International Experience Will Help Russian Public Administration
Preparation for the APPAM (Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management) international professional conference has begun at the HSE Faculty of Public Administration. The topic of the conference is ‘Improving the Quality of Public Services’. Conference organizers, Douglas Besharov, Professor at the University of Maryland (USA) and APPAM International Conference Convener Representative, and Alexey Barabashev, Dean of the HSE Faculty of Public Administration, talked to us about the tasks and the programme of the forum.
— Please tell us more about the key aim of the conference.
Alexey Barabashev: APPAM holds two conferences annually: one of them takes place in Washington, D.C. in November, and the other is an international conference on a selected topic. In 2009 the international conference took place in Singapore, in 2010 at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, and in 2011 the conference will be hosted here at the HSE.
I think that our application for hosting the conference in Moscow was successful because of the relevance of our suggested theme – the quality of public services. The staff of the HSE Institute of Public Administration and the Faculty have been conducting high level research in this area for a long time, thoroughly analyzing the process of reforming Russian government machinery and its restructuring to provide services for the country’s citizens.
About 150 researchers and practitioners will take part in the conference. We have only just finished evaluating the abstracts submitted to us. The geographic origin of the participants is very broad: it includes the U.S., Canada, a considerable number of participants from Western and Eastern Europe and Asia. Research by the Higher School of Economics will be presented by experts who worked on the projects of administrative procedures for the Russian government and made suggestions on the reforming of the country’s state apparatus. The conference will take place from June 28th-29th in the HSE building on Myasnitskaya Ulitsa.
Douglas Besharov:The selection committee of the Association annually holds a competition to decide where the next conference will take place. This time the committee considered the HSE’s application the most suitable. The committee considered the advanced work of the university’s researchers, their range of problems and depth, and the HSE’s leading position in the development of Russian public policy. And though our selection was based on a specific university rather than a country, I think that the social and domestic policy reforms in Russia also played their role in this decision. We are planning to discuss the modern challenges and problems of public policy, effective methods of work of governmental structures and NGOs, timely and appropriate services for citizens, and we shall try to answer various questions related to the implementation of specific governmental programmes to improve the quality of life for citizens – from satisfying basic needs to supporting their active participation in state administration.
— The key task of any international forum is the exchange of experience, knowledge and expert evaluations. Which problems of Russian public policy will be discussed at the conference?
Alexey Barabashev: It is the analysis of our colleagues’ abstracts that defines the topical sections of the conference. One of them is anti-corruption. I think that long-term but ultimately fruitless attempts to overcome corruption in Russia by means of implementing an ethical code or income declaration and other technological mechanisms will be of interest for our international colleagues who will certainly also share their experience of fighting corruption in their national contexts. Another section will focus on the problems and future of e-government. What is electronic document management? How should electronic services be introduced? How can we ensure the openness and transparency of state decision-making? We all have our own thoughts and ideas on this problem. Another relevant topic is the development of administrative procedures for public services. In total we will have at least six sections and it seems that the suggestions from international colleagues and our researchers on the problems of public services coincide and supplement each other.
In addition to researchers, some representatives of governmental bodies and leading politicians will participate in the work of the conference.
— In your view, what is the role of international organizations, institutions and conferences in the development of public services as a whole?
Alexey Barabashev: The experience of international organizations in this field is in high demand. Russia develops according to the same universal laws as other countries. International experience should be gradually introduced in Russia taking into account our cultural and national specifics. If this doesn’t happen, Russian institutions will be incompatible with international ones. The reforms in administrative procedures, governmental apparatus, and implementation of the e-government are generally in line with international constructions and concepts that have been implemented in many other countries.
Douglas Besharov: All modern developed countries face similar problems. For example, a rapidly ageing population and low birth rate are issues of serious concern not only in Russia but throughout Europe and the US. Russia, which is very rich in natural resources, can still use those supplies as the main source for governmental programmes’ financing. But they won’t last forever. Supplies of oil and gas will inevitably run low, and over the next 50 years Russia, like France, Germany and the U.S. will have to solve some critical demographic problems. Despite rather considerable differences in the political, social and cultural systems of the countries, the world develops according to the same laws. This is confirmed by the similarity of problems which we will have to learn to solve together. This international exchange of experience is not only an honest and open admission of a problem, but also a joint search for an effective solution.
— And what factors influence or can substantially influence the effectiveness of public policy?
Douglas Besharov: There is a lot of such factors. I believe that highly qualified administrators and expert researchers should work together in the sphere of public policy and public services. By the way, both types of participants were invited to the Moscow conference. Reforms in this sphere should be started with the professional education of young people who are willing to build a career in this field.
Alexey Barabashev: I think that it is becoming clearer and clearer that any apparatus changes are doomed to fail if they are not supported by the wider society. Any good idea of state administration can ‘dissolve’ in the depth of the state apparatus, if civil society does not actively influence the processes in a society. Moreover, if there is no public control, any good idea is twisted in a way profitable for the apparatus. That’s why I believe that the central focus of all changes in the state should be the active participation of civil society institutions in reforming the country. If society is indifferent to the reforms, the results of the changes will not match real public demands and needs.
Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service