Aligning top‐down and bottom‐up in development planning: The case of Bhutan

AuthorMark Turner,Dawa Wangchuk
Published date01 May 2019
Date01 May 2019
Aligning topdown and bottomup in development planning:
The case of Bhutan
Dawa Wangchuk
|Mark Turner
University of Canberra, Australia
UNSW Canberra, Australia
M. Turner, School of Business, UNSW
Canberra, Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia.
Effective planning makes a vital contribution to developmental success. It is gener-
ally perceived as being either centralized (topdown) or decentralized (bottomup).
Centralized planning dominated the early development decades, but disappointing
results greatly lessened its appeal and paved the way for participatory and
decentralized planning. Both types of planning are evident today, but the question
has arisen as to whether topdown and bottomup planning can be successfully
combined into one effective, efficient, and popular system. This question is
examined through the case of Bhutan where central planning was introduced at
the outset of the country's push for modernization and today leads the way in
the country's pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH). However, central
planning has been complemented with decentralized participatory planning at the
subnational levels. Success in aligning the two planning modes has been achieved
by incremental development of the planning system, orientation to the unifying
national vision of GNH, a powerful central planning agency, actors at all levels
who are able and knowledgeable in their planning roles, and processes that are well
organized and proven to work to the satisfaction of all participants.
Bhutan, central planning, decentralizedplanning, development planning, participatory planning
There was great confidence in the early development decades that
national development planning would enable Third World countries
to generate rapid economic growth and usher in massive improve-
ments to citizen welfare. It was the leading tool in the bag of tools
associated with modernization theory and development administra-
tion. A national plan was regarded as a symbol of sovereignty and
modernity(Waterston, 1965, p. 28). But initial optimism about the
application of the rational techniques of planning turned into
disillusion as the expected benefits did not accrue to the economies
and societies of developing countries. National planning became the
villain of the piece and was widely described as a failure, a quixotic
enterprise that was doomed never to grasp the complexities and
changes in the environment, let alone the politics of decision making
(Agarwala, 1983; Caiden & Wildavsky, 1990; Scott, 1998).
Practitioners and theorists looked for alternative approaches to
development management and planning. They found it in decentraliza-
tion and popular participation. Diverse actors from across the ideolog-
ical spectrum saw decentralized planning as a way of avoiding the
deadweight of central bureaucracy. Some believed decentralized plan-
ning would enable citizens to influence or make decisions on matters
that directly affected their welfare, whereas others welcomed it as it
promised to give markets freer rein (Turner, Hulme, & McCourt,
2015). A variety of methods were created and diffused across the
developing world to bring planning to the grass roots (Chambers,
1993, 1994; International Institute for Environment and Development,
2013; Rondinelli, 1993; Wampler, 2007).
Received: 11 October 2018 Revised: 31 January 2019 Accepted: 11 February 2019
DOI: 10.1002/pad.1848
Public Admin Dev. 2019;39:5968. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons, 59

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