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This paper examines the application of organisation development principles to rural local self-government bodies in Karnataka, India with the objective of developing their organisational capacity and improving their efficiency. The premise is that strong gram panchayats (village councils) can address issues hindering service delivery and governance at the grass roots.
The paper illustrates the methodology used in the development of an innovative framework called Gram Panchayat Organisation Development (GPOD) and its implementation in action research mode in two village councils since 2011. It further explores the wider applicability of this framework, which has been extended to over 50 gram panchayats (GPs) since 2014. GPOD works towards strengthening the panchayat as an organisation in its entirety, rather than by tackling stand-alone components. It includes building a shared vision in the panchayat, mapping and re-engineering key processes, developing accountability and incentive structures, and supporting the village body in developing and implementing its annual plans. The approach has evolved to its present form based on real-time change management initiatives in GPs in which politically elected members participated in decision-making and implementation. We argue that by following the principles of organisation development and aligning the panchayat’s organisational components, marked improvements in local governance and service delivery were achieved. Impact is captured in terms of systemic outputs such as annual plans, accountability structures and activation of defunct committees, as well as improvements in services such as health, sanitation, drinking water, etc. The paper also includes a critique of the challenges faced as GPOD was scaled up to include new areas.
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