Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: New Pathways for Policy Implementation Research: Insights from the Delivery of an International Participatory Decentralization Process in Cambodia

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 3:30 PM
Ibis (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jenny Morrison, Texas A&M University
This paper presents evidence from an ethnographic study of a United Nations Development Programme in the country of Cambodia, where the researcher embedded with local and expatriate field managers for 6 months to document how social, political, and cultural values interact to shape collective sensemaking of a participatory decentralization mandate.  The study presents evidence of three organizational processes that supported effective dissemination and implementation of the policy mandate, which hold important insights for the design and reform of a range of bureaucratic cultures, to improve policy implementation outcomes.  First, the study provides insight into how the program was designed as a ‘hybrid’ organizational form, imbued with a proactive learning culture modeled and encouraged by expatriate advisors.  This hybridity created an organizational form that served as a buffer between a dysfunctional government culture and a highly bureaucratic multilateral donor context, which allowed field managers to process a high degree of cognitive dissonance as they were confronted with a development mandate antithetical to their own historical experiences and understandings of governance.  The existence of this hybrid form led to the formation of a strong “counter-culture,” where mid-level managers could experiment with their emerging understandings of the policy mandate, which led to further shaping of individual and collective understandings and actions, further strengthening the implementation process.  Finally, individual managers demonstrated a capacity for maintaining a ‘bicultural’ lens where they held their “old” Cambodian-centric value orientations” in check as new ones were introduced as part of their role to disseminate the participatory mandate to their counterparts.  Such processes helped significantly shape political and administrative decentralization activities at the village and commune levels, as these field managers actively served as translational conduits between the multilateral donor mandate and Cambodian cultural and political realities.  The paper closes by considering how to integrate these three processes into a more systematic approach, to enhance technical assistance across different organizational contexts, particularly in complex policy delivery ecosystems such as those found in international development environments.