There is something about wet and windy overcast conditions that brings on reflection, which, if we are not careful, can lead us into melancholy. Avoiding this risk requires us to take action – and so I am. Read on to see the reason – and the action.
The way things were
In 1982 I moved from the University where academics were closely focused on their own projects, to the state water authority where – at that time – the focus was improved community outcomes. If I had an idea for improvement, it was not difficult to find half a dozen bright, well intentioned others, to willingly and co-operatively work through it with me. And, equally, there were many others willing to involve me in their ideas for improvement. The Public Service was a great place to be in the early 1980s. It changed, of course, with the introduction of modern commercial management ideas. And, ultimately, not for the better.
The way things are
This started the exodus of those who believed in community service and of the intelligent who could easily secure positions outside the government. Today, with short term public service contracts, there is no devotion to improved community outcomes – how can there be when one’s own short term outcome is so precarious, so insecure? There is also no corporate knowledge and information to draw upon. The community has lost out. The public service has lost out. Who has benefitted from this much vaunted ‘improved management’ shift?
The way things can be
Clearly I am not advocating for greater inefficiency, but I think we could do with improved effectiveness. I miss those days when community focus was the norm amongst the brightest and best. A time when, if I had an idea for allowing unprofitable irrigation farmers to sell those most valuable asset – access to water – to others who could make better use of it; or if I wanted to see whether the hype about the value of the Grand Prix could be proved, I could draw on the expertise of others simply by asking for it. That was how we started a review of irrigation water licences and put together academics and public servants to produce ‘The Adelaide Grand Prix’ – an analysis of the first Grand Prix in Australia in 1985. This was the first serious analysis of the impact of a Special Event, it has been cited in every publication on Special Events since then, and our approach was adopted by the Commonwealth Government in their grant assessments for many years – despite the hyped up arguments of some of the top management consulting companies. It prevented our State Government from following its earlier wish to contend for the Commonwealth Games – and thus avoided the ‘white elephant’ structures associated with these events.
Is it possible to replicate today those productive, well intentioned, discussions that served the greater good? I think it is. The growing strength on the non-private, non-government ‘Civil Society’ supports this. I also think it is essential that we develop a core of intelligent strategists to help manage the infrastructure shifts that will be necessary as we transit into a digital, increasingly complex, future.
Talking Infrastructure is looking to provide opportunities for those of you, from whatever disciplinary background, who aspire to be these future strategists, to physically get together with like-minded others for the purpose of sharing your ideas for improvement and assisting them in theirs – and in general developing your strategic ability to assist your organisations face the future. Does this interest you?
More information to come.