Eliyahu M. Goldratt, a physicist turned business management guru proposed the ‘Theory of Constraints’ which states that a chain can’t be stronger than the strength of its weakest link. I always feel amazed by the simplicity and yet the extent of applicability of the concept of ‘Theory of Constraints’.
It has been six months since I joined Swaniti and since then I have luckily been to different states of the country like Assam, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. In the process, I got a chance to work with as well as observe the governance system in the country. The governance system includes machinery from central government to local administration. Now, the question that I ask myself is “which is the weakest link in the Indian governance system?”. The answer that comes out is the local governance system.
What if we apply the theory of constraints on the Indian governance system? The quality of Indian governance can’t be better than the quality of governance provided by its weakest link i.e. the local administration. Do we even realize that? In the past we created and deleted several schemes but we always ignored Goldratt i.e. we never did enough to strengthen the local administration. Lets look at MGNREGA, a scheme with well thought out objectives and guidelines. But what about the achievements of the scheme? Where we should have created public assets like sustainable irrigation projects, we ended up creating pits and wells. We had an opportunity to change the life of Indian villages but we lost that opportunity. It happened because we couldn’t build capacities into our Panchayats and it was successful in places where Panchayats had the capacity. Now, the new government might change guidelines for the scheme but implementation of the scheme can’t be better than the implementation capacity of the weakest link i.e. panchayat bodies.
Historically, our approach has been to change the guidelines and sometimes even scrap the scheme. But we certainly not have been successful and reason I believe we have not been putting our priority in the correct place. The solution that Goldratt proposes for resolving a bottleneck issue is by identifying the weakest link and then improving it so that it is no longer the weakest link. Once the current weakest link is improved, there will be a new ‘weakest link’ in the process. The process of improvement in any sector including governance is infinite. At some point, the design of a scheme might be the bottleneck but in most cases the bottleneck is the lack of capacity in local bodies.
The theory has a strong lesson for us in almost every aspect of governance and maybe true even in the larger context of India. I believe India can’t be stronger than its weakest link and the weakest link may be a state, a particular region, a particular community or even a citizen depending on the context. Don’t ignore Goldratt so much that the weakest link the strongest and actually breaks the chain.