In India, there is a high demand for better public services tailored to people's needs. Since 2014, there has been a focused effort to introduce more professionalism into the departments responsible for vital public services, including law enforcement, town and country planning, urban affairs, rural development, and poverty eradication.
Having spent the last two decades researching public sector accountability and governance in Africa and South Asia, Professor Thankom Arun and Dr Pawan Adhikari, from Essex Business School, were well placed to advise on the changes needed. They worked closely with Professor Ram Mohan of the IMG to devise a competency framework.
As a former Technical Secretary to the State Planning Board and an active researcher on Kerala's issues, Professor Arun has extensive experience of the state's public administration challenges. While Dr Adhikari's research has examined how public sector reforms, focussed on standardising accounting practices and improving accountability, could bring benefits to the people of Nepal.
What we did
Their work centred on the basic principle that having good accounting practices and standards leads to better services and public accountability.
Their research had two key threads – designing a competency framework, which sets out the practices and standards which need to be followed and then identifying the factors that would help ensure the framework would actually be used.
They carried out a theoretical analysis of legal and constitutional systems, then looked at national systems where no governance reforms had been introduced and contrasted them with Nepal, where Dr Adhikari’s influenced the development of the country’s first accounting manual and standardised accounting practices.
“Our research provided extensive insights into the potential benefits of a competency framework which prioritised the identification of citizens’ requirements and expectations. It also clearly demonstrated that for the framework to be successful, there was also the need for public administrators to be trained in its use and to continue learning,” said Professor Arun.
What we changed
The competency framework was trialled in four state departments in Kerala - the State Social Justice Department, which is responsible for implementing social welfare programmes, the State Police, the Scheduled Tribes Development Department, which uplifts the lives of ethnic groups of historically disadvantaged people, some 480,000 people in 37 tribes, and the Local Self Government Department.
The framework has become key to delivering high-quality, citizen-focussed public services and has led to improved understanding and better human resources management, including recruitment, defining roles and expectations, identifying training needs and evaluating future development needs.
Drawing on the research, the Institute of Management in Government (IMG) developed employee handbooks outlining roles and responsibilities for employees in the four-state departments.
The competency framework has also been adopted by the Administrative Reforms Commission of Kerala and used in the training programmes of the Kerala Institute of Local Administration.