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Process and Public Service Renewal

Friday, September 5, 2014
by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

Just a quick post today. I was on the road most of August and am still mostly just catching up.


A few weeks back I wrote about The New Nature of Process, the idea that that organizations are at a pivot point akin to industrialization. But where that revolution occurred by standardizing and repeating processes for material goods, we're looking at standardizing and repeating processes for human learning in the context of complex problems. All optimized for efficiency, fitted within governance and business cycles.

(Albeit with a broad view of efficient. Sometimes expensively sending a nurse practitioner to someone's house is, in the long run, more efficient than optimizing the process within the hospital they'd otherwise visit.)

Let's call it standardizing processes for exploring and solving complex problems. At the time I considered it an interesting idea, a possible trend. But after thinking about it for a bit I realized that if it's true - that is, if we're just getting started but can get far better - it would assuage the doubt I feel about public service renewal. Even the elements of it that I personally support and suggest.

For instance, in the past I've wondered if a public service characterized by trust, decentralized decision making, and engagement is unrealistic or undesirable. If such a state only works well in marginal cases, such that the success stories for that approach actually represent most of the fertile ground. Or, after Chelsea highlighted some of the more negative possibilities of loosened hierarchy, I wondered if the style of management I considered ideal was too unreliable across a critical mass. That it would work well only if it was the only thing managers had to worry about (it isn't). Or take Hugh Segal's recent take in the Ottawa Citizen, about the need for stronger managers, less management layers, and more leeway for frontline decision making.

I generally favour these approaches, in a vacuum. But the real world is messier. However, if we can significantly and reliably accelerate employees's sensemaking of complex environments, such approaches may be very manageable in the real world.

And the sensemaking tools are there. How to map a network of stakeholders, how to help them (and you) understand each other, how to suss out side effects of policy, program, and service decisions. The question now is one of optimization and repeatability.