The Client is Ready, not Universities

14. September, 2004


Rita Kasa

Foto: A. Jansons

Has public administration in Latvia recognized the need for policy analysis experts amd is ready to buy such knowledge. And are universities ready to to provide such specialists?

Discussion with Marija Golubeva, Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS, Dace Jansone, the head of Political Science Department at Vidzeme University College, Agrita Kiopa, Policy Planning Department at the State Chancellery, Raymond Rosenfeld, Professor of Political Science at Eastern Michigan University, USA, and Inese Suija, the Deputy Chief of Development Planning Department at Cesis City Council.

What is policy analysis and why is it important to have people educated in this field?

Raymond Rosenfeld: First, there is the question of terms. In the United States we talk about “policy process” and “policy analysis” separately although they certainly are related to each other.

To talk about policy process is to focus on the need for individuals to understand the different stages that policy making goes through in order to get a result – a new or revised policy or program. Everyone involved in policy-making needs to understand this policy process. So, the first part of education focuses upon policy process – policy-making in an open and democratic society.

The second part is policy analysis. Policy analysis is the systematic analysis of problems to make sure that people understand the multitude of problems society faces, the root causes of the problems, and the different kinds of actions that will influence those problems. So, the key focus here is the analysis of societal problems, the development of appropriate solutions, and the evaluation of these policies and programs.

It is important to understand both approaches; policy process enables individuals to know how to participate effectively; and policy analysis gives people the skills needed to accurately diagnose the problems of society and understand, develop, and advocate solutions. There are particular skills involved in analyzing problems, developing solutions, and evaluating on-going policies and programs. Policy analysis should teach these skills.

In order to participate in policy process you probably do not need specific knowledge what you need in order to diagnose the policy problem. Is this ability to diagnose the reason why people should have education in policy analysis?

Dace Jansone: Why people need education in policy analysis is, first of all, a problem definition itself. Different places have different problems. When you look for a problem solution there are always at least two, three, sometimes even more alternatives. You should know how to look for these alternative solutions, how to design them, and how to analyze them in order to make some comparison and to present them for further discussions.

Policy analysis also include impact assessment studies, program and policy relation studies, which is very important and makes this cycle – evaluate, define problems and then look for the next solutions. It is a very long, ongoing process. Therefore it is very important that people are trained.

Raymond Rosenfeld: Inevitably, people will disagree about the details of public policy. So, you need participants who understand the characteristics and causes of society’s problems and how well existing policies and programs work in addressing these problems. Technical skills of policy analysis are needed in order to have effective governance.

There are several higher educational institutions in Latvia providing political science programs, which include education in policy analysis as a component. However, it is not enough to understand what does policy analysis mean in order to analyze sector policies. In order to do that people must have specific knowledge in economy, education, health services and so on. What is the quality of education in policy analysis? Do we have good educational programs to prepare experts who would be able to do policy analysis?

Maria Golubeva: I have worked in academia and I have also worked for one year in public administration. My impression is that we do not yet have schools, which consistently teach good public policy analysis.

I believe, it [educational program] was partly designed to meet the fantasies, if you wish, of potential students who would be interested either to work for parties or to become political scientists to write in newspapers. That is more prestigious image in this society still, I think, than the image of public administration policy analysts.

Agrita Kiopa: At the moment because of my professional interest I have screened all the [political science] programs of Baltic universities. They are more or less the same. They are giving basic knowledge about the policy process, and little pieces about policy analysis. There is nothing about the evaluation techniques, about the practical methods. The result you can see clearly in the works of the students. They really want to do analysis, but they obviously lack analytical tools.

Dace Jansone: I can agree that one of the problems is expectations [of students]. Another problem is in the academia. There is a small or limited understanding about policy analysis, public policies, and public administration issues. The third issue is that there is lack of faculty capacity in this field. If you would like to develop really strong policy analysis programs, you also should think about training the faculty, which could do this. Basically, really good policy analysis specialists here in Latvia are visiting professors who can leave some knowledge behind them.

Raymond Rosenfeld: There are some structural barriers that need to be addressed within the universities. Policy analysis is not exclusively a political science sub-field. Policy analysis is an interdisciplinary area. If you look at the very best policy analysis programs in North America at the elite institutions, they all exist outside of political science departments. They have been created in a special structure designed to bring together a variety of disciplines, including political science, economics, sociology, psychology, business administration, and organizational theory. An optimal policy analysis program requires courses in research methodology, in addition to courses that focus on education, foreign policy, transportation, economic development, social welfare, and other substantive areas.

Currently within policy science programs there are some courses offered called “policy analysis”. Does knowledge acquired in these programs help in the daily work of the public sector?

Inese Suija: It definitely helped when I entered the NGO sector, because I started my professional career in the NGO sector. What I studied at the university helped me to understand general things. But still it was so much theory and when it came to practice I had to learn from the very beginning.

Agrita Kiopa: My experience is from another angle as I completed my political science studies, let’s say, at the late age. I already worked for a while for the government and I saw what was going on, but I did not have concepts for that since my first educational background was engineering. I entered a program [of political science] at the university and got lots of definitions on the top of the experience I already had. But the most impressive experience was that everything is developing everywhere. Administration system changes from year to year. The system is created but the ideal system maybe is just in the heads of a few people, and there are only parts of it in the public administration. In such a machine where some parts are there and some parts are missing, people are just trying to do their best with everything they have. Somehow it works.

Raymond Rosenfeld: The distinction is still important – policy process versus policy analysis. My observation is that there is a very good policy process course [at the University of Latvia]. But that does not mean that it is training people in policy analysis – in skills that are necessary to take existing data or to collect data and to decide what to do with it. For example the Census Bureau collects data on population, but such information does not tell you anything until you learn how to read and interpret the data. This is a skill that for the most part is in need of greater development and greater practice.

Then there is a legitimate question about the quality of Latvian civil service. Are people familiar with concepts of policy analysis?

Inese Suija: My experience is just two and a half years with the local municipality, Cesis City Council. So, I can talk from that experience. What we have experienced is that just in the last few years we have started this approach to decision making – problem definition, looking for solutions, and so on. The majority of people who work for the local municipality do not have a clear understanding of this process. They have education from Soviet times. There are just a few young people who have got their education after the independence [of Latvia] was regained. So, it is really a problem at the local level.

Marija Golubva: I think that even if we would have a program somewhere teaching policy analysis according to standard, it would be a bit idealistic to say that this would solve problems in civil service. You have to contextualize the problem. In the United States and many other places in the world policy analysis developed in society which already has quite advanced advocacy, interests, and participation. And as policy analysis developed, participation and advocacy continued developing there.

If we look carefully in this country, there are people who have Western education, who learned from practice. The problem in Latvian society to a great extent is that there still is a danger that unscrupulous politicians would use this expertise in order to achieve some narrower goals linked to political success, to elections or whatever and less to achieve some goals of public good.

So, I am a bit skeptical that just having a few good academic programs would mean immediately much more responsible and performance oriented public administration. I think we need more for that.

Political parties and public administration in Latvia are separated…

Marija Golubeva: Formally, yes.

Raymond Rosenfeld: Political parties are a place to advocate policy. I know that political parties are very fluid here, but you have a political party that has a particular perspective on education. They advocate that particular perspective on education. Other parties advocate a different perspective on education.

Agrita Kiopa: I would like to disagree with Maria regarding the [educational] programs. I think that Vidzeme University College is a good example. People with bachelor degree from that University who got at least some relevant knowledge in policy analysis – they already can see the field. It was a great pleasure for me to be involved in Cesis City Council where you see that there are young people coming in with knowledge. They are doing the daily work of the city council and they are trying to build the system that serves the needs of the people.

It very much depends on what kind of person you are. If you want to create something, if you want to change something, you just go and take an initiative. I would say that taking responsibility and doing the job is a missing feature of people here. That is something where universities can serve. As soon as people will feel strong, they will try to do things better.

Maria Golubeva: It is a little bit idealistic to think that you just do the job. We have to be aware that in order to do the job, if you do not work just for the money and career, you have to be aware why you do the job, whether you agree with the purpose of the job.

I will speak about my narrower field, the education policy. I cannot imagine, for example, being a civil servant at the Ministry of Education and Science and just doing the job because the very way the job is formulated in my opinion is deeply wrong. And that is a political formulation, which is imposed by politicians from above. You cannot, unfortunately, in the public administration tell the minister of education – I do not want to do the job because I think it is wrong. You can see it very often that policy is not based on any real analysis of a situation and it is a political compromise which is being implemented, not well founded rational policy. I think to say – just be creative, do the job, and be strong, is not exactly the reality of a civil servant.

Raymond Rosenfeld: This is an aspect of civil servants everywhere, because civil servants in most cases are not responsible for making public policy. In making a public policy the final decision is the result of a political process and rests with elected officials and the government in power. In the policy process, civil servants play an important role primarily in two of those stages. One is in problem definition and the other is the development of solutions; they play a relatively minor role in the adoption of the solutions. Even in the United States in the Department of Education, there are civil servants who do not like what the government is doing. But the government will change and the civil servants still will be there.

Maria Golubeva: There is significant turnover – civil servants come and go much more frequently here than in many other countries.

Raymond Rosenfeld: But not exclusively because they are forced out by the changes in government. They change because people are young and they look for career options.

Agrita Kiopa: But there are number of cases when government seems to be doing something completely wrong and if one comes with good argumentation, the government listens to you. These are also responsibilities of civil service to ensure that government is able to take informed decision that are based on relevant quality of information.

What role do regional universities have in developing the field of policy analysis? Inese, being yourself a graduate of a regional university, have you observed that graduates tend to stay in the same region and contribute to the capacity of public administration?

Inese Suija: Our municipality [Cesis] is a very good example regarding the graduates. We are about ten graduates that have stayed in the town, which is not a big one – 18, 000 people. Actually, most of us have been involved with the municipality. I think it very much depends on the elected politicians. In our municipality politicians are very positive towards young people and modern education being brought to municipality, because it has an impact on other employees. It raises competitiveness and gives a higher speed to things.

We have also had very good experience cooperating with Vidzeme Univeristy College. They asked the municipality, what courses were required for their staff. So, I think the role of a regional university is really important.

Raymond Rosenfeld: The role of local government is important, and thus there is a great need for an educated workforce. Regional universities must play an important role in creating this educated workforce.

Another thing that has to accelerate for Latvia’s well-being is more responsibility being pushed down to the local level. The state has to get out of the many of the policy or service areas in which it is so heavily involved and allow local governments to use their own initiative and skill to deal with the various policy challenges and unique situations across the country. That requires educational programs across the country training people to become the kind of workforce that Cesis has.

Dace Jansone: Cesis is the best case to see this cooperation and this impact of the regional university to the local governments. The same I can also say for Valmiera City Council, Limbazi, Valka. Another level of cooperation is internships.

Public administration is one place where policy assessment and problem definition take place. Should universities also do something about it?

Dace Jansone: In academia we can say there is low capacity and low policy analysis skills. Where do universities have all these research abilities? Basically it is concentrated at the PhD level. One of the ways how to develop all this research is to create closer cooperation between universities and public administration. Policy research should be somehow coordinated. We should support each other – public administration and universities. They can also share expertise, because if you look at the number of persons who can really do these things, it is quite limited. This is the reason why we need educational programs! This is the initiative we are taking right now. We are opening a new Master degree program in public affairs [at Vidzeme University College] where there is a strong component of policy analysis incorporated.

Agrita Kiopa: There is another problem we should lay out. Who sets the standards for university programs and how these standards are made up for the content of the programs? I do work for a State Chancellery for three years. The content of my work was trying to set up the system of policy impact assessment. At one stage of our work I realized that there is no way to establish any kind of new system that asks new knowledge with no training for that knowledge within universities. To be honest, I wonder a little bit about the universities that in those three years they never ever themselves approached State Chancellery with the question what should the contents of the studies be about, what would be the interest of the public sector.

Maria Golubeva: Universities usually do not view public administration as the potential desirable field for their graduates to work in. At least in my experience with one university where I worked. Yes, there was awareness that many graduates will become civil servants. On the other hand there was a very negative attitude towards the state in terms of over regulation of the education field as such. So, to approach even further public administration for listening to their desires what would they like us to teach was inconceivable.

Agrita Kiopa: Raymond has experience to share with us about the way how educational programs are getting accreditation in America when professional associations get the right from the state to accredit the programs, to set up the standards. I also know that educational programs [at universities] usually have advisory boards, different stakeholders are involved. I would love to participate in an advisory board for certain public administration or policy analysis program.

Probably you just formulated a policy solution, which could be set out in documents of educational policy?

Raymond Rosenfeld: You do not need the Ministry of Education making more regulations. Rather, educational programs should understand the benefit of having an advisory board. If you have advisory boards in public administration programs and they consist of people who are the employers of your graduates and undergraduates, people who have some stake and benefit from what your education program is about, it will enable you to have a stronger academic program. They can provide a link between the ivory tower of academics and the real world of the government. But transition here is a very difficult one. Universities are very conservative institutions.

The faculty typically governs universities; faculty members are trained in knowledge of the past. It is not surprising at all that the universities do not always play the leadership role in creating an educational system that is forward thinking. This kind of change is difficult. It requires young people who are inside the government pushing the universities in very clear ways. It also requires a competitive environment. In Vidzeme [University College] you are creating a public affairs program, that will in some ways foster a more competitive environment within Latvia for public administration education.

Probably the prestige of civil service also must rise in order to stimulate universities to provide better policy analysis education? As it was mentioned before, educational programs are trying to meet expectations of students who rather see themselves working for political parties than for civil service.

Agrita Kiopa: I would rather say that the individual responsibility of a person who is educated and calls himself or herself intelligent should rise. That would really bring us to the forward thinking, participatory approach in everything we do in a public sphere.

Maria Golubeva: I cannot agree more that it is a responsibility. But there are more fields. We cannot say that all this expertise will immediately go to the policy analysis and public administration, because parallel to that there is policy process. There are many problems like in any country, but especially in transition societies. Very often there is a temptation to go and do something in advocacy, to criticize the government because it really does something wrong, rather than work inside the system. So, here we get a certain dispersion of the effort. As this is also a very small society, the resources are not very big. In some cases we have people, like in the State Chancellery there are very qualified civil servants, but it is not the same everywhere, yet.

Raymond Rosenfeld: I have met, through the [educational] programs in which I have been involved, incredibly bright and talented people throughout the government – people who are extremely well educated and very good at their work. In spite of the fact that there are no policy analysis programs in the country at this point, there are people, who have policy analysis skills they picked up either through an engineering or an education program, or through some aspect of political science class or a class that they had within economics. And you have many people in this country today who have been trained and educated outside of the country, who have gone through Western style policy analysis or public administration programs. There is a lot of skill and talent in this country, within the civil service and I assume that it applies to local government as well.

Agrita Kiopa: Besides all the problems and everything that we lack and need, there is a great amount of work to be done. There is place for everybody who feels strong enough. We are at the stage where the public administration has recognized they are the clients. There is this saying in Russian – клиент созрел. “The client is ready”. Ready to buy. Another problem is the wage system of the civil service, with the challenge of keeping good people. But I do believe, if there will be good people, they will be paid.

The discussion took place in Riga, 1 July 2004. raksts

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