Russia talks Public Service Reform: Lessons from abroad

In the latest volume of The Moscow Time (TMT, No. 5752) Oleg Buklemishev from Moscow State University (MGU) argued that the upcoming federal special commission for public service reform is “a fig leaf for real change”.

I do not agree with his statement that Public Sector Reform is cheap talk.

Oleg Buklemishev makes as point when he writes that “very few elements of … market based governance have proven successful”. Yes, we now know that naïve New Public Management approach of one to one copying of private sector management techniques that was hailed in the 1990ies produced a lot of unintended side-effects. But we only know after yet another decade of reform evaluation.

The lesson from two decades of Public sector reform in Western world is that doing nothing is not a preferable alternative. If Russian public service suffers from inefficiencies there should be more public reform talk and not less.

Key performance indicators yield as lot of unintended side effects. No doubt about it. But measuring and comparing performance of government agencies in terms of whatever also stipulated the notion that public service should be about maximizing citizens’ well-being and not agencies’ budgets. This was its significant contribution.

Take UK’s local public sector as an example. In the late 80ies and until the 1990ies local government accountability was rather a mess. It was the Audit Commission, founded already in 1985, but significantly empowered only in the late 1990ies that changed that. They applied a good-cop bad cop approach. In their bad-cop role they conducted tough performance assessments for all local councils. Their assessments were based on performance indicators, but also and on-site visits. In their good cop role they always include a peer element in their inspection frameworks, that is, the view of local peers was always reflected when judging in a local council’s policy performance and managerial capacity.

Russia still lacks an equivalent to the late Audit Commission. This is something I consider to be worth talking about.

pictured above: Adhesive label for the one-stop-agency of Moscow’s Bauman district

How to cite: Tim Jaekel. 2016. „Russia talks Public Service Reform: Lessons from abroad“. Publicsector-research.net. Retrieved YYYY-MM-DD (replace with current date, e.g., 2016-04-29).


Monthly Public Administration Discussion Meeting

I am co-organizing and co-chairing the monthly PA discussion meeting at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow together with Jesse Campbell. We established this series in autumn 2015; we just had our 7th meeting (see post „From Skillset to Mindeset“). We started as a closed shop of some 10-20 people from the School, and now announcing events campus-wide. The meetings are open to researchers and students from across all disciplines. Prior registration is not required; however, if you do are not a member of HSE please contact me before an upcoming event. I will announce upcoming events here and at this blog’s subpage „Public Administration Discussion Meeting“.

(pictured above: view from Lubyanskaya Square onto with one of the seven sisters skyscrapers)

Recent meetings

7th Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “From Skillset to Mindset: A New Paradigm for Leader Development of the Senior Civil Service”. Presenter: Robert Kramer, National University of Public Service in Budapest. 2016, April 18.

6th Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “Contemporary Russian otkhodnichestvo”. Presenter: Natalia Zhidkevich & Artemy Pozanenko, Higher School of Economics. 2016, March 14.

5th Public Administration Discussion Meeting (Three presentations; 2015, February 16):

  • Tobin Im, Seoul National University “Defining New Stages of National Development: A Time Perspective Approach”
  • Alexey Barabashev, Higher School of Economics: “Crisis of State Governance and Theoretical Tools for its Overcoming”
  • Alexander Kalgin, Higher School of Economics: “Performance management, satisfaction, and turnover: The role of organizational alignment”

4th Public Administration Discussion Meeting. “Public or private? Which values determine the choice of profession of MPA students?” Speaker: Tamara G. Nezhina, Higher School of Economics. 2015, December 14

3rd Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “How to determine optimal staff size in the local administrations”. Speaker: Ilya Akishin, Higher School of Economics. 2015, November 23

2nd Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “The Application of Quantitative Methods for Study of Civil Service Reform”. Speaker: Georgy Borshevskiy, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). 2015, October 19

1st Public Administration Discussion Meeting: “Theory of an Effective State, and governmental Bodies Evaluation” Speaker: Alexey Barabashev, Higher School of Economics. 2015, September 21




No matter what’s your profession – let’s bike to work

“No matter what’s your profession- let’s bike to work” reads a bicycle drive approved by Moscow City Government I recognized in the metro yesterday.

The poster indicates that there will be a kind of action day on 20th of May. The City Government of Moscow launched similar campaigns to boost the share bicycling in public transportation in recent years. Bicycle-sharing stations are visible all over the city. Green colored bicycle lanes of some hundred miles length have been created in major routes throughout the capital. From time to time I am even witnessing some brave bicyclists on the bus lane of Leninskiy prospekt.

I appreciate these policy-actions.

To the reader it might be noteworthy that the bicycle-use drive is supported / co-organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a partisan endowment from the German Social Democratic party.

How to cite: Tim Jaekel (2016): „It doesn’t matter who you are working with – you may bike to work“. Publicsector-research.net. Retrieved YYYY-MM-DD. (add current date here, e.g. 2016-04-23)


From Skillset to Mindset

The best thing in bureaucracy is hierarchy: Getting things done that require the physical and intellectual capacities of more than one individual is best archieved by top down orders, according to Max Weber. We know now that clear goal orientation and managerial autonomy (e.g., Moynihan 2008) as well as some ambitious policy entrepreneurs hired from outside (Teodoro 2011) should be added to the list of ingredients of a successful agency.

The worst thing in public administration is unconscious incompetence, according to Robert Kramer: People are unable to admit that they do not know a solution to a wicked problem.

Robert last Monday (18th of April) presented and discussed his work in this month’s Public Administration Discussion Meeting  at the Higher School of Economics (HSE), a research seminar series that I organize and co-chair together with Jesse Campbell. Robert currently holds the International Chair of Public Leadership at the National University of Public Service in Budapest; prior to that he taught at the American University, and served the US federal government for some 20 years, a big chunk of that time in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So he knows how government agencies look like from the inside.

In current times of (even more) uncertainty and goal ambiguity the unability to admit that ‚I do not know‘ is a major source for organizational underperformance. Robert’s convincing example was the bumpy implementation the website underlying the Obamacare program, where people can now sign up for a health insurance.

Unfortuneatly being unable to admit that I do not know results from bureaucratic hierarchy. Administrative professionals have little incentives to trying new ways of doing things, that is, innovative and error-correcting behavior. Robert argues that they rather prefer silo-solutions, and stick to a common stay-in-your-lane mentality.

In his talk and in an underlying paper „From Skillset to Mindset: A New Paradigm for Leader Development of the Senior Civil Service“ that is currently under review at PMR, Robert argues that administrative decision maker „will have to develop new mental capabilities“ to adress to behavioral phenomenon. „(N)ew ways of thinking are necessary“; which requires developing a mindset that allows to cope with adaptive challenges, rather than further enhancing the existing skillset. Robert advocates for an instrument called transformative action learning: the art of learning how to learn, unlearn and relearn.

To me the value added was his focus on individual level behavior and the psychological public administration decision making. Robert creates a link between neuro-cognitive science and theory, developmental psychology on the one hand and individual level learning and organizational management on the other hand. I consider this to be an relevant contribution towards Behavioral Public Administration.

(pictured above: XVII April conference at Higher School of Economics, Moscow.)


How to cite: Tim Jaekel. 2016. „From Skillset to Mindeset“. Publicsector-research.net. Retrieved YYYY-MM-DD (add current date, e.g., 2016-04-25)



Endogenous Shocks in Social Networks: Effects of Students‘ Exam Retakes on their Friends‘ Future Performance

Maria Marchenko from the University of Manheim, Germany and the Higher School of Economics, Moscow yesterday presented a model to estimate the effect of an endogenous shock on future network performance. The presentation was held at HSE’s Center for Institutional Studies Research Seminar. The related paper „Endogenous Shocks in Social Networks: Effects of Students‘ Exam Retakes on their Friends‘ Future Performance“ should be available at https://sites.google.com/site/mariavmarchenko/jmp.pdf.

The network consists of 1st and 2nd year undergrad students at the Nizhniy Novgorod branch of HSE. Students create links and ties to peers, while living in the same dorm and taking the same courses.

The endogenous shock is a retake of one of the network members, that is, that one of the students in such a network fails in an exam. HSE is highly selective, after three retakes a student will expulsed by default.

Now, the question is, to what extent, if at all, the retake of one of my friends affects my future performance, and the future performance of all my other friends?

Two major issues arise in such a setting. 1. The shock is highly endogenous. Proper instruments, IV, are required. Maria uses the individual characteristics of the friend of my friend as instruments.

  1. Estimation strategy. Maria uses a 2SLS approach. Probably oversimplifying her sophisticated model in a first step the dependent variable is the likelihood that I will fail in an exam, i.e. that I experience a retake. The residuals from this estimation are then taken for the second step. The depend variable is now the difference in my performance, in terms of average grading scores, between now (in the year the shock happens) and the next year. On the right hand side of the equation are an array of individual level characteristics, including tuition free place or not, higher education of parents, and high school exam and university entry scores; network characteristics, that is, and a term for correlated effects.

The effect of the shock on the network performance varies depending on the set of controls in the equation. But there is a negative effect; at maximum a retake of my friends will increase my future performance by .4 standard deviation, SD.

I very much like the basis idea of Maria’s work and the empirical approach. The crucial issue in studying peer effects is whether such an effect is physically, and logistically feasible, as Gigi Foster from UNSW’s Business School has highlighted in a presentation in the same seminar series roughly one year ago. In the case of students it is absolutely reasonable that there are potential spillover effects.

What I would like to see in a paper are some plots that demonstrate the predicted levels of the dependent variable “(change) in future performance” over the possible range of network characteristics, given an endogenous shock of retake; all other variables from the equation held at their mean value. This would also help to understand how robust the findings are.