Winning essay in university student competition on Greek civil service

Athens Law School student Daphne Yovanov, aged 19, received the top prize, as well as 3,000 euros, for an essay, in English, submitted to a competition conducted by the Karatzas and Partners law firm on “The assessment of state structures, institutions and actors in a modern democracy.”

Here is her essay:

“Civic disengagement” would be the politically correct term. A term which most accurately characterizes an era of declining public confidence not only in democratic leaders but also in the efficiency of our highly-esteemed democratic institutions. Public cynicism, fuelled by greater demands for equality and participation – after all this is the age of information and technological advancements – has targeted the political system in its entirety. Fair enough.

However, one crucial detail is being overlooked. Our democracy is the people. Not mistaken as a romantic notion, a chimera of a well-functioning, perfect and just regime, but rather as the reality of a country which has a good percent of its working population employed in its public sector. In a way, these non-elected trustees of portions of governmental authority and power strongly impact the overall performance and stability of our political system. The question arises: what can we expect when democracy is called upon to evaluate itself? The public sector has developed over the years into a static structure, its main purpose distorted. Instead of executing governmental strategy and providing services that meet the citizens’ needs, it has become the most prominent job provider, a synonym of a guarantee of socio-economic stability and security. What is expected from us, a modern society striving for any sign of forward movement, progress, development, is a shift in paradigm.

What is needed today exceeds a mere evaluation, a mere performance assessment of the public sector. What is needed is a transformation of this unwieldy, complex and – to a certain point – misunderstood public sector of ours into one capable of supporting and providing for the ever-changing demands of a modern state.

To begin with, in an attempt to streamline the function of public services, one must shift to an objective-oriented management. Working its way up the administrative ladder, job analysis is of pivotal importance in order to achieve a clear and precise distribution of work tasks. Each and every agent of the administrative process is required to have a clear set of goals, personal objectives that will be defining his/her course of action. On a bigger scale, each division must have a detailed planning of services to be provided, of the means which to be used as well as a time-schedule that must be adhered to. Combining these parameters, one can determine whether these objectives have been accomplished, to what extent and with whose contribution. When it comes to assessing each individual’s effort, efficiency and overall productiveness, the usual assessment systems are often, and perhaps justly so, perceived as an attempt by technocrats of imposing their rigid, numerically planned-out goals on human productivity and initiative. Partly, this is true. No matter the scale, the objective variables, the preciseness of the endeavour, and all good faith, human labour cannot be truly captured in a check-list, a mere piece of paper. It is however a necessary evil in order to improve the outcome of service delivery.

In determining the quality of public services, it is imperative to take into consideration qualitative as well as quantitative data. Designing and implementing a multi-dimensional and balanced scorecard profiling each and every agent of the public sector would serve to this purpose. Such a profile would necessarily have as its starting point the employee’s educational background, but also take into consideration further skills, most important being his/her knowledge of and fluency with modern means of technology. The above comprise the objective part of determining an employee’s input in the administrative process. Surely, a subjective view of his/her contribution would only broaden the assessment of his/her performance. This subjective perspective should come not only in the form of a self-assessment, but also as a review by peers and by those above and below in the hierarchy. At this point, the assessment process begins to falter in its credibility. The outcome has been so far internally produced and thus is of questionable credibility. The only apparent solution would be to create an external mechanism, a form of committee that would review these assessments, comprised of specialists with field expertise, while taking into consideration the input of managers from the said working environment. This would also be the body which one could address to his/her petition for review of his/her assessment grading or file an objection against his/her grading on the basis of partiality or favouritism.

Performance measurement and programme evaluation play a leading role and provide a potent mechanism of public sector reform. Designing and implementing a legal framework, not as a punitive method, a means of leverage and intimidation in the working environment, but serving as a point of reference, regulating relationships between employees and managers, would be futile without successfully connecting this assessment process to tangible and realistic results in the employee’s career and the sector’s performance. In this endeavour, an information society renders the use of an automated, technologically-advanced system imperative. Credibility and reliability of this process can only be ensured through full public disclosure of this information, all while both employees and managers take part in the process. The above are prerequisites and at the same time success factors of any assessment.

These evaluations contain priceless information not to be archived and eaten away by dust, but to provide incentive and motivation for further betterment of the individual and the sector as a whole. First, by tying this process to career prospects, promotions and, most important of all, to increases in salary. Second, viewed from another perspective, performance measurements could contribute towards the regularization and trimming of each sector’s, sub-sector’s and division’s budget. By planning out goals and determining success or failure rate based on their accomplishment, the public sector can more efficiently provide for the state, the citizens, the society and maybe even catch up with the demands of a vast, complex and rapidly growing market. Make no mistake, this is a market. The era of the civil service as an authoritarian figure, leading and constraining anything that falls within its scope, is long gone. This is a market, and the public sector is crucial not only for the state’s proper function but for its development and growth. Consequently, it cannot be hindered by a dated and inefficient structure, based on preconceptions of the past.

Lately, the public sector has been equated to an unchanging, bulky mass of inadequate means and methods, failing to identify and properly serve the society to which it belongs. Its assessment does not seek to endanger statutory rights and democratic values. Quite the contrary. It aims at a flexible, adaptive public sector, able to meet modern needs efficiently, effectively and accountably.

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