I was listening to NPR on the way in to work today and they were talking about how justice in Afghanistan is still largely handled through tribal councils rather than the shiny new judicial system that we've put in place over there. That got me thinking about how difficult it is to erect an imaginary structure. A judicial system is an imaginary structure that people agree to respect. If the system is overly flawed, ineffective or even if people are just not comfortable with it, its chances of survival are low.
The judicial system in Afghanistan probably closely resembles ours back when the country first started out. We've had a couple hundred years to tweak our system and adapt it to our needs. The problem in the case of Afghanistan is that a parallel structure exists which people are more comfortable with, and so people continue to prefer the tribal councils over the one we've put in places. If the judicial system we put in place is to survive, it will most likely need to integrate the tribal councils in to its functioning in some way. If people are willing to use it then it can improve to meet the specific needs of the Afghan population. We should not be surprised if their judicial system ends up looking nothing like ours.
Countries are not the only places that have imaginary structures, though. I've worked for a lot of different companies over the years, and they all have their own way of doing things. The internal processes and procedures of a large company also comprise an imaginary structure. A structure which is nearly impossible to change. Most people don't look at the structure as a whole and instead prefer to keep their heads down to stay focused on their own job. I think that companies that encourage this behavior miss out on a lot of productivity that could be obtained from people actually working together. They often call this understanding the big picture.
Unfortunately the big picture is remarkably complex. What we need is a way to break this picture down in to understandable chucks which we can look at individually. Those chunks could be then used to build the big picture. Or perhaps just "a" big picture, after all a company is also just a bite-sized chunk of the big picture that is our society. In that context, perhaps we could apply some of the concepts of object-oriented programming and design patterns to corporate (or international) process. After all, each team has some inputs and some outputs. What happens inside the team is not really important as long as the outputs happen in an expected time after the inputs.
If the inputs and outputs of each team in the company are documented and understood by all the team members and all the people that team interacts with, things become much more orderly. Ask any person what their job is and what is expected from them and they will actually be able to tell you. It is then up to the lead of that team to insure that the team is adequately staffed to do all the work assigned to the team.
Could this process be applied to the Afghan justice system as well as to a business process? Certainly one of the problems facing the new judicial system which we've put in place is that many Afghans do not know anything about it. Like our business process, the Afghan courts have inputs and outputs. The ultimate goal of both is produce something of value for the people involved. Broken down in an understandable fashion makes it easier to tweak any little piece of the puzzle that doesn't quite fit correctly. Both systems should be allowed to evolve toward perfection.
Now if only I could find a company that's willing to let me experiment on them with my "object-oriented business process." Or a country willing to let me experiment on them with an "Object oriented judicial system." Hmm...