The Learning Government Research Project -Assessing policy making reform in Romania

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Project - Description



The project aim is to assess the efforts to improve the policy making process and their real impact at governmental level in Romania . Using examples and hypotheses drawn from the literature, previously tested in the region and other development countries, I intend to create an integrated and possibly comprehensive image of the strong and weak points of policy reform impacts , especially in relation with the activity of international organizations and development donors.

During the project, using various quantitative and qualitative methods (e.g. questionnaire based survey, in depth interviews) I will gather information on practices promoted through Technical Assistance(TA) projects and assimilated by senior official at the level of line ministries and agencies across the Government, trying to track systemic patterns of interaction and established practices of policy making. Even though the literature on the policy making process in the region is growing in precision and coverage, in Romania it is rather fragmented and unsatisfactorily clear. The research is aimed to offer the government, donors, civil society and scholars an integrated description of current state and a sense of necessary further steps in reforming the policy making process.



The public sector reform and the consequent policy management reform are at the core of the conditionality ensuring the evolution and stabilisation of democratic governance (for both European Commission and World Bank). The policy reform process adds a vision to the public administration reform and is extremely relevant to the overarching European integration processes. Much of the transition and democratization theory acknowledges the institutional fragility of new democracies. Instead of being disaffected with democracy, as their western counterparts, the CEE citizens, experience bitter disappointment with the overall performance of the political regime. In the overall institutional structure, the trust in the Executive is permanently eroded next to parties and Parliaments. Governments face the difficult task to steer societies through transition and usually they fail to accommodate all the interest in a process having losers and winners by definition. The policy making reform is subject to intense political debate as any political platform is making a projection on how government is making and coordinating policy. The policy management processes has been under close scrutiny for a long period of time from international actors involved in the democratization process in the SEE region and it is currently supported by European Commission, EBRD, the World Bank, the IMF and other developing partners. Without downplaying the role of internal actors in reforming policy making, I assume that the international political nexus transmitted core sets of norms and practices, standardized and relatively easy to measure and evaluate. The research will feed back into the institutional literature on policy making process (see for example Evans and Manning,) (1) and also the general Centre for Public Studies research framework.


Policy making process at governmental level in Romania .

  Far from being different from other CEE/SEE, Romania displays typical signs of transitional policy making, well explained and covered by study cases in the literature. These symptoms were consistently highlighted in the official documents international organization drafted in relation to the public administration reform (2) and they will be used as a starting point in assessing the extent the standard norms of policy masking were assimilated into Romanian institutional practices. Improving policy making in Romania at central level usually folds in two main directions. The first concerns the sectors/ agencies-ministries practices to develop successful public policies and the second, the way the general policy making process is organized and coordinated at the Centre of Government . The international assistance was focused mainly on sectoral issues and specific Ministries/ agencies. Only recently the way Centre of Government is organized became a subject of interest and generated the overall reform efforts. The three groups of problems listed below, without being complete and comprehensive can give a sense of the overall shortcomings of the system.

General features:

  • Over reliance on legislative instruments in the detriment of other non regulatory policy instruments
  • Overall bad quality of legislation as indicated by constant amending and non- compliance
  • Almost complete absence of policy and regulatory impact assessment practices

Centre of Government

  • Lack of efficient coordination Centre of government (Prime Minister Offices / Cabinet Offices)as regard to policy making coordination
  • Insufficient planning and bad prioritization of the policy items on Government agenda
  • Poor cooperation on cross - sectoral issues

Ministries and agencies

  • Poor policy implementation and evaluation mechanisms
  • Insufficient consideration of empirical facts and data in designing policy
  • Poor participation and consultation record of civil society to the decision making
  • Lowly skilled personnel on policy making


Project objectives and Key issues

The literature on policy making in SEE luckily is always concerned with the practical aspects and project ways of improving either the process or the institutional arrangements. Although is stressing the importance of internal actors and motivation, the international assistance is considered as a strong prerequisite for a successful reform of policy making. Some excellent examples are offered by the solid work done on what the authors call executive policy unreliability (3) and the consequent improvement requirements. Along with the World Bank, OECD has accumulated a lot of experience in assessing and assisting the reform of Government Office (4). There was also country focused valuable contributions which mapped comprehensively the policy making processes as for Slovakia (5).

As pointed earlier, there are two main direction the reform of policy making was carried namely is the sectoral /departmental and the CoG one. The transferral of practices is easier to track alt the ministerial level than at the Centre of Government and thus the design of the research will also contain a study case on specific agency policy carried benefiting from technical assistance. It is worth noting that the assistance for better policy making was spread at the level of all institution. The Presidency and Parliament benefited from these programmes. However the bulk of this assistance was directed towards line ministries and lately the General Secretariat of the Government.

The technical assistance(TA) given to Romanian institution had general objective to build capacities in the host institution and concentrated on general methods and techniques in relevant fields as policy planning, policy research and analysis, impact assessments and other policy designing techniques. The usual technical assistance was carried through consultants, singular or in teams. Yet, we should bear in mind that the feed back from international institutions was permanent and the consultants were used when there was a specific task to be carried out and the existing Romanian expertise could not cover it satisfactorily.

In this research I will try to answer to three general questions each having a subsequent set of question and hypotheses.

•  What were the basic policy models and practices transferred in Romania ?

•  What were the instruments and methods of transferral?

•  Which were their results? (both in terms of policy results and as
transferral of good practices). )

A special attention will be devoted to the coherence (6) of the assistance programs. The results will hopefully help re-evaluate the way policy making reform is carried on all sides.


Research methodology

The methodology will consist from the use of primary sources and a combination of qualitative (in depths interviews and possibly focus groups) and quantitative (survey) methods. The first part of the project will be dedicated to the documentary research on assistance activities of major international organization and donors doubled by special survey on relevant and available offices, abroad and in Romania . A set of questionnaire will be administered online to relevant people (office and task managers, consultants) and a number of in depth interview will be conducted with the relevant personnel based in Bucharest . Secondly, the project will focus on Romanian officials who were previously working in international assistance projects. The last part of the project will be devoted to the drafting of the final report and dissemination to the interesting parties.

The focus will be on a selection of TA projects, but more important a selection of institutions/ departments. In this research I tend to look at the recipient side, trying to finds ways how to improve TA design and implementation in central executive institutions (Presidency, Ministries and what is called Centre of Government - the group formed by the General Secretariat of the Government and Chancellery of the Prime Minister).The Ministries I target (not more than 4) are the ones with horizontal activities (Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance) which can project a larger influence on the system than the delivery ministries. As for the latter I will focus on not more than two as Ministry of Education and Environment. All the institutions will be treated as case studies, trying to get from their specificity, general features of TA design and implementation and results.

As donors are concerned I will focus on the major ones as EC, World Bank and UNDP relating also to relevant programs developed by other organizations as DFID. My main focus will not be on the way these organization are developing the overall assistance policy but rather on success or failure of particular projects and in relation with the response of specific institutions. The report will also map the donor community considering its priorities, experience and resources.  

The questionnaire and interview items will evolve around: 1. The effects of TA in a certain policy regarding specific inputs offered and most important 2. Their lasting effect measured by the extent the good practices of policy making embedded in the TA were assimilated by the recipient institutions. 


Results and recommendation

The results of this research are par excellence practical ones. They are shedding light on previous and current assistance projects and reform initiatives in this area. Firstly the government can use the report as landmark for its committed reform on policy making. The methodology of the research can be used across other levels of government (local, de-concentrated) and it can help identify new areas where the international assistance is needed.

More importantly the report can become a ‘user guide' for designing and implementing technical assistance projects in the public administration in Romania with a good chance of becoming useful for other countries in the region especially those who share a more recent experience in democratic institutional development.

International organizations and donors can add to their own evaluations a better design of their assistance programs and even identify area were their contribution is still necessary.

Civil society can benefit from this research by being offered a base of public debate for the policy making reform, a field which is severely under analyzed and discussed.

The report can also be used for further scholarly research dedicated to the policy making process in Romania and CEE / SEE.


 End Notes

(1) Gord Evans, Nick Manning Helping governments keep their promises: Making ministers and governments more reliable through improved policy management

(2) See for example the latest World Bank Country Economic Memorandum Vol. 1 Summary Report No 29123-RO or EC's 2002 Regular Report on Romania 's progress towards Accession

(3) There are three methods by which governmental unreliability ( defined as “the degree to which the broad policy commitments of the executive are either not implemented, or only partially implemented, within a reasonable timescale - or if implemented, are prone to rapid reversal) can be reduced. These include strengthening the institutional arrangements that support collegiality (collective decision-making); designing a decision-making process that forces meaningful policy tradeoffs within a realistic fiscal plan; and creating effective collegial forums (e.g., government sub-committees) in which such deliberations can occur, in Gord Evans, Nick Manning Helping governments keep their promises: Making ministers and governments more reliable through improved policy management

(4) One report lists some lessons learned in this area ‘‘Top-level commitment, Starting from the existing organization and building up, The value of outside assistance, It takes time to implement change, The reform of the government Office needs to proceed along with increasing policy capacity in Ministries, Successful reform requires change in the culture of the organization, It is both important and possible to reform the Government Office, Michal Ben Gera (2003) Coordination at the Centre of Government: The Functions and Organisation of the Government Office, Comparative Analysis of OECD, CEEC and Balkan Countries, SIGMA

(5) The authors highlight 2 main direction of change: Policy process reform (Strengthening involvement of ministry staff in the development of policy concepts, Building into the policy process a ‘check' on choosing policy instruments, Improving intra and inter-ministerial policy coherence, Putting in place mechanisms to ‘regularise' incoming issues, Putting emphasis on relationship between reform of the policy process and the budget reform, Introduction of ex post policy evaluation into the system and its integration into policy development) and Staff development

(6) coherence as procedures and mechanisms ensuring that various TA projects (different donors) were coordinated as objectives and whether on similar sectors /policies the recipient's institution received several inputs, possibly leading to inconsistencies. This is a working hypothesis that would be tested or not, but there were cases when the position of different stakeholders didn't coincided.



World Bank (2004) Romania Restructuring for EU Integration, The Policy Agenda, Country Economic Memorandum Vol. 1 Summary Report, , No 29123-RO.

2002 Regular Report on Romania 's progress towards Accession, European Commission

Gord Evans, Nick Manning (2002) Helping governments keep their promises: Making ministers and governments more reliable through improved policy management, World Bank

Michal Ben Bera (2004) Coordination at the Centre of Government: The Functions and Organisation of the Government Office, Comparative Analysis of OECD, CEEC and Balkan Countries. Electronic manuscript

Tony Verheijen, Miroslav Beblavý, Katarína Staronová, (2001), Development of Policy Making Culture in Slovakia ” Electronic manuscript



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