Applying Best Practices

Pre-election positioning, campaigning and hype are long over. The surprises
and festivities of the election results are also behind us. Even the political
jugglery that follows all these has concluded. As is often stated, “it’s
time now to do some real work”. The media has already started hammering the
recent parliamentary and assembly election winners with difficult questions on
their proposed policies and plans-of-action — that’ll help shift gears from
politics to civic governance.

Techniques of civic governance may come very naturally to some elected
representatives-especially those who have been doing it successfully for many
years. However, for most (including cine-stars, young Turks and even those who
enjoy political lineage) it may be a daunting task to grapple with the
complexities of being an MP or MLA-with so many issues to address, lobbies to
appease, expectations to meet and results to deliver.

There are some fundamental differences between the social terrain of elected representative and commercial terrain of the industry

Rather than shooting in the dark or reinventing the wheel, wouldn’t it be
great if the elected representative’s could quickly “get down to
work” using some tried and tested approaches? Indeed! There are lessons
from the industry that our elected representatives can use to take their civic
governance off-the ground. It is commonly acknowledged that there are
fundamental differences between the social terrain of elected representative and
commercial terrain of the industry. However, commonalities between the two also
can’t be ignored. For example: expectation management, delivering results,
gaining consensus, building trust, leadership, etc. are all areas that both a
business leader and an elected representative need to master. In particular,
India’s star industry of IT/Software has set an example to the world on how to
find innovating solutions to these issues and deliver some very impressive

One of the biggest contributors in this direction has been the well-intended
and faithful implementation of process frameworks like Software Capability
Maturity Model (SW-CMM)® and People Capability Maturity Model (P-CMM)®. Up
until now, these models have helped us take a structured approach for improving
our software and people processes. Lets look how the proven power of these
models can be applied to improve even the quality of our civic governance.

For a fresh look at our system of civic governance, here are some simple Key
Process Areas (KPA) that one can focus on. These are built on the basic premise
of the CMMs —that all work can be structured into constituent processes, and
the incremental maturity level of the organization is reflected by the extent of
intent-based implementation of these.

Needs Analysis: This is a three-part KPA. First, various segments that the
constituents can be reasonably divided into are identified. The segment-wise
analysis may be performed along the lines of geography (e.g. rural, urban,
residential, commercial), occupation (e.g. professionals, businessmen), age
(e.g. students, elderly), etc. Second, the constituents’ immediate/short-term
needs are proactively solicited for each segment, documented, prioritized,
reviewed and used to guide funding requests and development activities of
various public agencies in the constituency. Thirdly, since these needs are not
static, they are reviewed frequently for additions or removal of items or change
in the relative priority of various item. One will also need to define ways of
addressing conflicting needs with-in and across segments. As is evident, this is
the starting point for a lot of decision and actions, hence a thorough
implementation of this process is an imperative.

Communication: Is it amazing how often elected representatives and
constituents complain of working in a vacuum. Unlike the IT industry which has
access to both “push” (e.g. email) and “pull” (e.g.
intranet) channels of communication, civic governance has traditionally relied
mostly on unidirectional “manual push” (e.g. notice boards, mailers)
means for communication. This KPA, hence, ensures that there are adequate
mechanisms for multi-way information to flow between elected representative and
constituents, and between the various constituents. Specifically, it entails
understanding the communication needs and vehicles (e.g. public notices, media
releases, web sites, email list, language of choice) for each constituent
segment and using these vehicles on a regular basis to share updates on events,
happenings, values, progress, etc. The constituents, on the other hand, have
mechanism (e.g. web, post, phone) through which they may raise their issues,
suggestions, complaints to the elected representative, and seek their closure.

Solution Planning and Monitoring: The prioritized needs of each constituent
segment are used to develop an aggregate list of development projects (e.g.
building roads, opening a new school, renovating a medical center) that address
most (if not all) of the immediate needs. For each project, its cost-benefit
analysis is done. This analysis along with the ongoing status (e.g. schedule
slippage, cost overrun, milestone achievement) of each project is regularly
shared with the constituents using appropriate vehicles as stated in the
Communication KPA.

Stakeholder Assurance: This is a novel approach for ensuring that the
end-users, i.e., the constituents, whose needs are being addressed through the
development projects, become an active stakeholder in the same. This is done by
carefully selecting a representative set of constituents per project— whose
responsibilities include verifying the proposed development projects against
confirmed needs, ensuring health of the project while it is on and providing
final approval or acceptance to the same when they finish. An example would be
involvement of the Residents’ Welfare Association (RWA) that has requested a
new park in the colony. Once approved, the progress of the work is monitored by
the RWA to provide the assurance that it is being developed as per the needs of
the various residents (e.g. children, elderly) of the colony. The final payment
to the agency/contractor may not be done until the RWA “accepts” the
park as a fit end-user solution.

Orientation: As is evident from the above-mentioned KPAs, an environment of
healthy cooperation between the elected representatives, constituents, public
agencies and NGOs is a must. However, spurned by decades of distance and mutual
distrust, this is not as easy to come by. Hence, we need to focus on sensitizing
the stakeholders on the value and mechanics of sharing information and working
together. This will bring clarity of respective roles and responsibilities as
well. For example, activities like formal training in school/colleges on the
evolved civic governance system, street-plays and informal gathering can go a
long way in each stakeholder understanding the turf.

Team Formation: It is customary for each elected representative to form a
team of paid or volunteer “workers” around himself (other than public
servants). This team usually assists the elected representative in staying in
close touch with their constituency (specially when there are long spells of
absence created by the need of the elected representative to be in the
state/nation capital). The competency and values of this team reflects the image
of the elected representative and efficacy of various decisions. Hence,
selection of the coterie has to done objectively based on defined
responsibilities and desired skills.

Lest the above give the wrong impression that to define and implement a
well-oiled civic governance system, it is only the elected representatives that
have to work hard, it needs to be stated that all constituents have an equal
role to play in understanding and partaking in these processes. In an ideal
state, the elected representative works chiefly as a facilitator amongst the

If implemented well, these processes should appropriately provide relief to
the constituents on questions and comments like: “we only see our elected
representatives at election time”, “we get what we don’t want, and
don’t get what we want”, “beyond casting our votes every so many
years, how do we get involved in day-day civic governance”. Similarly, for
an elected representative, these approaches should help keep his ears close to
the ground realities, ensure proper usage of scarce resources and obtain the
ongoing co-operations of his constituents.

But the real test is whether, as a nation, we have the courage to admit that
(in spite of being the largest working democracy) we may not necessarily have
mastered the system of civic governance, the humility to learn from others and
the will to change. If we don’t, answers to the “Now what” question
will hover between “whatever” and “nothing”.

The author is Consulting Partner, QAI India

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