How do bureaucratic norms — the informal rules of the game that guide how state agencies operate and execute their mandates — impact public service delivery?
These are the questions that Akshay Mangla, Associate Professor in International Business, explores in his recently launched book, Making Bureaucracy Work: Norms, Education and Public Service Delivery in Rural India.
Akshay’s new book unpacks what makes bureaucracy work for the least advantaged citizens. Education is a fundamental building block of society, crucial for early child development as well as human capital formation. Across the world, countries have adopted policies for universal primary education, but policy implementation is uneven and not well understood. The large variation in delivery of education services is thus an instructive prism to explore when and how bureaucracy works. As a scholar of comparative political economy, Akshay develops his arguments about bureaucratic norms through subnational comparisons and extensive field research of state agencies across rural India. He also probes the theory through comparative case studies elsewhere (south India, China, Finland and France), demonstrating the broad relevance of his findings.
At the launch event, Akshay explained the two different types of bureaucratic norms that he identified, legalistic and deliberate, which guide how state agencies operate in very different ways.
- Legalistic bureaucracy is oriented around rule compliance, reinforces hierarchy and protects administrative boundaries between the state and society.
- Deliberative bureaucracy is oriented around problem-solving and participation in decisions across administrative boundaries, enabling flexible interpretation of the rules.
Through his comparative research, Akshay explained that he found that ‘deliberate bureaucracy is much more effective in delivering high quality education services,’ since it can adapt rules to meet local needs. While legalistic bureaucracy is capable of less complex tasks, such as constructing schools, it raises administrative burdens on citizens, weakening the quality of services. Deliberative bureaucracy, he observed, tends to coordinate with citizens and non-state agencies more effectively, enabling more robust and inclusive service delivery.