Diana Jue-Rajasingh

A Little Case Study: Access to the National Archives

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on December 17, 2012

Mid-way through my last research meeting with my adviser at the Raintree Cafe, we were joined by my friend and fellow Fulbrighter. After listening to us discuss public administration for some time, she lamented about the research obstacles that she’s currently facing. Basically, she wants a pass to the National Archives, but the Director won’t grant it to her. Instead, he makes her return repeatedly to the archives and requests a different type of documentation with each visit. His last request was a letter from the US Consulate, which would require a trip to Chennai and $50.

Now why doesn’t the Director just let this US researcher have a pass? It doesn’t require any extra effort on his part. It’s not that he’s comfortable in his position and doesn’t want to lift a finger beyond signing off on papers. I mean, all he would have to do is sign off on papers! Here are some thoughts:

First, although the Director is in a position of authority in name, he doesn’t really have the authority to allow anyone into the archives. Basically, he’s risk-averse. He does not know what his superiors would think, and he doesn’t want to get into trouble for letting her in.

Second, this situation demonstrates that public organizations in India are process-oriented, not outcome-oriented. The extreme documentation and ridiculous, made-up requirements are simultaneously 1) ways to appear legitimate, 2) ways for high-up, central leaders to exercise control at the ground level and 3) safeguards for bureaucrats closer to the ground level, who don’t want to take responsibility for potentially bad decisions. Now, if someone was just like, Hey, let’s let the foreign girl in because she can utilize the National Archives to promote this country (a conclusion of outcome-orientation, which needs to be possessed by organizational leaders at al levels), then we wouldn’t have this problem. Obviously, these “official” processes are failing because of their high inefficiencies and lack of connection with positive or negative outcomes.

Funny enough, despite the ad-hoc “official” process, there is perhaps a more effective, better-trusted, non-standardized, unofficial process for getting access to the archives. My adviser more or less advised my friend’s adviser to call up the Director and vouch for her. This is more effective than any letter, since a human voice/face builds much more confident. Since she hasn’t tried yet, I’m not sure whether or not it will be effective. If it is, though, then the official process is quite the sham and a waste of resources.

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