Service: interim management, policy advice and -execution (mirror sessions and inspiration lectures, workshops, ‘working papers’, guidelines for internal meetings or new policy, organizing and facilitating meetings, analyzing communication structures and styles, building a communication infrastructure).
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Accomplishments are judged differently by a consumer than by a consumer. This might even at times be the same person, albeit in a different role. Europe regulated the exhaustion of the North Sea with fishing quota and ‘cleaned up’ the fishing fleet. The North Sea was saved as well as the environment, the fish and the fishermen were compensated. However, the fishermen, and many with them, didn’t feel it that way. Europe didn’t gain much popular support. It wasn’t just the money, it was their life. An excellent accomplishment and yet the public officials cannot count on much appreciation, or so it seems. Question therefore is if this situation can be changed.
Much grumbling and misunderstanding for many organizations at the surface seem to lay outside. A closer look shows that more often than not, the real negative perception stems from internal, sometimes infrastructural problems. This can be noticed with an enormous apparatus as the administration. Public officials, wrestling with reputation problems however, will not easily adjust to a different culture or working paradigm. They will only “accept that, when two conditions are met. In the first instance the new working style and culture must seem to bring the solution for a generally accepted problem that cannot be solved in any other way. Secondly it must look like as if the new paradigm leaves intact the problem solving capacity they have developed over the years. Innovation for the innovation is (…) not such a desideratum as on many other fields of creativity.” This is the case in science, this is the case with public officials.
Mirror sessions In the sessions we mirror, sometimes with the help of actors, the accomplishment as the public officers see it, and what the perceived accomplishment of other audiences is. Sometimes the performance can be better, sometimes the perception, but always acceptance of the change in style, structure or culture at issue. Thinking from the outside to the inside is the focus.
Case: public officials and their internal and external language:
To the administration it is important that the population accept the policies, preferably behaves the way that is expected from them and keeps on paying taxes. Most people don’t see the difference between different public officials. Nonetheless it is mostly they invisible officials in administration buildings, policy people who are least respected. Nobody sees them nobody seems to know what it matters. Whereas basically they are there to solve all kinds of problems of society, problems that citizens know, whether its littering, traffic jams or social housing, and problems that single citizens cannot solve by themselves. Public officials are studying these problems, define them, work on policy and solutions, analyse the effectiveness of solutions and see to it they are carried out. The solutions however might be complex or incomprehensible. To solve the parking problem in big cities, public officials might come up with the policy of reducing the parking space. Not many people love them for it, whereas they should. But then, they work on it for years and during the process they come to believe in their solutions and they might not take the ordinary civilian along. At the end of the day they even speak a complete different language. One only has to look at the letters and bureaucratic forms they send at the end of the process. The public official himself doesn’t even realize he is not speaking plain English anymore, like a fish that doesn’t know he is swimming in water. Policy public officials: we don’t know them, they don’t know us, their language is incomprehensible, we can’t follow them, can’t find them and can’t appreciate them.
However, reputation and significance both bear some relation to the accomplishments of the sector. Public officials do have a tendency not to take much interest in ICT for example and also seem to neglect the advice of those external professionals that do know. Since in our societies we all rely on ICT this visible blundering of the administration forms a serious blow to their performance as well as their reputation. Citizens, used to smooth ICT from commercial companies judge the administration as ‘arrogant’. Arrogance becomes unbearable when the performance lags behind. This perceived arrogance of the (governmental) power also shows in the sending mode kind of communication of the administration. This is the so called SMMR (Sender, Medium, Message, Receiver) model. Information being ‘dumped’ from above onto the population. Campaigns, letters, websites, a load of sender dominated behavior. Such an old communication paradigm as this sender model, which neatly fits an organization with the monopoly on power, is hard to leave. Only strong legs can carry the wealth of a monopoly position. The administration was, and is up to a certain extent, still the monopolist in policy as well as monopolist in communication. The last decades mass media, especially newspapers, later radio and television, took their position in the streams of communication (and henceforth the development of public opinion). To tackle the competition, the administration hired journalists in order to keep the power over public communication. Then a real tsunami broke lose: the power of social media, communication of the citizen himself. The administration thought to tackle this the same way as before and so public officials had to start to twitter and everyone had to join facebook. It is rather doubtful if this resulted in the same monopoly position as before. The administration is too used to the sender model, where it had been so attractive for so long. The changes they have to make therefore are twofold. Firstly work on the performance, especially in ICT, secondly use the social media in order to communicate about the work in progress. But in order to do so, the infrastructure of the internal communication of public organizations has to be made up to standards.
Interesting issue we are working on: The administration has tried to look at the citizens as consumers. This has led to citizens behaving that way and becoming more demanding all the time. This has not led to a better performance or visibility of public officials and their work. The world has become more and more complex, measures from the EU and international law in particular have taken a lot of space, without much growing comprehension of the populations concerned. It is mainly the latter that national and international governments and organizations have to work on, to begin internally.
Clients we worked for:
 Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962/1979