Hello dear fellow bureaucrat,
the world of bureaucracy is much more colourful and rich than is often assumed. Academic accounts on life inside administrations try to bring this to the fore, some manage this better than others. Good books on bureaucracy are rare but there, and it’s one of the nicer parts of my job to find and read them. At the 2020 Creative Bureaucracy Festival, I presented four books of which I think that they’re worth a closer look.
From Paul du Gay’s “In Praise of Bureaucracy”, for instance, I took his plea to treasure the public ethos, as we’re dealing with citizens, not with customers, and there’s a crucial difference between the two concepts. Bernardo Zacka, in his book “When the State meets the Street”, paints a sensitive picture of how case workers in social services try to balance often conflicting demands and signals in often strenuous working conditions. Appreciating the “moral gymnastics” they have to exert, he recommends a work environment that embraces plurality and peer-level accountability (rather than top-down orders) to handle “a delicate equilibrium between a competing array of normative pulls“. This resonates with an argument that Charles Landry and Margie Caust present in “The Creative Bureaucracy”. They speak about “harnessing the discretionary effort”, which too often is blocked by a “no culture”.
In “The Conversational Firm”, Catherine Turco takes us to a very different world when she describes how a start-up aimed at developing an open and transparent organisational culture around a… wiki. Her stories about the dynamics this created amongst staff are eye-opening.
Each of these is worth a read, and it would be nice to hear what you make of them. And… as we’re preparing for the next festival, if you can recommend a good book to review, please share it with us.