08 August 2006

Impediments to town and gown partnerships

AN INTERESTING event took place yesterday as our group met a UNDP Bangkok-based researcher who is in Manila to look at the capability building efforts behind best practices of Philippine local government units (LGUs). In that meeting, Prof. Derly Fernandez of the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in Zamboanga wondered why LGUs (the "towns") opt to send their staff elsewhere for training, when local academic institutions (the "gowns") can very well deliver the same.

Several key points emerged in the discussion that involved academics and the LGUs (Naga, Pasay City; Maitum, Sarangani; and Zamboanga City) represented:

1. Training activities for LGUs are largely donor-driven, and hence are subject to decisions made by gatekeepers at the national capital—another dimension of the "Imperial Manila" syndrome at play.

2. While capability building activities are usually lowest in the totem pole of LGU priorities funded through annual budgets, their most popular activity along this line—the "Lakbay Aral" study tours—usually end up in Baguio, Subic and Pasay City (usually the last stop, where homebound participants would exit Manila through its airport) as greater emphasis is placed on the tour and not the study part.

3. On the part of LGUs, the hesitation to engage locals can also be grounded on their perception, rightly or wrongly, that they are more competent on the subject than local academics can ever be. This persistent tension between theoreticians and practitioners is really one huge gulf that separates the town from the gown.

4. The other gap behind the trepidation among LGUs to engage local academics lies in their negative attitude towards "bad news" when the latter speak truth to power. A case in point would be Zamboanga City's rejection of the poverty mapping outputs of WMSU's Institute of Development Studies and Administration under Dr. Fernandez, which local politicians perceive to put them in a bad light.

The reason why I was here is to represent Naga's School Board project in the UNDP-funded Fostering Democratic Governance (FDG) initiative of the Galing Pook Foundation and its LGU best practices and the Association of Schools of Public Administration in the Philippines, Inc. (ASPAP). By tapping local schools belonging to the ASPAP network to write case studies on local best practices, the project is a concrete step towards bringing local towns and gowns together.

But bringing this forward meaningfully requires more than relying on an externally funded initiative like the FDG; it should eventually be matched by the allocation of local resources for capability building. In doing so, the points outlined above need to be consciously addressed.

6 comments:

Dominique said...

Hi, Willy. More interesting points you make here. I hope I can use them for an upcoming column in the Metro Post (yes, it's back -- never really went away)

Urbano dela Cruz said...

willy, re: the "we are the experts" problem:

I've seen gowns get around that by focusing on theory and theories of change - and asking the towns to input the on-the-ground reality checks.

also the gowns have to allow the town to have input on the physical aspects of the gowns development (i.e. -entrances, new buildings, etc.)

Even so, just getting a dialogue going between towns and gowns is worth all the effort.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Dom, my sense is, the Silliman people I met (from the College of Arts and Sciences led by Jun Magtolis) are well-meaning. The case studies they will prepare will even cover that of Cebu's anti-violence against women effort led by Tess Fernandez. Maybe bringing them together to a dialogue, maybe to explore areas of partnerships--as pointed out by Urbano--is worth looking into.

By the way, here's to a Metro Post that will grow stronger with every passing week.

Urbano, I agree with your point. By the way, I just met this afternoon a fellow IFP scholar who's involved in a proposed BRT project in Mandaue. We exchanged contact infos, which hopefully will translate into something concrete. How's that for serindipity?:)

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Willy,

found another great resource for town-gown relationships (US centric -but some good ideas): http://www.huduser.org/publications/commdevl/partner.html

free pdf download.

urbano

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Thanks, Benj:) Sorry I did not reply earlier. Am waistdeep in the sectoral planning workshops I'm handling. But they are winding down.

By the way, how do you handle the tendency for participants to think short term? Of the 11 or so I managed, only around 2 were forward looking.

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