Governments and problem solving for development
Regional, Analysis, 1/25/2000
Editors' note: Only by dealing with problems forthrightly can a society become stronger. Looking at how some problems have been in fact dealt with, shows a great increase in sophistication and civility on the part of the governments. So we are going to look at an exaggerated problem (in the following case study), in order to make the points that we want to illustrate simple to present.
Riots in a town in Egypt, corruption in Jordan, in Palestine, religious prosecution of a singer in Lebanon, the failure and collapse of a building in Morocco etc. are all problems for the government to solve.
The approach typically used in developing countries is to deal swiftly with the problem by arresting the troublemakers and using police and the judicial tools at hand. That is needed and is the first order of business for any country, restoring the peace. But that is dealing with the surface issue. A step further would be to involve the social and governmental organizations to look at the underlying causes of the problem if these problems are persistent and make recommendations for a more permanent solution.
If there has been a pattern of this kind of problem, then clearly, the problem is deeply-rooted and is not being addressed at the needed level. In the short term, a government is usually capable of throwing enough resources at any specific problem that it can solve it for the short term. But for developing countries "that should not be the only concern." What should be of equal or greater concern is to "develop a system that provides a systematic way of dealing with these particular problems as well as others."
To illustrate, we would see in this case that what is needed is the involvement of the attorney general, and as this may not have solved the problem either then the parliament should be involved. Though it may seem dramatic and counter-intuitively may appear inflammatory, the parliament's involvement by holding investigations and public hearings is extremely important and should produce the needed results for the following reasons.
One reason is that the public needs to be educated about the issues involved, a matter the press helps in (see related article on the press in references). Another reason is that citizens need to see their problems addressed by the people who are supposed to represent their interests (the parliament). This helps give credibility to the system and "strengthens the respect of the citizens for a system that is seen to be legitimate, fair and transparent."
Another extremely important reason for holding public hearings (access to citizens by TV or radio, etc.) is to educate the citizens about how problems should be solved. In developing countries, one of the worst problems is the lack of cultural awareness and practice in transparent rational problem-solving methods toward public issues. So every time there is a national problem of some sort, "the government (and media) should take advantage of this opportunity to teach by showing how problems are solved." You hold hearings to get the facts and hear all sides-- citizens, organizations, and experts on the subject. Public debate would follow, and the government debates publicly the matter and adopts the necessary action or laws. Let us warn at this point that the absolute majority of the time, laws are not and should not be needed, as the aim of this process is typically to expose the problem and its elements, a task that is usually sufficient to marshal formal and informal public pressure where it is needed to solve the problem. There is no better disinfectant and corrective measure in public affairs than sunlight.
What is the critical issue there is not that the correct decision is made (although we expect it) or that the problem is solved. What is important throughout this practice is that "a public process of problem solving is established" that results in a better citizen, a more civilized citizen, a better governmental decision being made, a more stable society and the interaction between the citizens the press and the government becomes feedback loops between all these actors. These effective feedback loops are the whole mark of intelligent and stable systems.
It goes without saying that the parliamentary committee dealing with this issue will itself, through public exposure, be forced to constantly aim for higher standards, for itself and other institutions.
Another advantage to having such a problem solving process, is to promote the principal that " a government that does not involve and encourage its citizens to participate in their own governance is a less than optimum form of government, as this type of government will grow to isolate itself from citizens and citizens from itself and create a division between the government and the governed where unity should be." It creates a very destructive attitude of "us" versus them, and "the people" versus "the government." This can only bring about added instability and inflexibility to the system as blame becomes a common game where each party puts responsibility of action and change on the other, with neither doing its part fully. Therefore, it is important to use these opportunities to further "engage" the citizens in their own problems and solutions, and give them the feeling of ownership of their government, so that they feel and become its protector and enhancer and not its destroyer. Self governance provides and educate citizens for the need for community and community action, a fundamental element of development that dramatically empowers a society. The goal also is for the people to feel and realize that they own the government and that the government does not own them, because when this principle is violated, bad things happen to the people by officials who assume that they are the masters and not the servants of the people.
We conclude by saying that problems should be used as golden opportunities to educate the public in civil problem solving, improving the problem-solving capabilities of public institutions. It is a hundred times better to have a public process that addresses problems but may not find a solution to a particular problem than to have a non-public solution that does not enrich the whole society by having it being deprived of these most enriching exercises, difficult as they may be, as they are at the very foundation of how a civil society deals with problems and advances.
So the process is more important than any single solution. Let us create these public processes. And may they develop to the extent that they are very self-reflective on themselves and others at every level.
Culture and its role in development
Intelligence, problem solving at the individual and social level
The press and its role in development
Economic development strategies
The need and future of international institutions
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