Various prompts have got me remembering my conclusions after five months on secondment to the civil service in 2009.
@Puffles2010 at http://adragonsbestfriend.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/a-challenge-for-the-civil-service-and-large-institutions-alike/ is one of the sparks to make me trawl my archive for the memories.
The experience of trying to run the Community Organisers programme in a febrile environment is another.
So… Looking back on my reflections as the secondment came to an end, it felt to me that:
- the politicians had enormous power and a strong sense of agency (“I can do this”) but were lacking in reliable information
- civil servants had the power to make things happen (in theory) or stop things happening (in practice) and a highly-privileged access to information but almost no sense of agency
- civil society (then known as the third sector) had a strong sense of agency (“we must do this because no one else will do it properly”) and an amazing level of intelligence/info but bugger all power.
Other conclusions from my write-up on 15/06/09 included:
How the operating model impacts…
- Deadlines [by close of play today, a regurgitation of 5-lines on your policy area, that could instead be stored on an intranet and accessed across Govt, inc MP’s assistants etc]
- Email loops [ever-widening, back-covering, wasteful and angst-making: “I can’t make it till 4.15pm on Thursday” copied to 22 people]
- Bad meeting habits [changing meeting times, not opening with proper intros, lack of papers, poor chairing, lack of common courtesies found in most other fields]
- Primitive approach to mobile working [incredible lack of competence and almost zero willpower to keep up to date with changing technology]
How the cultural model impacts…
- Structural/cultural lack of trust of outsiders
- Coping strategies and avoidance tactics – including cynicism, cover your back
- Jargon (internalised) and spin (self-justifying)
…to create problems
- Decreasing spirals of knowledge
- Lack of boundaries to responsibilities
- Time and effort wasted throughout ‘the system’
- Unshared policy aims
- Reluctance to challenge
- Structural, operational, managerial issues
- Structural – eg civil service prides on doing the bidding of ministers but ministers change (and don’t always know what’s good for them, or the supposed beneficiaries)
- Operational – email loops, deadlines, info managemen etc
- Managerial – lack of individual responsibility/autonomy
- Cultural – coping strategies that cause their own problems
- Press/comms– v bad indeed; churn, lack of interest, too many of them; complete lack of rebuttal [“what do you think this is? 1997?”]
- What can be done? The focus needs to be on: