Analytical Framework

This chapter analyses the lessons to be gleaned from the changes occurring in park management across the region. At the centre of this analysis is the question of accountability: first, what parks deliver to whom; and second, how well they deliver.

In other words, are they doing the right thing, and are they doing it right? We begin from first principles, with the starting point that parks are common pool resources set aside for society to provide collective goods and services where market forces have failed. The conventional response to imperfect markets, which is also the underlying philosophical rationale for national park authorities, is that the state is a better judge of what is good for society. At the centre of the paradigm shift occurring in southern Africa is a questioning of the assumption that the centrally planned, command-and-control model is any more perfect than imperfect markets. Thisopens up several questions about how best to provide and monitor the provision of conservation outputs.

That protected areas are common property regimes set aside to provide collective goods and services for society introduces the central question and challenge of constituency accountability. Is the state accountable for using protected areas to provide appropriate value to society? Are systems of national parks providing the collective goods and services that societies want? And are they doing this well?

Conventionally, parks are supposed to conserve biodiversity. In Chapter 5 we have already ascertained that although this is the main claim for the existence of state funding, and they may well contribute to this, the monitoring and management of biodiversity is seldom systematic and is often not even prioritized. We speculate that the reasons for this are both technical complexity and its low social or managerial priority, and we provide preliminary suggestions for how to improve this aspect of park management in Chapter 10. In transitional economies like those of southern Africa, moreover, jobs and economic growth are undoubtedly more important than wilderness values or outdoor recreation in themselves. If parks were accountable to society we would expect a shift in this direction, especially given the positive correlation between the commercialization of wildlife and conservation outcome (Chapter 7). To what extent is this happening? And how does this shift towards locally derived priorities affect the global priority of biodiversity conservation?

We term the second set of issues that we address, value accountability, or the ability of parks to focus on activities that add value. Value accountability is built into businesses. The flow of revenues is related directly to the value a business provides to customers, and revenues flow upwards through the organization. Businesses will not survive if they lose focus on creating value. Less obvious is the importance of the direction of revenue flows. The upward flow of revenues through businesses, and the linkage between people working at the customer face and value added, is the central insight of modern business practice, and the plethora of terms like subsidiarity, self-managed teams, flattened hierarchies and the like. It is also the central insight of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) (see Chapter 4).

Park agencies are budget-funded public institutions, and this is perhaps the most fundamental challenge to accountability. Unlike businesses, park agencies lack the direct linkage between the amount of value they add and incentives. Money is usually dumped centrally on the organization with the optimistic expectancy that, in the absence of bottom-line discipline, it will trickle downwards to the place where it adds most value. A common symptom of central financing and planning is an ever-widening mandate (as we illustrate in Chapter 5), the growing importance of image and publicity, and little accountability for delivery of real results. Public agencies are guided by bureaucratic or political priorities, and in responding to an ever wider set of stakeholders are unable to concentrate on core competency: they must placate everyone.4 Managing this challenge is the central and most difficult challenge of public service agencies (Drucker, 1973).

There are generally two solutions. Accountability is sought by placing the agency directly under political control, usually a minister. However, as noted in the description of the general policy environment provided in the introduction, direct political accountability has been problematic across the region, in terms of setting and controlling mandates and performance and, less benignly, where the lack of accountability provides space for political patronage and even predation. As recent scandals like Enron in the US show, this is not a problem unique to park parastatals. Company boards work best where board members are direct owners, and costs and benefits are internalized. However, company boards that represent a multitude of stakeholders also face the challenges of constituency accountability and the personal interests of executives and board members. We use the regional experience to determine where and how distancing park agencies from political control has advantages.

The second solution to the accountability problem is leadership and goal setting. In the absence of market tests, service institutions have performed best where leaders have given priority to defining the institution's mission and purpose, and to setting and concentrating on a few priorities, in short performance accountability. For service institutions to perform in the absence of the discipline of markets and the bottom line, they need to impose discipline upon themselves by: (1) defining their mission ('what is our business and what should it be'); (2) setting clear objectives and goals; (3) prioritizing outputs with clear targets and standards; (4) defining measurements of performance; (5) instituting feedback and control systems; and (6) formally auditing objectives and results to enable adaptation and especially the sloughing off of redundant functions (see Drucker, 1973). Even in the provision of public services, measured competition yields vastly superior results. Wherever a market test is truly possible, it will result in improved performance and results, but equally clearly the market is not capable of organizing all institutions.

We use our case studies to assess whether political systems want, or are allowing, park agencies to set clear goals. This concerns issues of power, and political and institutional economics. At another level, it concerns the economics of public goods and natural resources and the philosophical challenge of determining exactly what parks and park agencies are for, what they should provide and who best to do so. Finally, we need to draw on business management principles, and how to achieve these goals effectively and efficiently. Before embarking on improving park performance, we need to be clear about objectives. This involves complex and value-laden choices, made especially difficult because, in placating all the stakeholders, choices have tended to be fudged.

For example, one important choice is political and economic: do we aim to provide jobs and economic opportunities, or do we provide wilderness values? How much recreation and education do we provide? And is this a business or a social service? Because of the domination of the protected-area movement by developed countries, the trend has been towards wilderness and social services, but this is less appropriate in transitional economies.

A second decision to be made is how to prioritize among a range of competing stakeholders. The important decision made in southern Africa has been the primacy of the landholder (be this a park agency, private landholder or community) over the stakeholder.

Ecological choices are no easier. For instance a common dilemma is whether to emphasize the maintenance of ecological productivity and processes, or the numbers and diversity of large mammals. An important example is the trade-off between elephants on the one hand, and the loss of trees, avian and other biodiversity on the other.

Even once the importance of goal-based performance management is recognized, the examples given illustrate the challenges and progress of defining goals in a field as complex as park management. The failure to clearly define the goals of park agencies has been exacerbated by the tendency to lump them with the responsibility of providing both public and private goods.5 Although this is a complex issue, there is nevertheless a tendency for park agencies to provide goods that are better left to private mechanisms (eg tourism facilities) rather than true public goods, which are often less tangible. It will be interesting to follow how the increasing autonomy of park agencies coupled with commercialization, which tends to replace administrative allocation and control with performance or market mechanisms, affects the provision of public goods including biodiversity conservation.

In the absence of bottom-line discipline, strong leadership is required to set clear or visionary goals in a public agency. An important aspect of the shift towards parastatals, therefore, is the effect on leadership quality. Also important is the development of management systems, especially given the contention that charismatic leadership can be counter-productive and that the revitalization of park agencies does not generally need better people, but people who know exactly what is expected of them, who do the management job systematically and who focus themselves and their institution purposefully on performance and results (Drucker, 1973).

Park agencies have conventionally been managed as command-and-control structures, with what Hersey and Blanchard (1988) describe as an X-mentality: because people are basically unreliable and lazy, top managers have to work through strong hierarchies to ensure that the agency performs, and discipline and sanctions are key ingredients of management. The opposite theory (theory-Y) is that because people are self-motivated, performance improves if individuals are given authority within a clear set of goals. This is the belief that lies behind the modern management practices of flat business structures and self-managed teams. With top-down funding, park agencies are predisposed towards hierarchy, whereas loosened management systems allow the potential of individual park staff to be unlocked. Thus, the degree to which park agencies have moved along this spectrum has implications for the effectiveness of management.

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