Strategic Suggestions for Survival When Providing Public Administration Training in Under-Developed Settings: The Case of Swaziland[1]

Article excerpt

This article offers strategies for improving one's technical assistance and training effectiveness in underdeveloped managerial setting. The author's suggestions are based on observations gained while providing technical assistance and training to government officials and civil servants in the Kingdom of Swaziland during 1998 and 1999. The examples provided relate to Swaziland. Nevertheless, they are applicable in many other similar settings. These survival strategies will be of great value to individuals seeking coping skills in unfamiliar surroundings. This is particularly true for first-time international consultants.

The advent of Internet accessibility, coupled with "light-year" advancements in telecommunication technology, has created significant opportunities for the sharing of program initiatives and policy innovations across nations. From a management and policy perspective, governments and their officials can now readily access and observe information about how other nations address nagging social and administrative problems. As our world's communication structure shrinks, we will witness a rebirth of interest in comparative public administration. This trend has already commenced.

The destabilization of Soviet bloc countries, along with their restructuring, also has led increasingly to calls for technical support and training assistance. These new societies seek assistance to rebuild democratically tailored systems. World financial development sources (e.g., the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) and Western industrial nation donors also are heavily involved in the provisions of technical assistance and managerial development training to Third World countries. Often these donor sources demand technical assistance as a condition for their funding support. On a daily basis, it is possible to locate requests for developmental assistance and aid from Third World countries. For the most part, academics and seasoned practitioners from the U.S. and European nations have stepped in to meet this need.

This article offers strategies for improving one's training effectiveness in an underdeveloped managerial setting. These suggestions are based on observations gained while providing technical assistance and training to Swaziland in 1998 and 1999. At that time, I served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Swaziland s leading training institute on management and public administration. In this capacity, I provided human resource management and public policy assistance to this country s executive, senior and middle level management civil servants. Much of what was learned from this experience is shared here to aid others in their training effectiveness in unfamiliar, underdeveloped settings.

Strategic Suggestions for Survival

Suggestion One: Expect language barriers to exist, even when the host country's official language is the same as your own language.

In Swaziland government, the official spoken and written language is English. Naturally, the expectation would be that a language barrier would not exist, nor hinder, training effectiveness. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Swaziland, the official (i.e., business) language differs from the spoken native language. The observation is significant. While English is the country s official language, it is not the society s dominant language. Thus, in family and community settings siSwati is widely spoken, even by public officials, and is almost exclusively spoken in larger public settings. What becomes obvious almost immediately in this environment, is the fact that many public officials are uncomfortable with English; it is not their first language.

In training seminars, many participants, at best, had only a limited working knowledge of English, thereby limiting the cognitive benefit of the subject at hand. Cognitive comprehension was further complicated by the fact that my English was a foreign form to Swazi trainees. …