Education reforms, bureaucracy and the puzzles of implementation: A case study from Bihar

International Growth Centre
10 November 2015

It is a widely accepted truth that the Indian state suffers from a serious crisis of implementation capability. Despite widespread recognition of this crisis, there is remarkably little analytical work on how the Indian state works, particularly at the level of implementation. We know very little about the everyday practices of local bureaucrats, the decision-making systems within which they function and the organizational culture and norms that this fosters. Such an understanding is critical both to unpacking the roots of this implementation failure as well as to understanding how reform efforts are institutionalized, interpreted and implemented on the ground. Crucially, it can offer insights into understanding why the implementation crisis persists and under what conditions this can be reversed. Our research is an attempt to fill this gap in the literature by analyzing an attempt by the Government of Bihar (GoB) to adopt an alternative pedagogy tool in government schools to improve the quality of learning as part of a larger reform effort called the ‘Mission Gunvatta,’ initiated in the 2013-14 academic year. The pedagogical strategy was based on homegrown experiments that challenged mainstream assumptions about classroom organization and teaching based on set curricula. Critically, it was designed to strengthen local administrative capacity to support schools from the bottom up. Through detailed qualitative interviews and time-use studies of Bihar’s education administrators, this study points to the critical role played by organizational culture and resultant perceptions and practices of frontline administrators in interpreting, articulating and implementing reform choices on the ground. In our analysis, the successes and failures of service delivery reforms are as much about appropriate policy design choices, fostering innovation and leadership as it is about the interplay between reform objectives and the every-day practices of those tasked with implementing reforms. This, we argue, is the key missing link in contemporary understanding of public institutions and service delivery reforms in particular.