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Revista de Administração Pública

Print version ISSN 0034-7612On-line version ISSN 1982-3134

Rev. Adm. Pública vol.53 no.5 Rio de Janeiro Sept./Dec. 2019  Epub Nov 11, 2019 

Forum: Practical Perspectives

Adapt or die: strategies of the government of Meta to face the challenges posed by the Colombian General Royalty System

María Alejandra Gutiérrez Fonseca1

Alejandro Balanzó Guzmán1

1Universidad Externado de Colombia / Facultad de Finanzas, Gobierno y Relaciones Internacionales, Bogotá- Colombia


In 2012, a new General Royalty System (GRS) was established in Colombia, promoting changes in the context of territorial management. This article analyzes the adaptive capacity of the local government in the region of Meta, considering the budget reduction and administrative challenges brought by GRS. The study adopts a comprehensive analytical model on adaptive capacity, built on a systemic approach that allows exploring the government’s adaptation to achieve the benefits of the reform. Results show a contrast between a relatively satisfactory initial adaptive strategy and meager results regarding a lasting organizational and institutional adjustment.

Keywords: adaptation; capacity; royalties; meta


En 2012 entra en vigencia el Sistema General de Regalías (SGR) transformando el entorno de la gestión territorial colombiana. Este artículo analiza la capacidad de adaptación de la Gobernación del Meta al SGR, considerando los múltiples retos administrativos y presupuestales que supuso su puesta en marcha. Para tal efecto, se desarrolla con el caso un modelo analítico comprensivo de enfoque sistémico, que detalla los alcances de la adaptación del Meta para lograr los beneficios de la reforma. Los resultados muestran contraste entre una respuesta inmediata relativamente satisfactoria a la situación emergente, frente a un alcance reducido en su traducción a ajustes organizacionales e institucionales estructurales.

Palabras clave: adaptación; capacidad; regalías; Meta


Em 2012, o Sistema Geral de Royalties (SGR) entrou em vigor, transformando a gestão territorial colombiana. Este artigo analisa a capacidade de adaptação do governo da região de Meta ao SGR, considerando os múltiplos desafios administrativos e orçamentários acarretados pela sua implementação. Foi desenvolvido um modelo analítico abrangente com uma abordagem sistêmica, detalhando a adaptação do governo de Meta para poder alcançar os benefícios da reforma. Os resultados mostram um contraste entre uma resposta imediata relativamente satisfatória em se adaptar ao sistema, porém com um tímido resultado em termos de ajustes estruturais organizacionais e institucionais.

Palavras-chave: adaptação; capacidade; royalties; meta


Two models have ruled royalty administration in Colombia. First one was created by the Constitution of 1991 and regulated by Law 141 of 1994. A second one, currently in use and regulated by Law 1530 of 2012, has generated challenges for territorial entities due to the scheme of budget distribution. This scheme determined a progressive decrease for productive territories, such as the Meta regional government, limiting them to 10% of resources after receiving 80% in the old model. Box 1 compares the regimes:

Source: Elaborated by the authors.

Box 1 Royalty Regime 

Under this scenario, Meta began a process of transition to adapt to budget reduction as well as to administrative challenges imposed by the model. This article analyzes the transition in detail, showing the capacity of the department to take on the GRS challenges.

The literature on royalty regimes has been seen from four large perspectives: i) evaluation of implementation (Núñez, Castro, & Rincón, 2014); ii) fiscal impact (Benítez, 2013; Bonet, Guzmán, Urrego, & Villa, 2014); iii) comparative analysis (Cabrera, 2012; Castillo, 2013; Rojas, 2015); and iv) effects of GRS in territorial development (Bonet & Urrego, 2014; Botero, Hofman, & Hernández, 2015). This work fills a void related to the analysis of capacities in subnational governments to respond to demands of GRS. It also adds adaptation as a relevant capacity in relation to processes of institutional regional transformation.

The article integrates three sections. First the concept of adaptation within the framework of systemic literature on capacity is discussed, presenting a comprehensive analytical model. Second, the case is described from the processes associated to GRS implementation. The last section presents an analysis in relation to the conceptual model.


2.1 Conceptual bases

In this paper we build on systemic approaches, focusing attention to context effects (Arnold, 1988). This literature observes actors’ capacity to predict, adapt and modify their strategies in relation to external demands and to implement learning, adding resiliency1 (Morgan, 2006). Within this focus:

The systemic approach focus on observing organization’s interaction, taking particular note of adaptation to rules in changing games. Thus adaptation appears as a requirement - and therefore a capacity - inherent to systems.

Adaptation is defined as the capacity of a system to dominate change and adoption of new ideas (Morgan, 2006). Parsons suggests adaptation refers to the aptitude of a system to adapt to its surroundings and to adapt the surroundings to its needs (Ritzer, 1993). In this article we will define it as the ability of a system to anticipate, adapt and respond continuously, efficiently and innovatively to emerging needs, rules and environments.


We propose an analytical model aiming at rendering operational the discussed concepts. The model includes seven dimensions, describing attributes of adaptive capacity:

  • Anticipation: organizations’ capacity to visualize contexts and situations allowing it to define and scheme towards future expectations (ILPES, 2009).

  • Sensibility: reaction of the organization regarding unpredictability. It evaluates the flexibility to adapt or to resist to change (Christie et al., 2012).

  • Crisis: reactive repertoires regarding sudden changes, creating immediate organizations’ responses to particular junctures.2

  • Stability: grade in which the organization reduces the “volatility of performance via the institutionalization of good practice and rules, as well as identifying and mitigating internal and external risks” (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2010, p. 11).

  • Adaptability: capacity of appropriation with which the organization takes on and dominates specific changes, while responding to other demands. Morgan (2006) suggests that limited comprehension is pervasive during such periods, and increases as the process goes on.

  • Renovation: attitude and discipline of the organization to transform processes, promote and use creativity, establish incentives and generate opportunities (Engel, Keijzer, & Land, 2007).

  • Learning: continuous process of examination, redefinition and improvement of practices in the organization regarding new circumstances (Engel et al., 2007).

  • Accountability: follow-up, self-regulation and adjustment of behaviors in relation to results (UNDP, 2010).

Box 2collects and categorizes these postulates along with organizational verifiable data sources:

Source: Elaborated by the authors.

Box 2 Conceptual dimensions 


We follow an interpretative approach (Yanow & Schwartz-Shea, 2015), building abductively on the case (Reichertz, 2007). This is, trying to understand the empirical phenomenon while developing the tools allowing its observation, in a process of iterative adjustment nurturing from both conceptual and empirical sources.

The case focus on agency deployed on specific adaptation dimensions taking place between 2012 and 2015. Data gathered includes: i) semi structured interviews of decisive actors in the process of transition of the Governor’s Office of Meta and the National Planning Department [DNP], ii) documentation and secondary information of context and evidence. Box 3 describes analytical use of data sources:

Source: Elaborated by the authors.

Box 3 Applied conceptual dimensions 

This analysis does not intend to provide a measurement. The description and verification of observed phenomena is oriented towards verifying the degree of concretion of each dimension: materialization of each is estimated, concentrating in the development of descriptors.


In 2012, the governor’s office of Meta starts a process of adaptation to the rules put in practice by GRS. To ease the reading, a descriptive report is presented, of a case which synthetizes the main milestones of the process in two matrices (See Box 4 and Graphics):

Source: Elaborated by the authors.

Box 4 Timeline 

Source: Elaboratedby the authors.

Data shows that the entity undertook a process characterized by the construction of capacities, the search for alternatives in acquiring needed resources, investment prioritization (transport and housing), a constant personnel rotation, delays in projects at the contracting stage and accountability. Up next, these elements will be discussed starting from an analytical framework so as to read the process in terms of regional adaptive capacity to GRS.


Anticipation: there is no evidence of previous preparation of the Governor’s Office to face change. Candidates for Governor did not visualize possible scenarios. This reveals a low capacity of perception of actors regarding external gradual stimuli (Chiavenato, 2000).

Sensibility to change: there was a loss of control in decision-making regarding COAD decrease of resources and uncertainty due to absence of specific rules, the organization’s attitude was one of resistance, reflected in framing GRS as an inefficient and foreign regulation. The governor’s office shows low capacity to deal with unpredictability (Martínez, 2005).

Crisis: the situation allows existing shortcomings to emerge (i.e. weaknesses in project formulation, effects of temporary officer’s contracts). The crisis allowed to recognize and tackle pre-existing conditions, its reach better understood when modifying interaction patterns arise.

Stability: The Governor’s Office tries and maintain an institutional equilibrium (invests in physical, human and technological resources; preserves officials aiming at a learning curve; and has a dialogue at the national level). Scarcity of provisions, excess of functions and the demand for personnel regarding new competencies affect the degree of stability. This suggests that gradual stability is due to previous existing robustness.

Adaptation: The Governor’s Office deploys an ample repertory of adaptation: the permanence and training of officials, the appropriation of rules, the attitude during and after the crisis, and the investment in infrastructure. The case shows that subsistence of the system effectively depends in its adaptation.

Renovation: The officials used their creativity to tend to new requirements, but the crisis did not promote the search for financing alternatives. It is evident that there are no renovation practices, and research and alternative funding was not set as a priority in the investment agenda. Renovation of the entity is limited: there are no capacities allowing tackling contingencies as change catalysts.

Learning: GRS introduces conditions which promote good practices (i.e institutional synergy amidst levels of government, via COAD; and the demand for better planning processes). Regardless of it, there was no definition of a strategy towards anticipating and preventing future needs based on this experience.

Accountability: The Governor’s Office of Meta was limited to achieving the minimum demands for transparency and publicity (Law 1530 of 2012), but a tendency to increase spaces of citizen participation was not noticed. In spite of diverse monitoring and evaluation tools provided by GRS, it appears not to be will to create spaces bringing citizens closer.


Results show a contrast between an immediate relatively satisfactory response to GRS as an emerging context situation in the stages of stability, adaptation and learning; and a reduced reach in organizational topics related with the dimensions of anticipation, sensibility, renovation and accountability. Structural problematic aspects persist and actually limit the versatility of Governor’s Office response.

This aspect opens the discussion for future investigations regarding adaptive capacity. We suggest advancing on developing indicators allowing measuring with more detail adaptative capacity in the public sector. Specifically, addressing with greater detail the discussed dimensions, focusing on structural aspects that could flesh them out. This paper serves as exploratory input for the conceptual and empirical development of adaptive capacity in Colombian territorial offices.

The case allows for the observation that, in spite of paving the way, not every policy at the national level strengthens local capacities. There is a need to revise Colombian decentralization practices. It seems that some of structural inhibiting aspects reflect an institutional architecture prioritizing financial resources transfers over capacity development. Such practice, pushing territorial entities taking on duties without a proper learning system, shows a recipe for a slow decentralization with lagging institutional development.

Finally, it is expected that exposure of this case will help revise the dynamics present in the Governor’s Office of Meta, and we hope that the results serve to provide ideas for other territories which are subjected to the same regulatory framework.


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1Is interesting to demarcate the concepts of adaptation and resiliency. Resiliency is “the capacity of a material, mechanism or system to recover their initial state when the perturbation to which it had been subjected ceases” (RAE). Adaptation goes beyond recovery, since it implies profiting from contingencies as change and innovation opportunities.

2This notion and its attributes are a result of the empirical evidence of this study. It is included here for reasons of completion.

[Translated version] Note: All quotes in English translated by this article’s translator.

Received: July 19, 2018; Accepted: July 11, 2019

María Alejandra Gutiérrez Fonseca - Politologist of the Universidad del Rosario; Master in Government and Public Policies of the Externado University of Colombia. E-mail:

Alejandro Balanzó Guzmán - Professional in Government and International Relations; Master in Education and PhD in Governance of knowledge and innovation; Professor of the Externado University of Colombia. E-mail:

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