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Social planning and all that

by Dr Jamal Khan

SOCIAL planning, as part of development planning and as complementary to economic planning, is growing in recognition and practice. Social planning is concerned with induced social changes and the modernisation of social institutions as well as with the allocation of the resources necessary for social development. In recent decades, an extensive research output has accumulated concerning social planning and the incorporation of the ‘social’ into development efforts. The nature of social planning is far-reaching. First, the macro objectives of development planning comprise programmes to promote human welfare, to maintain income distribution, generate optimum employment, achieve high levels of living, and so on. With respect to such a plan and a set of objectives, social planning is concerned with the identification and implementation of strategies to ensure that increased output generates facilitates the achievement of broad social objectives. It is also attentive to prioritising macro social objectives and ferreting out any possible incompatibility in the stated objectives. Second, social planning refers to tactical and short-term sociological intervention in development planning which helps to foresee and deal with social/cultural constraints on plan implementation. In this regard, it is geared toward understanding the social/cultural context of developing societies, and it addresses itself to troubleshooting function for facilitating the implementation process.
Third, social planning is related to human resource development. Apart from underscoring general amelioration of social conditions, social plans work on upgrading and diversifying the educational system in order that the trained and skilled human resources needed to carry through routine operations and development programmes/projects is produced. Fourth, many public sectors today take on a broad array of sectoral activities that are labelled social. These are social in that they are designed to enhance human welfare rather than to diversify, for instance, crop system. The social-cultural activities have been claiming, for some time, relatively high priority from financial and human resources available to the public sector.
Once the desirability of overall development has been accepted, the agreed-upon strategy is that cross-sectoral planning and action schedules are required to work out resource allocation among the social sectors. Of greater importance, such planning has the promise of raising inter-sectoral efficiency while functioning for effecting the twin goals of human welfare and social/cultural change. Under the planning agency are placed social planning units and the social sector plans, programmes and initiatives are often clustered under a single broad category in plan documents.
As regards public management’s role, it can boost social planning in respect of implementation by reaching out effectively the most unheeded stratum of the population: urban poor, urban squatters, rural poor, landless peasants, farm workers, artisans, shop assistants, small-scale traders, seasonal workers, share-croppers, and so on. Their participation in national affairs is sparse because of the nature of their class composition. Driven, in part, by populism and mass orientation, public management may attempt to reach out to the working class and the underclass by initiating urban and rural development-based social projects and initiatives and getting more participation from the socioeconomic groups in the mobilisation process. We note here that public management and social planning are interrelated in respect of providing new institutions. The conception and practice of development undergoes changes and revisions periodically as new evidence and experience challenge and undermine older theoretical assumptions. There was a time when growth, more specifically the promotion of material conditions, was largely confined to the elite and affluent groups. With the independence of over 100 former colonial societies and the diffusion of egalitarianism, the concept and practice of mass welfare has assumed greater significance. Mass welfare in numerous cases has been incorporated into national development plans. The institutionalisation of such type of inclusiveness has widened the expanse of welfare, stretched the existing demands, created new needs and aspirations and included the ordinary citizens/taxpayers as the beneficiaries of welfare and entitlement programmes. Nonetheless, the traditional, but dysfunctional, reward system and unequal exchange still persists and favour the corps d’elite, even though change has been occurring in countries around the world. In this situation, new institutions with expanded management capability need to be brought on board — institutions with the explicit objective of seeking to fulfil new needs, new missions, new objectives, and new demands. With its stockpile of organisational, functional and technical skills, public management can support institution-building.
In terms of social planning, the adaptation of existing institutions is important, too. Institution-building does not always imply dismantling an old institution unless it is grossly wasteful and unproductive. The tradition, experience and institutional memory of old entities are too valuable to throw away. However, there must be concerted effort to reform, renew and redirect old institutions. In an attempt to bring the old institutions more in tune with the new times, these must be brought in line with contemporary trends, practices and directions. But, of course, in poorer developing countries the question of cost-effectiveness, affordability and budgetary balance is always poignantly relevant. While adapting old and existing institutions, public management itself — especially managers and personnel — needs to familiarize with and adapt to new developments, new institutions and changing needs. As far as organisations and managements are concerned, especially in the context of information and communication technologies, continuous learning and improvement is insubstitutible.
Social planning is sensitive to the social consequences of development growth and structural change. In this respect, a multidisciplinary approach of anthropology, sociology, psychology and public management may be found helpful at times. The social aspects of development change — urban stress, urban competitiveness, rural drift, social pathologies, underclass reproduction, income inequalities, structural exclusion, marginalisation, ghettoisation, etc — cannot and need not be overshadowed by the economic and financial accent of development. When the development process is institutionalised, the pace of development gets speeded up, or the management system gets more differentiated, capable and systemic, how do these processes affect the social ambit of the people for whom such development is meant? Some appropriate and important questions, some are: if development in poor dependent countries creates more disparity and imbalance than what already exists, if it contributes to increased class stratification and tension; if it leads to the emergence of a new super-class; if it bridges or widens the gap between the leaders and the members; if structural and functional changes occur in the family system with development initiatives; if it affects small rural communities; if it gives in to a new class of suburbanites; if it erodes old traditional values; if it affects religious beliefs; whether or not urbanization succeeds development; if development demands varying working conditions and work habits and, if so, whether it affects people’s occupation; is industrialization a concomitant of development and, if so, whether industrialization causes anomie, ennui, urban decay, rural neglect, high crime rate, outsiderism and deviant subculture; and if development encourages community participation in decision-making. Answers to such questions should inform plan formulation and plan implementation.
In planned development today, the financial and economic aspects of planning are well-known,. The social aspects of induced change, however, have languished for long. Clear achievable objectives and implementation success make social planning more acceptable and credible not only to planners, policymakers and funders but also to citizens/customers. By striking a balance among social planning, economic planning and implementation, public management may counterbalance the bias of development planning displayed by its ‘economism’ and ‘technicism’. By simultaneous and persistent attention to social and economic planning, planners as well as beneficiaries may come to have a more equable view of the change process. One may realise grudgingly that there are social costs of development, and that hardly any growth, development or empowerment can be achieved without having to pay a price and facing a trade-off.
In urban as well as rural communities and in affluent as well as poorer segments, public management mounts and operates social plans, programmes and projects. At the field level, in bustling urban centres and in remote communities, managers/personnel confront such problems for which there are no crisp, neat and magical answers. Intractable problems do arise from time to time in the management of social initiatives. Many published or documented cases, for example, are now available which chronicle how and why seemingly straight initiatives turn into complicated, conflicted, convoluted and intriguing turfs. Far too often, managers/employees and executing-agency personnel lock their horns with target-group beneficiaries — especially powerfully connected people with vested multilayered interests — over initiatives’ objectives, scope, cost, benefits, jurisdictions and other specifics. Good intentions, diligent work and analytical investments can, thus, be dashed by social dynamics bordering on conspiratorial behaviour and planned sabotage. Social planners must continue to work on social dynamics — the weakest area of social sciences – and strengthen and diversify implementation techniques so that social planning gets to be executed, sprucing up its image, credibility and reliability and diffusing its payoffs in the wider beneficiary community. The challenge is up front. Unless social planning is successfully implemented, it will end up gathering dust on shelves and is likely to endanger its future.
Public sector management may put in efforts posed by these obstinate and obstructive situations. Non-routine cases may be referred to the planning agency for direction. This may give planners an opportunity to come to grips with the situations. Effective measures may be taken to avoid or cope with the tangles. Personnel here can take part in the feedback process — treating reactions, data and information from the field offices to the head office. For instance, in decentralized healthcare programmes, the field personnel — physicians, nurses, teachers, paramedics, pharmacists, social workers, etc — dispatch reports on the progress and problems of the routine operations in the urban and rural communities to the ministries where general policies and high-level decisions are made. If reports contain information not in keeping with the given policies and decisions, such policies may be reversed or reframed to reflect the new inputs. There are instances of policy reversals based on report feedback in more differentiated and capable public sector organizations in larger developing societies. Reporting can provide referral and storage of information and data which may make adaptive or even fresh or critical decision-making possible in future to avoid past and costly mistakes or lapses in both physical and social terms.
It is time for us to take a look at several social sectors which have been consolidated into long-term development plans of numerous modernizing countries. To start with, education — embracing knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and behaviour patterns, accenting skill development, pushing professional advancement, highlighting the concepts of human rights and human resource development, providing the right numbers of people with the right skills, aptitudes and motivations, exposing citizens/customers to a learning and adapting process and optimising civil potential and outlook — helps increase output in the production and service sectors, improving the quality of social/community services, modernising and expanding the educational output delivery, and instilling in every citizen the useful realisation that he is a member of a social group to which he has obligations and from which he can demand certain rights and privileges. Educational planning is relatively advanced, enjoys a wide institutional base, and receives one of the highest allocations in the annual budget. Second, a major objective of planning and programming the health sector and of initiating new programmes/projects is to assist in the activities of national development goals by combining health, food consumption and nutrition and, thus, ensuring a healthy and productive population. From a planning perspective, it is more effective in terms of measurable output than is planning in any other social sector. Better healthcare for all does not raise any contention and faces less social/cultural constraints. Third, housing includes not only adequate accommodation but also the broader needs of community activity, recreation, workplace proximity and pleasant ambience. Many public authorities recognise that it is part of their overall mandate to ensure that the people enjoy satisfactory housing conditions. Planning techniques are available, resulting in housing plans, bur their implementation record is unimpressive. Plans — based on computation of deficits and targets for construction of new units — have seldom managed to mobilize resources for construction on the level envisaged for more than 24 months at a time, caused galloping costs and done little to meet urban and rural housing. Four, slum clearance, urban beautification and urban renewal are in operation in almost all low-income countries, but their planning has been in isolation, their execution has gone amiss, and has failed to control urban congestion, degradation and sprawl. In shortage are effective urban development policies, such as the spatial distribution of population, its growth rate, sources of livelihood, income distribution, the distribution of participation in national and local decision-making, and ecological criteria. Five, social security provision is becoming more and more common now, which is provided via social security, national insurance/health insurance, life/non-life insurance, pension/gratuity benefits, unemployment benefits, severance payments, old-age benefits, disability benefits, and so on.
Six, concerned with human resources and social assistance, social welfare extends to a wide range of programmes and activities designed to meet certain needs of the more dependent, disadvantaged, needy and vulnerable stratum of the population and to help them overcome in order to form more satisfying relationships within the social order. It is an attribute of social welfare that it aims directly at the individual and his consumer interests, rather than at the society and producer interests. Feeding the hungry, finding homes for dependent children and the elderly, placing babies/children in foster homes, offering home-help services, counselling delinquent children and teenagers, providing social insurance, providing recreational facilities, etc. are categorised as social welfare. It aims largely to be a remedial/corrective service for individuals and groups in acute personal crises that are attributed to early-life behavioural disorder, deviance tendency, overpowering social change and changing social values. Seven, social defence aiming to organise the social realities against rising crime, delinquency, recidivism, extortion and drug trafficking and addiction covers a range of measures relevant to the prevention of crime and treatment of offenders. It is designed to protect a person against intentional violence, cruelty and bestiality, unintended harm and exploitation by others, preventing unnatural acts, discouraging disorderly behaviour, and the like. Of the penal methods mentionable are retribution, restitution, compensation to crime victims, deterrence, prevention of crime, expression of revulsion of the community against crime, and offender reform/rehabilitation.
Eight, overpopulation, high population growth rate, population distribution, high density and rural-urban drift are a cause for concern for social planning. Runaway population growth rate being a major preoccupation, its persistence dislodges growth/development goals, makes the balance between population and resources uneven and threatens a country’s carrying capacity. Without effective population planning, there can seldom be social planning of any lasting significance. The adverse effects of high population growth rate on per capita income, household income, capital accumulation, saving, employment, income distribution and maternal-child health force population planning. While population planning includes population size — fertility, mortality and migration — population distribution, population quality and family planning, population planning addresses family size limitation, spacing of children as an aid to maternal-child health, reduction of incidence of induced abortions and sterility alleviation. Finally, community development, involving youth affairs, women’s affairs, sports development, etc, brings about greater and more diverse development effort and continuity by creating conditions whereby underutilised human resources of local communities may be improved, utilised and planned, including intensifying employment, accelerating job mobility, encouraging entrepreneurship and popularising equal opportunity and affirmative action. The accent is on community development as a part of social planning in terms of local community investment in social overhead, social capital, social consulting, awareness-building, rural infrastructure, individual/group initiative, empowerment and innovation.
To many — rightwing ideologues, traditional policy-makers, unctuous public personnel and unethical or mean-spirited customers — social sectors and social planning and ‘noneconomic’ ‘unproductive’ and ‘cost-incurring’. They could not be more wrong-headed, short-sighted, narrow-minded and warped. What they seem to miss is that social spending and social planning have impactful relationships with the performance of the productive system and with the rationale of increased output generation, productivity and improved income distribution. To evaluate the importance of social sectors to productive growth, it is essential that the long-run and indirect benefits be considered as well as the short-run and direct benefits. Direct costs are visible — varied outlays, market operations, factor inputs, capital inputs, human inputs, operating costs, etc. Often, however, such direct costs decrease and save costs in an indirect, but important, way, such as reducing absence and turnover due to illness or injury, greater equity and balance, improved life quality and life satisfaction, more alert, focused, quality and productive population, more organized spatial resources and social space, a saner and more compassionate community, and a diverse and opportunity-based society. Social planning points to a direction for a far-reaching assortment of activities, many of which involve managerial relationships with the modernisation of the socioeconomic system. For instance, developing countries, including Bangladesh, have nowadays fairly progressive labour legislation relating to minimum acceptable working conditions, workplace conditions, minimum compensation, workforce welfare, employee assistance, safety and security, collective bargaining, employee education and training, and so on. In pursuing social policies and taking up social planning, the intention is often to indicate the direction developing countries wish to take rather than to unvaryingly allocate scarce resources to immediate use by social sectoral initiatives. In one sense and at one level, ‘social ‘ planning and ‘economic’ planning become less relevant, the labels begin to disappear and lose meaning, the idea of productivity and synergy become more focal, and what is economic turns into social and what is social spins into economic.
Dr Jamal Khan was professor of public sector management at the University of the West Indies. jamalabedakhan@hotmail.com




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