Probing the bureaucratic mind

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Probing Bureaucratic Mind

About Canadian Federal Executives

by Ruth Hubbard and Gilles Paquet

The transformation of the environment and of the institutional order has created quite a challenge: maintaining some sort of adequacy between these evolving realities and the frames of reference in use by public sector executives. Complexity is often nothing more than a name for a new order calling for a new frame of reference, and the reluctance to abandon old conceptual frameworks is often responsible for fundamental learning disabilities.

Through a series of conversations with Canadian federal senior executives about more and more daunting problems – from coping with an evolving context, to engaging intelligently with a new modus operandi, to trying to nudge and tweak programs in order to correct toxic pathologies, to reframing perceptions and redesigning organizations to meet the new challenges – weaknesses of the capabilities of the Canadian federal executives to respond to current challenges were revealed, and suggestions made about ways to kick start a process of refurbishment of these capabilities. This means having to gain new knowledge about complex systems – something that calls for intellectual effort.

This volume draws mainly from extensive Chatham House style discussions on 24 different topics, with approximately 100 senior executives of the Canadian federal government, although a number of interviews were conducted afterward with other senior Canadian federal executives on the same themes. APEX provided a safe space for these Chatham House discussions and an opportunity for engaged senior executives to discuss daunting wicked policy problems, challenging ideas and intriguing hypotheses, and to reveal how they and their colleagues think.

Ruth Hubbard is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa. She served for more than a decade as a federal deputy minister in the Government of Canada.

Gilles Paquet is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa, and Editor of www.optimumonline.ca. For more information, www.gouvernance.ca.

Gilles Paquet is Professor Emeritus at the Telfer School of Management, a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa, and Editor in Chief of www.optimumonline.ca, an electronic journal on public governance and management that reaches some 10,000 subscribers. For more information, visit his website www.gouvernance.ca.


Contents

Introduction

  • The rise of network governance
  • The federal bureaucracy under siege
  • The process
  • The outcome: probing a mindset

Chapter 1 Cat’s cradling: the capacity to cope

  • A syncretic view of each theme discussed
  • Contextual issues
  • Diversity
  • Security
  • Ethics
  • Disloyalty
  • Organizational culture and new governance tools
  • Corporate culture
  • The Gomery world
  • Public-private partnerships
  • Partitioning anew the federal public service
  • A personal distillation of what we learned
  • The decline of open critical thinking
  • Lack of gumption
  • Paradoxes, neuroses and willful blindness
  • Conclusion
  • Annex: Basic documentation for each session

Chapter 2 Cat’s eyes: the capacity to engage intelligently

  • A syncretic view of each theme discussed
  • Intelligent accountability
  • Intelligent regulation
  • Intelligent organizational design
  • Intelligent public service
  • A personal distillation of what we learned
  • A cautionary statement
  • Somebody is in charge and it is not me
  • Déformation professionnelle
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • The presence of latent fear
  • Conclusion
  • Annex: Basic documentation for each session

Chapter 3 Not in the catbird seat: the capacity to collibrate

  • A syncretic view of each theme discussed
  • Perverse incentives
  • Rewarding failure and deception
  • Punishing success
  • Positive discrimination
  • Failure to confront
  • Pathologies and challenges
  • Quantophrenia
  • Performance review
  • Speaking truth to power
  • What role for cities in public governance?
  • A personal distillation of what we learned
  • Moral vacancy
  • Crippling epistemologies
  • Risk aversion and fear of experimentation
  • Conclusion
  • Annex: Basic documentation for each session

Chapter 4 The unwisdom of cats: the capacity to reframe

  • A syncretic view of each theme discussed
  • The political-bureaucratic interface
  • The federal public service as a nexus of moral contracts
  • From leadership to stewardship
  • Deputy Minister: then, now and in the future
  • A personal distillation of what we learned
  • Difficulty in thinking about systems
  • Experts can’t learn
  • A tiny bit of intellectual nonchalance

Conclusion

  • Annex: Basic documentation for each session
  • Conclusion
  • Four layers of capabilities
  • A syndrome … tentatively
  • Cosmology-less wayfinding
  • The way out and forward … a catwalk
  • Toward a new covenant through a new inquiring system
  • One starting point
  • In summary
  • References

Quality Paperback , 5½×8½” 141 pg, Publication date: April 2014, ISBN 978-1-927465-12-7: $15.95



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