Title

Narratives About India’s Bureaucracy: Old Hardware Being Asked to Run New Software?

Location

1049

Format Type

Event

Format Type

Paper

Start Date

January 2018

End Date

January 2018

Abstract

A key thematic finding of this study is that India’s government bureaucracy is like an old fashioned ‘feature’ phone that is being asked to multi-task like a new-age smartphone. I use the analogy of a smartphone to understand the functioning of India’s government bureaucracies. India’s insensitive bureaucrats and lethargic bureaucratic functioning are often cited as reasons for India’s inability to quickly alleviate poverty. However, by examining narratives from bureaucrats engaged in the implementation of a program to improve maternal and child health services, I uncover a rather interesting aspect of India’s bureaucratic functioning—that actors within the bureaucracies are agile, but are encumbered by their administrative structures. Such a finding runs counter to most studies examining bureaucrats or program implementation in the Indian context, but it is a result of an in-depth case study research aimed at understanding the perspectives of the bureaucrat.

I draw these findings from a much larger study examining the implementation processes of a collaborative governance initiative within a subnational government in India. The goal of this collaborative governance initiative was to facilitate greater coordination between agencies at all levels of the implementation hierarchy (i.e. the state, district, and village-level in the Indian administrative context) to improve delivery of maternal and child health services and related outcomes. Given that India’s bureaucracies are being increasingly called upon to be collaborative and work across departmental silos, choosing this case for an in-depth study had theoretical relevance and potential to reveal how bureaucrats (under what conditions and to what extent) engage in collaborative governance. Data was collected from multiple sources, across the three levels of hierarchy, and across the three agencies for better triangulation of findings. For this particular study, I am drawing from 85 in-depth interviews conducted at the state (18 interviews), district (8 interviews), and village-levels of administration (59 interviews) across the Health, Rural Development, and Women and Child Development agencies. Although interviews were designed as semi-structured, data was collected on the lines of a narrative inquiry. Transcribed interviews were analyzed using NVivo 10 with thematic codes (both deductive and inductive), analytical memos, and annotations to ensure reliability and reflexivity.

Getting data from inside India’s bureaucratic black hole has always been perceived to be elusive at best and impossible at the worst. Needless to say there is a sense of distrust on both sides and particularly within the bureaucrats because their work is always subject to criticism. However, I informed all participants that the purpose of this study was to understand their story, perspective, and appreciate the challenges they face in their daily work life in the context of implementing this collaborative initiative. As a result, what emerged from the interviews were not just responses to the semi-structured interview protocol, but narratives about their career path, work philosophy, motivation, challenges, bureaucratic politics, society and culture. This study is significant because it aims to understand India’s government bureaucracies, responsible for the welfare of one-sixth the world’s population, from a more public management lens with a qualitative methodological approach.

Comments

This is the first time I am submitting an abstract to this conference. I understand the focus is more on the methodology. If you believe my abstract is not reflecting this focus (on methodology) kindly let me know and I can revise it accordingly. I have discussed about the methodology used in the study and also stated why the study is important, what its key findings are, and what the purpose/unit of analysis is. Thanks.

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Jan 12th, 2:05 PM Jan 12th, 2:25 PM

Narratives About India’s Bureaucracy: Old Hardware Being Asked to Run New Software?

1049

A key thematic finding of this study is that India’s government bureaucracy is like an old fashioned ‘feature’ phone that is being asked to multi-task like a new-age smartphone. I use the analogy of a smartphone to understand the functioning of India’s government bureaucracies. India’s insensitive bureaucrats and lethargic bureaucratic functioning are often cited as reasons for India’s inability to quickly alleviate poverty. However, by examining narratives from bureaucrats engaged in the implementation of a program to improve maternal and child health services, I uncover a rather interesting aspect of India’s bureaucratic functioning—that actors within the bureaucracies are agile, but are encumbered by their administrative structures. Such a finding runs counter to most studies examining bureaucrats or program implementation in the Indian context, but it is a result of an in-depth case study research aimed at understanding the perspectives of the bureaucrat.

I draw these findings from a much larger study examining the implementation processes of a collaborative governance initiative within a subnational government in India. The goal of this collaborative governance initiative was to facilitate greater coordination between agencies at all levels of the implementation hierarchy (i.e. the state, district, and village-level in the Indian administrative context) to improve delivery of maternal and child health services and related outcomes. Given that India’s bureaucracies are being increasingly called upon to be collaborative and work across departmental silos, choosing this case for an in-depth study had theoretical relevance and potential to reveal how bureaucrats (under what conditions and to what extent) engage in collaborative governance. Data was collected from multiple sources, across the three levels of hierarchy, and across the three agencies for better triangulation of findings. For this particular study, I am drawing from 85 in-depth interviews conducted at the state (18 interviews), district (8 interviews), and village-levels of administration (59 interviews) across the Health, Rural Development, and Women and Child Development agencies. Although interviews were designed as semi-structured, data was collected on the lines of a narrative inquiry. Transcribed interviews were analyzed using NVivo 10 with thematic codes (both deductive and inductive), analytical memos, and annotations to ensure reliability and reflexivity.

Getting data from inside India’s bureaucratic black hole has always been perceived to be elusive at best and impossible at the worst. Needless to say there is a sense of distrust on both sides and particularly within the bureaucrats because their work is always subject to criticism. However, I informed all participants that the purpose of this study was to understand their story, perspective, and appreciate the challenges they face in their daily work life in the context of implementing this collaborative initiative. As a result, what emerged from the interviews were not just responses to the semi-structured interview protocol, but narratives about their career path, work philosophy, motivation, challenges, bureaucratic politics, society and culture. This study is significant because it aims to understand India’s government bureaucracies, responsible for the welfare of one-sixth the world’s population, from a more public management lens with a qualitative methodological approach.