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The transition and transformational agenda

In last week’s article, “A Closer Look at the Transition, Three Months after the Elections”, it was said that the most difficult part of transformation is not determining what to do but how to do it.

This article will focus on how to create and undertake a transformational agenda as proposed by the new government. In the dictionary, transformation is defined as a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance. It is like a metamorphosis in the life cycle of an animal, in other words, transformation is fundamental change in an organism, in a particle, in an organisation.

In the context of government, transformation has to do with deep-seated changes in the way it operates and delivers services to the population. Establishment of a performance infrastructure made up of people with the right skills set and experience, adoption of the right processes and application of relevant analytical tools are key to undertaking a transformational agenda.

Hence the reason for repeated calls to get the transition right and design a senior management team that would set up the government for success.

The new government faced a challenging environment on coming into office. The looming threat of global inflation, the lingering negative fallout from the pandemic such as global supply chain disruptions, high energy prices fueling  inflation, locally low productivity, high unemployment, burgeoning debt, and an expectant electorate.

Government will have to navigate these challenges at the same time it pursues its transformational agenda. This in and of itself will be a herculean undertaking that requires the right human resource capacity, demonstration of will by government, and a major reset  in mindset and behaviour within the public service – something that few senior managers and leaders know how to achieve.

Agenda is the plural of the Latin word agendum which literally means, something to be done. An agenda is a plan organised by time, events or things to do. Therefore a transformational agenda is a plan of activities, programs and projects structured by time and sequenced in a manner to contribute to attainment of a vision and strategy for change.

There are a few approaches, mostly abstract and theoretical that could be used to create a transformational agenda. One of the drawbacks of these approaches is they place emphasis on broad cross-cutting thematic areas which are difficult to monitor and evaluate, and requires a complex performance infrastructure to implement.

A more practical transformational approach is to focus on priority sectors and design a transformational agenda around a bold vision and strategic objectives that are attainable. These objectives are underpinned by cross-cutting activities such as information technology, effective communications, and cross-functional collaboration to solve problems within the sectors.

The first step in this transformational approach is to articulate a clear strategic intent and identify the priority sectors for transformation. Strategic intent is an aspirational plan or overarching purpose needed to create an organisational vision. This vision will articulate the aspirational direction for the country.

The mission expresses the values and principles the country embodies and that which will underpin the transformational effort. At this juncture, ninety days and counting into his tenure, the Prime Minister should have already communicated to the population the strategic intent for the transformational agenda and identify the priority sectors for transformation.

Before the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government embarked on its home grown structural adjustment program in 1993, Prime Minister Sir Nicholas Brathwaite gave a national address in which he explained the strategic intent for the structural adjustment program.

This was preceded by preparation of a policy paper on the fiscal situation at that time in Grenada. After the strategic intent, which includes the vision and mission, is communicated to the people the next steps are to identify strategic objectives and transformational work streams for the priority sectors.

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These work streams could involve efforts to embed the mission and strategy in  day-to-day operations, establishment and operationalisation of an impact focused data driven policy formulation strategy, create a new results-focused collaborative culture within the public sector, design of a performance infrastructure anchored in new ways of problem solving, and leveraging partnerships in the international community to access resources to finance programs, projects and other initiatives under the transformational agenda.

Underpinning all of the strategic objectives and work streams are efforts to ensure there is sufficient and capable human resource capacity, a fit for purpose public service to drive the transformational agenda. There are also cross-cutting activities such as information technology, effective communications and cross functional collaboration that have to be incorporated in the sector wide work streams.

In the July 8th article, entitled, “Mr Prime Minister, Please get the transition right”, the problem of ministers becoming occupied with specific policy issues through a “policy silo lens” rather than a broad perspective in light of the cross-cutting policy issues that spans multiple ministries was identified.

The work streams ought to be located in the line ministries for the respective sectors where the transformation agenda will focus. It is at that level the transformative programs and projects will be identified and developed that will fundamentally change how the sector functions and significantly improve efficiency and delivery of services to the population.

For instance, in the October 7th article entitled, “A Closer Look at the Transition Three Months after the Election”, transformative initiatives that could be implemented in agriculture and fundamentally change the way the sector functions were identified.

These includes: adoption of digital and data driven applications to overcome market failures, improve farmers access to and use of Internet on Things (IoT) farm based services, digital extension services and use of drone technology to monitor crop growth, increase application of scientific knowledge and adoption of cutting edge agricultural technology in the planting process, introduction of climate smart agricultural practices, and digitalisation of value chains.

All of these project and programs could be developed within context of the work streams that involves incorporation of data driven strategies, building a collaborative culture across the public service, leveraging international partnerships and cooperation and using cross-cutting tools in information technology, effective communications and functional collaboration with and participatory involvement of stakeholders and communities using an asset base approach.

The challenge is having been decimated for over a decade by the old geezer; the current crop of senior managers do not have the capacity and are not capable of leading the transformative process in the relevant line ministries.

Unfortunately, the few senior public servants who are capable, are being sidelined while the process to develop a transformational agenda continues to stutter.

Sustaining a transformational effort requires not only a major reset in mindset and behaviour by all stakeholders and at all levels of the leadership pyramid but establishment of a performance infrastructure made up of the right people, processes and tools to enable successful implementation of the transformational agenda.

It is in this context that calls were made to get the transition right and design a capable senior management team that can lead the transformation effort. Never was it a witch hunt or call for bloodletting, however it was just speaking truth to power.

Members of the transition have admitted the public service is in a bad state based on what they have seen so far. This is a huge risk for the transformational agenda.

Next week’s article will focus on the performance infrastructure required to get the transformational agenda going as I continue to focus on how to create and undertake a transformational agenda

Special Correspondent