Consultation fatigue

08/05/2010

An email alerted me that a discussion document was available for perusal and gave me instructions on how to download it.

 

The instructions didn’t work. Perhaps it was due to the incompatibility with our computer, possibly it was the inability of our rural telephone lines to cope with the task or more probably it was my incompetence. Whatever the reason I gave up on technology and requested a copy by post which arrived, as promised, a couple of days later.

 

I read it from the foreword at the front to the appendices at the back but finished little wiser. There were lots of  general statements with which reasonable people would be hard pressed to disagree. There were a couple of points with which I had a philosophical problem but they were non-negotiable.  

 

There was also a whole lot of  good intention couched in bureaucrat-speak. And there amongst the linguistic equivalent of candyfloss was a list of meeting dates.

 

One of these happened to be in Dunedin on a day I had to be there anyway so I turned up at the appointed time to listen and as I listened I had a very strong feeling of déjà vu.

 

This wasn’t surprising because I had done this before. It was at different places and different times over different issues but it was the same sort of process: they write, we read; they call a meeting, we attend; they talk we listen; we ask questions, they answer; we offer opinions they talk some more. Then we all go away and in the fullness of time they make decisions which appear to take little or no notice of our contribution.

 

The first time I was involved in such a consultative process was when I was a Plunket mother with a baby who is now in her 20s. That was over social welfare. It was followed by a variety of meetings and musings over mutations in the health system and there were also discussions on education.

 

Sometimes I was consulted as a member of the public, sometimes as a representative of a group,  sometimes it was as a rural woman.  Sometimes nothing happened as a result of the consultation, sometimes it did but I don’t think it ever bore any relation to anything I’d submitted.

 

Sometimes that was my fault because my views were ill founded or impractical. Sometimes it was because regardless of the merit of the suggestions, there wasn’t the money to implement them. And sometimes I got the feeling it was because the process of consultation was a naked emperor.

 

It sounded good, created a lot of  excitement, cost a lot, promised much but delivered little and when it was all over there was nothing to show for it. In the light of this I’ve developed a submission which is simple and has universal application: I want stability, accountability and flexibility.

 

Stability because I’m sick of the waste of time, energy and money which comes with changes rather than improvements; accountability so we know who’s responsible; and flexibility because different people and different communities have different needs.

 

If this could be accomplished as efficiently as possible at the least possible cost, that would be a bonus. And if it gives us something that lets the people who actually do things get on with doing them without the need for further consultation that would be even better.


Wa’da we think of paper shufflers?

06/05/2009

Cactus Kate  left a comment asking me to:

opine on a general farmer’s opinion of Auckland paper shufflers and speculators? Particularly the exchange speculators. I can’t do it without using expletives.

I won’t presume to speak for all farmers or even farmers in general, but I suspect Eric Roy’s observation in response to a question on Wellington would apply just as well  to paper shufflers further north:  “There’s too many people up there who’ve never had a bad lambing.”

And then I offer this story:

A farmer was grazing his flock on the long acre of a remote road in the Otago backblocks when a brand-new shiny 4WD emerges from a dust cloud.

The driver, a bloke in an Armani suit, Gucci shoes, Bolle sunglasses and Yves St Laurent silk tie, slides down the window and says to the farmer, “If I tell you exactly how many sheep and lambs you have in your flock, will
you give me a lamb?”

 The farmer looks from the man to the peacefully grazing herd and
murmurs, “Why not?”

The well-dressed bloke whips out his notebook, connects it to his mobile phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get a fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. Then he opens the digital photo in Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg Germany.

Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. Now he accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC-connected Excel spreadsheet on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-colour, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturised LaserJet printer, turns to the drover and says, “You have exactly 2,586 sheep and lambs.”

That’s right.” says the farmer. “Well, I guess you can take one of my lambs,” And he watches the man select an animal and stuff it into the back of his 4WD.

Hey,” muses the grazier, “If I can tell you exactly what you do for a living, will you give me back the animal?”

The man thinks about it for a second and then says, “Okay, why not?”

“You’re a bureaucrat from Wellington” says the farmer.

“Wow! That’s correct! But how did you guess that?” the bureaucrat asks.

“No guessing required.” answered the farmer. “You showed up here uninvited; you wanted to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You tried to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don’t know a thing about sheep.

 “Now, give me back my dog.”

Stressing that I understand that town and country need each other and it ill behoves any of us to claim we’re superior to anyone else, I put my tongue in my cheek and quote Vincent McNabb:

“There are those who wrest a living from the land and that’s work; there are those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from the land and that’s trade*; and there are those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from the land and that’s finance”.

(*trade in this context refers to wholesale and retail not trades).

It doesn’t really matter what paper they shuffle and where they shuffle it, the people shuffling it make a living from the ones who do the work.


Saturday’s smiles

30/08/2008

A back country sheep farmer was grazing his flock on the long acre of a
remote pasture in outback of Otago when suddenly a brand-new and shining 4WD emerges from a dust cloud.

The driver, a bloke in an Armani suit, Gucci shoes, Bolle sunglasses and
Yves St Laurent silk tie, slides down the window and says, “If I
tell you exactly how many sheep and lambs you have in your flock, will
you give me a lamb?”

 

The farmer looks from the man to the peacefully grazing herd and
murmurs, “Why not?”

The well-dressed bloke whips out his notebook, connects it to his mobile
phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS
satellite navigation system to get a fix on his location which he then
feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an
ultra-high-resolution photo. Then he opens the digital photo in Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg Germany. Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. Now he accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC-connected Excel spreadsheet on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-colour, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturised LaserJet printer, turns to the drover and says, “You have exactly 2,586 sheep and lambs.”

That’s right.” says the farmer. “Well, I guess you can take one of my
lambs,” And he watches the man select an animal and stuff it into the
back of his 4WD.

 

Hey,” muses the grazier, “If I can tell you exactly what you do for a living, will you give me back the animal?”

 

The man thinks about it for a second and then says, “Okay, why not?”

 

“You’re a bureaucrat from Wellington” says the farmer.

 

“Wow! That’s correct! But how did you guess that?” the bureaucrat asks.

No guessing required.” answered the farmer. You showed up here even though nobody invited you; you wanted to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You tried to show me how much smarter than me  you are; and you don’t know a thing about sheep. Now, give me back my dog.”

 


Swimming Through Syrup In Gumboots

02/07/2008

Ever wondered what it’s like swimming through syrup in gumboots? Try getting the drainage at your school fixed.

Show Me The Money describes Mike Hosking’s interview on Close UP:

The Education Ministry’s National Property Manager Paul Burke first went through his bureaucratic routine of trying to explain why the school hadn’t quite jumped through all the hoops yet, despite three years of trying. He was trying to explain the shape of the hoops, the number of hoops, how round they were, what they were made of and the exact nature of the leaps required to jump said hoops. He wore a lovely suit with a beautiful tie. He seemed like a man who knew the rules very well. 

I wanted to throw things at the television. Mike Hosking avoided throwing things. But he did quickly tear apart the Kafka-esque web the good bureaucrat was weaving. Why was it taking so long? Why couldn’t the drains be fixed? How many consultants does it take to change the lightbulbs at Tiaho school….and why?

If this was an isolated case it would be bad enough, but it’s not.

It’s the product of the form filling, tick-box, hoop jumping, policy and proceedure before progress mentality which gives bureaucrats the power to say no but strips them of the courage to say yes.

Hat Tip: Kiwiblog


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