Monday, January 7, 2008

Do we really want change when we say we want change?

Scenario: Things get from good to bad. We need change, we say. We select/elect a change agent - some one who will shake things up and make the needed changes. But when the changes start coming we undercut these changes. It's happening too fast, we say. It needs to happen fast, the change agent says. It's way too much change, we say. You need to feel that changes/improvements are being made, the change agent says. We then proceed to undercut the change agent. We second guess, block, delay. The change agent leaves in frustration (or we fire the agent citing lack of progress). Nothing changes.

This situation occurs fairly frequently I would think in bureaucracies, companies, and politics. Why? The D.C. public school system recently hired a new chancellor, Can Michelle Rhee save DC Schools. I found this passage a little forboding:
Fenty [D.C. mayor] then asked Rhee to meet with him one on one. This time he asked her to take the job. According to Fenty and Rhee, the conversation went like this:“You don’t want me to take this job,” she said.“Yes, I do,” he said.“Your job as a politician is to keep the noise down,” she said. “I am a change agent. There is no change without pushback.”

The Washington Post has a good series on DC Public Schools. I suspect but do not know for sure that a lot of large urban school systems have almost all the same problems in one way or another.
1. What is the optimal size of a school system? (or bureaucracy)
2. What is a bureaucracy - budget, staff or something else? I suspect it is something else plus budget and staff.
3. Is it easier to change a smaller bureaucracy than a larger bureaucracy? If we want to change the company/overall organization should it be top down or bottom up?
4. Can this be approached from an IO perspective of centralization versus decentralization trade off?
5. Or is some kind of principal agent framework requiring agents to perform multiple tasks with monitoring a better framework?
Since the work of Niskanen's Bureaucracy and Representative Government, very little progress seem to have been made. And according to MR, Niskanen has moved away from the model of budget maximization.

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