Inside Policy Workshops

By Julian Dierkes

This will be very familiar to Mongolian readers, but perhaps of more interest to non-Mongolian readers, or those who have not travelled in the countryside beyond tourism.

My experience comes from election observation on the one hand, and various workshops and projects on the other hand. I have thus been in Mongolia during the campaign period of the last six national elections, and have served as an election observer on election day during five of them (2008, 09, 12, 13, 17).

During election campaigns, I have visited propaganda yurts, party headquarters, election commissions, and other offices.

Elections themselves are always held in public offices, most likely kindergartens, and schools.

I have also conducted many workshops with Mongolian and international participants, typically in institutional buildings in Mongolia, including a recent series organized and funded by the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation Mongolia.

Institutional Buildings’ “Look and Feel”

There are many common elements to institutional rooms and buildings in Mongolia. Some of those have disappeared or are disappearing in Ulaanbaatar, but are still very present. Most of the buildings are of indeterminate age. Obviously, Mongolia’s climate is hard-wearing on buildings and materials are generally of somewhat low quality so that even newer buildings often look well-used.

Generally, walls of Mongolian buildings are very thick for insulation. Windows are thus deeply recessed which means that direct sunlight into rooms is also quite rare. (Scroll through photos in Instagram posts below for examples.)

To make up for the absence of direct light, almost all rooms seem to be lit by the whitest of neon lights, very often in a fan-like formation without any kind of decoration.

Floors are generally made of broad wooden panels, but they are almost inevitably covered with a roll-out layer of parquet-printed plastic of some kind. You can see these floor-coverings from governors’ offices, to schools, into families’ gers. I do not know whether such floor-coverings already existed during the socialist period. I imagine that they protect the floors, but they are also easier to maintain as they are easily swept. In gers, they also provide a level of separation from nature by providing a wooden-looking floor instead of a dirt floor.

Carpets appear surprisingly often in public rooms. Many rooms have a stage, whether that is schools or meetings rooms of administrative buildings or even hotels’ meeting rooms.

Details of institutional buildings in #Mongolia

A post shared by Julian Dierkes (@jbdierkes) on

Furniture ranges from a rough, log-cabin look, to some traditionally-decorated items.

And then, there’s always that awkward half-step on the stairs of almost all but the most recent buildings.


About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots and tweets @jdierkes
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1 Response to Inside Policy Workshops

  1. Greg Goldhawk says:

    The almost-inevitable partial step on many staircases was the terror of my time there. I lost count of the number of instances where I almost lost my life (or residual dignity) on those. Equally challenging is the fact that many institutional buildings have marble steps at the main entrance. They’re beautiful, but a peril on an icy day in the winter!

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