omg I went to school to be trained as a bureaucrat. Now what?

Seriously Public Servants. What do we DO?   If a bureaucrat walks into a community of beautiful people each doing their own useful thing (growing food, building shelter, making art or music, taking care of children) and she tries to find a place in such a community (say one in the middle of the jungle in Mexico amongst the magic of Mayan ruins) what is the first thing she would do?

Set up a meeting, a committee?

Offer to write a report, or a list of recommendations for how the community could be improved based on some sort of totally subjective yardsticks that someone else probably delineated in an entirely different context (she’d read a book to research best practices), or set up a participatory meeting to get everyone’s input on the yardsticks (but in the end she’ll just have to decide for herself cuz it’s her job and there are way too many opinions out there anyways)?

Champion or sponsor a project, then delegate by taking money from one person and giving it to another and telling them to do it?  Then,

Measure how well they did it and report back to the the person from which the money was taken, covering up the extensive losses that happened in between (lunches must be had, taxi cabs taken) with extravagent words, glossy pages or pretty twitters

and when the person gets mad for the mismanagement, then

Hire ten others so that they can take the heat, throw them on the frontlines and pay them a fraction of what someone with more education or well-cultivated schmoozing skills gets for attending countless meetings and sending emails from their corner office overlooking the fancy government buildings that hide the politicians they work for but

Stay quiet, cuz she’s not allowed to say a peep about those special people and the parties they belong to because of some sort of old fashioned neutrality clause agreed to when she signed up for the benefits and lifelong income guarantee


Oh. I made a jump of some kind there.  I think it has to do with my current quest to distil the pure purpose of a public servant.  All of this is personal, btw, maybe I shouldn’t poke at the whole concept of bureaucracy just because I’m having an existential crisis and think that the whole concept of bureaucracy needs to fundamentally change…

But really, mixed in with my snideness is a genuine desire to fundamentally understand the role of ‘bureaucrat’ that we’ve created so many of.  If we could distil society into a representative from each occupation, and you were the public servant, what would you do??

In defence of the role of the public servant, I beseech my fellow public servants (I think I still am one, cuz what else do you call someone with a Bachelor’s of Public Affairs and Policy Management other than create an acronym like BPAPM, that’s a pronounced with a soft second ‘P’, and call her a ‘BPAPMer’)? …or anyone really…

Tell me what you’d do if you walked into a community you wanted to live in and the label you carried on the business card (that no one is impressed with or has much use for other than maybe starting a fire with) reads BUREAUCRAT (cuz that is what you are if you go hang out 9-5 M-F in the government cubicles)…

What would you say you had to offer as a public servant at the core human level?

Sit here and tell the tree and the mayans past and the wanderers present with a straight face and openness what a bureaucrat does.


6 responses to “omg I went to school to be trained as a bureaucrat. Now what?

  1. I was reading this while at work. Once I was done reading, I got to thinking about stuff and stared out the window for a couple minutes. I turned around to my computer and have five two-hour meetings in my inbox to accept! Gotta go, got some recommendations to draft up.

  2. Well, I have to be honest and say that these last posts have made me feel somewhat sad. It is horrible for me to think that they are representative of your expereince. So, I will share mine with you…likely with far less eloquence, but with an intent to provide hope.

    I am not sure about other public servants (I am actually one of those who like to call myself a public servant), but what I do is adhere to a couple of principles.

    – I have a choice
    – I have something to offer
    – I am interested in outcomes

    I walk into work every morning with the honour of choice. I am given the choice every day to use any and all of my skills and expereinces to improve the lives of citizens and residents. On some days I have been lucky enough to have the opprotunity to help a citizen directly, on some days there are more degrees of seperation, on some days that choice is about helping other public servants to do their job better…

    I decide to bring everything I have to my work. I bring my creativity, my passion, my dedication, a hunger for improvement and my caring. I use my experiences as a counsellor, a son, a citizen, a student, a friend, a father and a husband to guide my actions. Sometimes I find I do not have all the tools I need for success, and then I spend some time thinking about how to get them

    I think about outcomes. I could lie and say that there are not numerous challenges in the public service. There are. It can be frustrating, exhausting, overwhelming, underwhelming and enormous. I choose to focus on the outcomes. For every roadblock I encounter I look for opportunities. I collect small victories – each of them a paving stone on the path I am building to better outcomes.

    Every day I make the same choice, and some days I have more success than others. But, I am lucky. I have a job I love, work with people I respect and admire and I wake up very day with a choice.

  3. Alex, thank-you so much for sharing your heartfelt experience. It reminds me of how I felt most of the time, until my idealism got squeezed out of me.

    My limit was reached when I sadly realized that while everyone knows and acknowledges that there are significant challenges in the public service, there is very little being done about it. Small steps (ie ‘quick wins’ that hardly scratch the surface) aren’t enough to appropriately deal with the massive changes that need to happen to improve the quality of life on this planet and democracy of this province. For the most part, status quo rules. Status quo just isn’t going to cut it if we really want to change the world.

    We need a fraction of the bureaucrats that we have and to increase the proportion that have integrity like you.

    The unions have to go (or at least drastically open up).

    Public servants need to speak up more. Stand up to politicians and share what they know.

    Less waste of public resources (and there is so much).


    All these things are super difficult for most people to hear. I used to have to apologize when I brought up these matters (because I wasn’t allowed to bring them up, or it was considered insulting to decision-makers). Well. I guess I’m not apologizing anymore for making people feel uncomfortable and thinking that we can do better.

    In addition to poking, my post is also about imagining how a bureaucracy could be built if we had a chance to do it from scratch…

  4. Glad to see you are living life and continue to contemplate…nice reading about your adventures! We all miss your energy in the BCPS Nina!

  5. hey Nina, sure there are difficulties working in the public service. It isn’t too hard to see where life can difficult.

    I had the same reflections are you are having after my first stint in government. And I left figuring I’d never go back. I went to work in the non-profit sector, and guess what? Maybe the challenges I saw as a government employee weren’t there, but they had a whole new set of challenges associated with making an impact.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter where you go, hard work is hard. If doing work like you were doing was easy it would have already been done!

    Anyways, I recongise my challenges and always make sure that I am able to laugh at myself. But I also have the confidence in myself that I can find myself some work that makes me want to go in each day. There’s lots of work going on out there, in many different kinds of role. Maybe your past role didn’t quite work out for you, but that doesn’t mean that the entire sector isn’t a fit.

  6. Hey Nina, I am glad that you are poking, and not apologizing. Though my perspective/experience may be different, you are asking the sort of questions that all of us should continue to ask of ourselves.

    I agree with robert that your energy is missed.


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