I wrote on the topic of political patience yesterday, noting that it was one of the most important ingredients needed when trying to do change through pdia. I described it as "the political ability to set a course and stick to the direction no matter what comes in the way". I argued that, "This kind of patience is what separates politics that builds from politics that simply jumps around looking charismatic."
I had a couple of comments offline that suggested many politicians could not afford such patience, because they inherit so much disarray and face so many time-sensitive challenges. I can't deny there is some truth to it. Most countries have a never ending list of existing time sensitive challenges and politicians face daily additions to such list as well.
The question, I think, is how they deal with the list and its additions. I have seen some politicians manage the situation really well, organizing some of their people to respond to the daily additions (a fire brigade to manage fires) while protecting other groups who have a mandate to 'get it right' on a few other big promises that they are patiently committed to delivering. I have seen these politicians succeed at managing the urgent and the important. Putting out fires whilst also constructing new buildings.
I have seen other politicians taking power and failing on both accounts. Often it is because they mistake the urgent for the important and/or lack the patience to build. There is a broader conversation about the political skills these politicians may lack in ensuring support for the kind of strategy discussed above. I don't think missing political skills are always the leading reason for the lack of political patience, however. Actually, I think the lack of patience reflects a miscalculation of why governments do not work... which is fed by modern rhetoric about public management reform.
Hear me out.
I often find new political leadership speaking about introducing reforms that will generate something like the Malaysian 'Big Fast Results.' This seems to assume that they have small, slow results and the management challenge is one of scale and speed. But what if the management challenge is more severe, and the government is not producing anything at all--or the government produces things that are of poor quality (regulations that are not enforced, roads that do not last, police services that are corrupt, schools that produce poor teacher quality, clinics that fail to dispense proper health care, etc.)?
I think this is the challenge in most developing countries, and locates such countries in the bottom left corner of the figure below--where we don't get it right and we don't do it fast (maybe we don't do it at all). Many politicians jump on the 'performance management' and 'big fast results' bandwagon in such situations and demand that their governments move to the top right corner--where 'we get it right and we do it fast'. A great goal.
It is a huge challenge to move from the bottom left corner to the top right corner, however. From a management perspective, one needs to find solutions to two complex problems--'how do we do it right?' and 'how do we do it fast?' This challenge is further compounded by the fact that we can assess speed of delivery better than quality. So I often see governments pushed to do stuff quickly instead of properly, such that the emphasis on being fast overwhelms any focus on doing it right (or learning how to do it right).
In these situations I expect to find governments either staying stuck in the bottom left corner (they get nothing done) or moving to the bottom right corner (see below)--'we don't get it right but we do it fast'. This is the quadrant where governments pass laws that look good (quickly) but cannot be implemented. It is where governments build badly constructed schools (quickly) without ensuring they can teach the kids in the schools. Essentially, it is where governments appear to be doing things but where they are actually not building. These governments continue to do things badly, but they just do more of them and more quickly. Sigh.
This is the product of political impatience, as I see it.
Political patience, on the other hand, supports a management and reform process that builds quality before it forces speed and scale (as in the figure below). This is essentially what PDIA aims to do--gradually address the problems with organizational failure, working at a rational (but fast-as-possible) pace to establish the wherewithal for an organization to function successfully. Political patience helps to support and protect this kind of process. This patience is usually built on clear and prioritized views of 'what is important' (where the list is not very long) and is maintained through adherence to a structured process of 'building' with constant feedback and learning. It is not clean or easy but it is structured.
My team and I are learning about creating this kind of process this right now....structuring interactions to 'buy the time' needed to do the job right--and then fast. We are often learning the hard way, however, and butting heads more than we'd like to--doing pdia on pdia, I guess. I'd love to hear any stories others have of doing this kind of work--so if there are positive deviants out there that we could learn from, please holler!!!!!