Monday, November 15 2021

What is the future reserved for public administration? Or more precisely, what future for its study and practice in Africa or in postcolonial Nigeria? These questions are unique when placed in the context of future studies and its myriad prognoses of what the future holds for human systems and practices. But they are also strange and difficult questions by the very fact that they are supposed to unravel the future and exploit its possibilities to understand the present. Alan Watt, the English writer and theologian, once remarked that “I realized that the past and the future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is. The future and all of its potentials are simply not there. And therefore, any prediction about it runs into huge problems. How do we know that we have sufficiently understood the elements of the future that speak to the present? However, what gives future studies – or the art of the future – its solid pedigree is that they take into account the circumstances and dynamics present to reach out to the future and what it is. could possibly tell us. In other words, according to Mattie Stepanek, “even though the future seems far away, it is actually happening right now.” Despite the present warning, which we have ignored, the COVID pandemic has hit the whole world in the face of our collective complacency. The same has happened with climate change and its dangers.

Placed in the postcolonial terrain that makes Africa the most difficult administrative context in the world, the idea of ​​the future would seem even more vague, a dark horizon that is intangible and yet beckons us in a tantalizing way. However, it is in this context that a detailed analysis of the future must make sense. What does the future tell us? Patrick Dixon, author of The Future of Almost Everything (2019), says the future has a lot in store for humanity; a lot of things that will definitely and radically transform the way we see our world. From what we can see already happening in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Dixon predicts that “Over the next 20 years our world will be rocked by a series of seismic events and inventions, overtaking governments. , businesses and our lives. We are rushing at astonishing speed towards a future few understand, with massive implications for the future of mankind. ”

From what we know about our world today, a lot is wrong, from environmental destruction to terrorism, and global inequalities to the takeover of democracy by nationalism. We have also been confronted with the awesome power of science and technology; new digital media and technologies that have transformed the way we think about work, sociality, security, politics and even development and leadership. For Dixon, to be fatalistic is to imagine that we are doomed to continue in one direction without knowing where we are going. On the contrary, according to him, the challenge is to be futuristic. And being futuristic comes with a healthy dose of prediction which is neither unnecessary nor impossible as some have argued. Rather, what futuristic predictions require are “well-reasoned expectations of what … is most likely to happen” and an active strategy that generates alternative scenario planning to manage the risks involved in long-term trends. term.

For Patrick Dixon, the future has six faces that mark the FUTURE: Fast, Urban, Tribal, Universal, Radical and Ethical. It will be quick in terms of how quickly changes happen, especially in areas like robotics and artificial intelligence. It will be urban because of the implications of the future for urbanization and demography. Its tribal nature will concern future nations and cultures as well as social networks. Its universal character will fray with its consequences for globalization. It will be radical in connection with what Dixon calls the “death of politics” and the rise of radical activism. And finally, its ethical component speaks of emerging notions of spirituality, values ​​and leadership. As might be expected, these six faces of the future are intertwined and contradictory. Fast and Urban speak to each other in a complementary way, in the same way as Radical and Ethical. But Universal and Tribal are opposites. So, while some prefer to view the world as fast-paced, urban, and universal, a different perspective is tribal, radical, and ethical.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of public administration in Dixon’s significant book, even though every dimension of the diagnosis of the world as it is and the world we anticipate points to the failure of public managers and private or public leadership and its ability to adequately anticipate the future. The book focuses on the ability of leaders at the public and private levels to grasp the events of the present to anticipate and prepare for the future, particularly in terms of institutional readiness. Public administration will be the key to how the world can adapt in the future and the effects of this adaptability on human well-being. And this will be even more the case for African states, like Nigeria, which have struggled with (under-) development for decades, and which urgently require scenario planning and future thinking to transform public administration and institutional capacity to be able to do more for their citizens.

In prognosticating the future, Dixon and I see the same thing. In The Nigerian Civil Service of the Future (2014), I identified a dysfunctional office pathology as the scourge of institutional weakening that prevents the civil service from supporting good governance in Nigeria. The pathology office ensures that the public service is institutionally closed to innovation, and therefore loses the openness required to effect meaningful change through a dynamic relationship with the environment in which it operates. In this sense, officials achieve blind compliance that allows them to be predisposed to enforce rules and regulations as an end in themselves, rather than as a means for performance and productivity. Where I have referred to office pathology as the bane of institutional reform and development, Dixon sees what he calls “institutional blindness”: “When bankers spend too much time with other bankers, the result is soon a banking crisis. When IT people spend too much time with similar IT people, the result can be a major system weakness, poor customer design, or vulnerability to cyber attacks. When military commanders spend too much time playing war games with their colleagues, the result can be… ”Also add: when officials get too involved in their bureaucratic processes and procedures, the consequences are a professional psychosis that leads to the impression that the institution is autonomous when it is not.

Institutional blindness and office pathology are also sides of the same coin. Both are debilitating because they lock an organization into itself in a way that sacrifices openness to insularity and undermines organizational innovation and creativity. Both prevent and deprive any organization of the capacity to go beyond itself to an external source of organizational development and reform that could galvanize institutional transformation and capacity preparation. Organizational development theory is important because it provides the stages of development that will allow an organization to adapt to present and future circumstances so as to improve good governance strategies. The sequence of growth and development – birth, adolescence, maturity, institutionalization and reformulation – ensures that an organization’s culture engages itself and other external factors in a dynamic way that allows it to grow at- beyond its basic structural elements into a mature institution in constant reform. and reformulation. The theory of organizational development therefore insists on the fact that the natural development of organizations must make it possible to identify how these organizations have gone, in sequential order, from a simple structure characterized by a model of relationship between the elements within ‘a system, to an institution as a framework of values ​​and regulation of behavior.

How then can organizational development theory in Nigeria engage with the future dynamics described by Patrick Dixon in The Future of Almost Everything? How, in other words, can we begin to rethink the idea of ​​institutional reform within the futuristic dynamic described in Dixon’s book and formulations? How can the public administration and the public service system, especially in Nigeria, with its bureaucracy-pathology and institutional blindness, respond to the six faces of the future? What do these six faces of the future allow us to calibrate as a smart decision architecture that can transform the dynamics and framework of governance in Nigeria? How to place the FUTURE in the postcolonial administrative context like that of Nigeria? These and many more are the crucial questions that my reformer’s mind is forced to ask itself as it engages with Patrick Dixon and the idea of ​​the future. And these questions can serve as the basis for many reflections on the deeper levels of institutional reform that Nigeria needs to be able to make the most of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of good governance and development. .

Olaopa is professor of public administration at NIPPSS, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State

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