Human Resource Development Is the Key to Local Governance
September 30, 2008
To prepare local government officials in Japan for governing decentralization, the Tokyo Foundation has offered a professional training program for Japanese municipal government officials since 2004. This article features the background of the program and views presented by Professor Marcus Ingle of Portland State University.
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The last decade has witnessed "triple reform" to Japan's local government tax and fiscal system, consisting of: (1) the decrease of national subsidies to local governments; (2) reconsideration of revenue sharing between the national and local governments; and (3) transfer of some tax allocation authority from the national to local governments. This triple reform has decentralized some governing responsibility to local municipalities and increased their autonomy as local government entities. Local municipalities are now recognized as the basic local administrative units responsible for providing their residents with comprehensive public services.
Japanese municipalities are struggling to cope effectively with this new autonomy. The municipalities must learn how to deal with many issues, such as decreasing birth rates and the aging of the population, decreases in financial resources, and a deteriorating medical system. To meet these local challenges, local municipalities need to take advantage of new opportunities and new systems of work. A key for success in this transition is investment in human resources. Specifically, local municipalities need to invest in developing employees who will become competent, effective and efficient public administrators.
Here Professor Marcus Ingle of Portland State University's Executive Leadership Institute (ELI) discusses the type of expertise and qualifications needed by municipal officers in Japan's new era of local autonomy.
The Japanese Municipal Officers' Mid-Career Training Program
As analyzed by Professor Ingle, Japan's municipal officers are expected to play more proactive and creative leadership and management roles in public service. There are, however, a serious dearth of opportunities and effective programs for the municipal officers' professional development.
Recognizing the need for better professional development opportunities at the municipal level, the Tokyo Foundation launched the Japanese Municipal Officers' Mid-Career Training Program in 2004 in collaboration with Waseda University's Okuma School of Public Management (OSP) and ELI. It provides a six-month professional training course for mid-career officers at municipal governments in Japan. The program is unique in that each of the participants learns Project Management (PM) skills while developing projects they selected that address a key issue in their own municipality. They are also strongly encouraged to actually implement the project upon return to their respective hometowns, hence applying the PM skills they learned through the training program.
Since the launch of the program, 49 municipal officers from 28 municipalities have participated in the training. The program is contributing to the development of individual participants' professional competency by enhancing their knowledge, skills, and critical thinking capacity. The program also provides participants with opportunities for developing a professional network at the municipal government level in both Japan and the United States.
Accomplishments and Impact of the Program
The reports from past participants on their post-training activities suggest that there are three ways that the participants are making an impact on their municipalities: (1) by actively sharing what they learned in the training program with their co-workers and citizens, (2) by utilizing the project management knowledge and tools in their day-to-day work, and (3) by capitalizing on the professional network they developed. It is not always easy for the training participants to implement the projects they developed for their home municipalities. Sometimes the conservative bureaucratic nature of the organization hinders smooth implementation of projects with new and innovative ideas. Sometimes they lack understanding and support from their co-workers and superiors on the importance of the project. Despite these obstacles, participants have made concrete contributions in their municipalities, using the expertise and experience they gained through the training. Following are some examples:
In Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture, former participants proposed the introduction of "open microphone (open mike)" where the citizens can have a chance to pose questions to elected officials at the city council meeting. Citizen comments made in these open mike sessions eventually led the city council to decide on reducing the number of council seats. Through the connection made by the training participants, new educational exchange programs were started between Takashima City and Portland, Oregon. Every fall, a dozen middle school students from Takashima City visit the International School of Beaverton in Oregon, where they observe classes and stay at the home of a local family. Also, two graduates from Portland State University were selected to work at Takashima City for two years as assistant language teachers.
In Kuriyama Town, Hokkaido Prefecture, one of the training participants played an instrumental role in laying out the five-year comprehensive plan for the town. The comprehensive plan resulted in the passage of the "citizen participation" ordinance, the first one ever adopted in a Japanese municipality, stipulating the requirements for a citizen participation process that aims to make the city council more transparent and encourage open discussions among council members and citizens.
Publication of Project Management Toolkit
In addition to offering the training program, the Foundation has published a bilingual (Japanese and English) book entitled Project Management Toolkit: A Strategic Framework for New Local Governance . The purpose of the book is to disseminate the outcomes and experiences we gained from the training program to a larger audience. It was our intention that those who read the book, especially local government officers, will learn and acquire the basics of PM. The book offers commentaries on every project management tool from the perspective of local government administration. The book explains what kind of tools the readers should use at different stages of the project cycle. It uses charts and illustrations with in-depth commentary to help the readers who do not have familiarity with project management easily understand the concepts and tools. This book also comes with a glossary of project management terms, another feature that allows the readers to quickly reference the terms used in the book.
The training program in its current form will end in 2008. The need to nurture competent and thoughtful municipal officers who will serve the localities with commitment and passion for more educational opportunities, however, still remains. The Foundation is currently reviewing the program, and intends to continue its efforts in supporting human resource development at the municipal level.