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Government and Economy

Administration and Politics Born from Everyday Citizens:
Theory and Practice

Masayasu Kitagawa
Professor, School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University
Director, Manifesto Research Institute, Waseda University

The status of lifelong learning

While I was in office as the Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Education some twenty-three years ago, I visited the University of California at Berkeley. It was explained to me at the time that less than half of the student body had come directly from high school and were studying full-time; the majority were part-time students, many of them working people taking a single course or going back to school. I was amazed that the university was set up so that anyone could learn anything—at any time, at any place, and at any age. In those days, the Ministry of Education in Japan was just setting up its Lifelong Learning Policy Bureau and beginning to include adult learners in its national education policies. Ideas about growth-oriented education and self-motivated learning were just beginning to take hold.

Shifting to a results orientation for more transparent government

Twenty years ago, when I took office as the governor of Mie Prefecture, I quickly discovered that the local bureaucrats were misappropriating public funds for expenses for entertaining national bureaucrats and other frivolous endeavors. I called a directors’ meeting and announced that these backdoor spending misappropriations would now cease. One of the popular directors, whom I knew to be a man of integrity and insight, spoke out against me. The role of government, he explained, was to steadily deliver results in line with current social realities. If Mie Prefecture were to stop entertaining central bureaucrats with public funds, it would lose ground to the other prefectures. He asked that I reconsider my decision in light of current conditions.

Forecasting is the process of predicting a future situation based on existing realities. What the director proposed was in line with the present situation. Times were changing, however, and an increasingly decentralized Japan meant that what were once hierarchical relationships between local governments and the state were now shifting to those of mutual cooperation. Accordingly, there were calls for management practices based on backcasting, which is presupposing the creation of new value in the future; in this case, independent decision-making and personal responsibility, as well as more transparent administrative activity predicating information disclosure. The dispute at the directors’ meeting was inevitable given the crossroads at which we had arrived. The inescapable battle was between making decisions based on the present, and making decisions based on new values.

Shifting the focus from government officials to everyday people

The director’s council deliberated for three months. Confusion and disorder reigned as external pressures, inside whistleblowers, false rumors, and other power struggles added fuel to the fire. In the end though, we managed to completely abolish the inappropriate spending on three principles: restitution, disposal, and implementing reforms. Had it been ten years earlier, my proposal would have been crushed outright; ten years later, and criminal charges might have been involved. In the field of practice, what is proper in theory may result in having no effect, or even in harm to the situation.

The shift from seeing national bureaucrat entertainment expenses as an unavoidable and necessary evil to doing what we knew was right and resolving the issue was a result of resolutely taking up the challenge to work backwards from a positive future outcome—and it couldn’t have come about without a fight. I also think this shift was made possible by the fact that with the progress of the disclosure of information, the theoretical progress had reached such a point that the perspective oriented to bureaucrats was inevitably shifted to that from ordinary citizens. Japan as a whole may have still seen this wasteful spending as a necessary evil, but in a sense, Mie Prefecture threw a wrench in the gears that ended up shutting down the whole machine—eventually triggering the social reforms nationwide that would make these wasteful junkets a thing of the past.

No matter what the organization, it is always extremely difficult to go against a group culture that the members themselves have created. As science and technology progress, however, we will no longer be able to keep pace with the changing times by sticking to everyday solutions that maintain preexisting harmonies. Drastic reforms will become necessary some day—and without solid theory behind them, they will have little chance of success. Practice without theory has a high probability of turning violent; theory alone cannot lead to revolution, as theory without action is hollow. Use a process of trial and error—keep doing things and creating chemical reactions as you witness the infinite changes that result. You may find that you need a new theory, but success is always born from a cycle that links theory and practice together.

The most open university in the world

Twelve years ago, just after the press conference that accompanied my stepping down as governor of Mie Prefecture, I was approached by Waseda University. With the change of the higher education system, the university was in the process of establishing its Okuma School for Public Management as a professional graduate school, since reforms had now made it possible to establish research-oriented and professional graduate institutions. Waseda’s goal was to create a place where students could get access to knowledge that they could immediately put to use in today’s rapidly globalizing world, with its increasingly sophisticated science and technology. The university also wanted to create a diverse learning environment that welcomed existing professionals with a desire to learn as well as older students who needed to relearn old information that had become obsolete. They wanted me to join them, they said, because I was just out of office and could offer students fresh insights on the state of politics from the inside. For someone who had repeatedly stressed that public institutions needed to change from control-style operations to management-style operations, the idea of going to a public business school was certainly attractive—and I was instantly reminded of Berkeley. I was also inspired by the passion of Hiromitsu Kataoka, the dean at the time, and took the teaching position in the hopes of communicating to students exactly the experiences I have described here.

In the twelve years since that day, the public business school that was once a rising professional graduate school has endured many twists and turns in the road, but has made it through the early years and into its next stage of development thanks to the dedicated efforts of everyone involved. Times have changed again since the days when it was founded, buzzwords like the Internet of Things (IoT) making it into common parlance and the importance of higher education only increasing as human beings continue to explore these and other uncharted territories, including the integration of information technologies. As I now leave my position at the school, all I can do is pray that Waseda University continues to develop into the world’s most open university, one where anybody can study anything at any time and at any age—one that meets the expectations of people from all walks of life, from Japan and abroad, of part-time students and full-time students alike. In doing so, I hope that every department and school takes the best features of research-oriented graduate schools and professional graduate schools and runs with them, creating a synergy that generates an ongoing positive cycle of both theory and practice. The title of this piece, “Administration and Politics Born from Everyday Citizens: Theory and Practice” was the title of my final lecture.

Masayasu Kitagawa official website: http://www.office-kitagawa.jp/
Manifesto Research Institute:http://www.maniken.jp/

Masayasu Kitagawa
Professor, School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University Director, Manifesto Research Institute, Waseda University

[Profile]
December 1983: Elected to House of Representatives (4 consecutive terms)
April 1995: Elected Governor of Mie Prefecture (2 consecutive terms)
April 2003: Appointed professor at the Okuma School of Public Management, Waseda University
July 2003: Named representative for the National Council for Building A New Japan (21st Century Ad Hoc Commission on Administrative Reform ) March 2008: Established “National Association to ‘Scrub’ Japan Coming from the Regional Level by Ordinary Citizens” and appointed as the representative.
December 2009: Member of the Local Sovereignty Strategy Council (dissolved March 2013)
2011: Appointed advisor to the Soma City Recovery Council
2013: Named Chief Advisor to the Nagano Prefecture Policy Institute, advisor to the Niigata State Vision Discussion and Promotion Council

[Major publications]
Political Reform from the Ordinary Citizen’s Point of View [Seikatsusha Kiten no “Gyosei Kakumei”] (Gyosei)
Manifesto Revolution: To Build Autonomous Local Government [Manifest Kakumei: Jiritsu shita Chiho Seifu o Tsukuru tameni] (Gyosei)
Manifesto Evolution Theory [Manifesuto Shinkaron] (Seisansei Shuppan)