Research on preceding attempts to establish Environmental Management System (EMS) Case Study: EMIS – Sri Jayawardhenapura Kotte Municipal Council, Sri Lanka

In order to understand the challenges encountered in the past efforts in establishing Environmental Management Systems in Sri Lanka, and review the best practices of EMIS, the case of Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte Municipal Council is being studied.

In Sri Lanka, the Local Authorities (LA), which are at the bottom-most tier of governance and state sector service delivery, presently manage their activities with conventional book keeping methods. This method has several limitations and causes many inconveniences to both the officials and the public. Against this background, the need for a Management Information System (MIS), which will facilitate convenient access, updated database and interactive exchange of information related to the service delivery of local authorities, has been in discussion among many for a long time. Responding to the emerging need, the very first initiative for Environmental Management Information Systems (EMIS) in Local Authorities in Sri Lanka was noted under the Sustainable Cities Programme (SCP) and the most improved one done by them is the EMIS developed in Sri Jayawardanepura Kotte (SJPK) Municipal Council (MC).

The EMIS project of SJPK MC had to deal with the challenges of training a group of fresher staff with no ICT skills, finding methods to convert hard data into soft data, initiating methods of cross checking the accuracy of collected information, etc. Although the initiative was highly regarded and the project was well supported in many fronts at the beginning, as a result of the problems emerged within the LG setup and the hindrances of other forces in operation, the EMIS is currently in an inactive state. The absence of the essentials of implementing an EMIS such as internalizing it to the institution, continuous deployment of technically qualified personnel, well established links to stakeholders and mapping groups and the mechanism to sustain the system was observed as the main reason for this situation.

Based on the experiences gained from SJPK MC EMIS, the broad objective of this study is to discuss the lessons learnt which will be useful to develop more comprehensive, robust and sustainable EMIS for LAs in Sri Lanka. The specific objective is to support the EMIS development work presently initiated under the ADB supported South Asia Knowledge Hub Project in two LAs, namely Kandy and Moratuwa Municipal Councils. Both lessons learnt from similar projects and new ideas will be employed for the development of these EMISs.

Lessons Learnt, Best Practices

The review of the case of the EMIS of SJPKMC enables to carve out four key lessons, which could be considered in the development of similar systems in future.

  • The SPJK MC has many enthusiastic parties involved in the process, but there was no ‘Champion’ who was determined to drive the project towards success, by winning the attention within the institution as well as within the broader institutional setting of the country. The development of novel ideas and products has to accompany a Champion figure to take them towards greater heights and to obtain due recognition.

  • A system works well through ‘organizational learning’ that facilitates the evolution of a system ceasing the individuals’ capabilities (Love, et al, 2000). Organizational learning is possible only with equal engagement of capable personnel at all levels of the organization. The equal capabilities in EMIS handling were not seen in the selected officers of the top and bottom levels of the SJPK MC. The officers at the medium level were the drivers of the project and their leaving of the organization office paralyzed the system. Neither the officers at the top level nor the ones in the lower level were capable of undertaking the tasks performed by the mid-level officers.

  • Systems are prolonged through embodying them into the culture and the routine of the relevant institutions. They work through recursively organized sets of rules and resources, saved in instantiations and coordination as memory traces, marked by the absence of the subject (Giddens, 1984). For an operating system integrated into the culture and the routine of an institution there should be an institution-wide policy related to that system. In case of SJPK MC, there was no policy to institutionalize the EMIS, while there is no national policy to mainstreaming EMIS within the LG institutional setup. Hence, the initiators will have to think of alternative mechanisms to institutionalize the systems as part of the design of the system.

  • Allocation of funds and other resources for continuous motivation and training of staff is an essential requirement for the sustainability of any operating system. In SJPK MC case, continuation of the EMIS was hindered by the lack of continuous promotion to use the system and to provide required training to the staff. Since most of the staff engage in service delivery and information management activities of the LAs are not equipped with ICT education it is necessary either to recruit personals with ICT skills or to provide compulsory training for the recruited staff for the implementation of an EMIS. The resignation of the first set of officers involved in the EMIS of the SJPK MC held it in a standstill.