereafter, a process is designed and followed to lead to that decision which is justified on basis of the stated goals. Even the problem at hand, is defined in a manner that helps reach the pre-ordained decision. Wow its simple …no complexity at all!!

In such a straight forward and simple decision-making paradigm, no chance is given to reason, knowledge and sound advice to raise its head. After all, even a democracy doesn’t imply a free for all situation and indiscipline. In the end, the pursuit of such a Decision-Making paradigm is to achieve Public Welfare and Public Good. Some people with tainted vision may see elements of Private Good in such a transparent system of decision-making. I believe that such traitors should be strongly dealt with the iron hand of law. (We can try : Suspension, Transfers, Vigilance Cases, Posting to a Training Academy etc)

Needless to say, my views above, are not based on my experience in the Indian Civil Service structure. They are the general notes based on my understanding of bureaucracies operating in the lesser nations in our world. After all in India, we are the best of the lot that make it to the civil service. We, ofcourse, can’t do anything wrong. We are Supreme!!


Well the blog post is over but there is something I would like to mention as a Positive End to the story. Civil Service is among the great careers available where many stupid people do exist and they do not follow the above paradigm. Their actions are indeed marked by dare, fairness and objectivity. How else can one explain the fact the system still delivers under lots of pressures. Given a chance, the youngsters in the developing countries should try to get into the civil services and lend it a professional and mean touch of efficiency, probity and public mindedness. It is a powerful tool for governance that needs more and more adept hands to hold it.

(I am a Civil Servant in the Indian Government and views expressed are my own)