Where I work, there’s no way to look up how anything should be done. When I needed to send a document by overnight delivery, it was a two-hour project to ask around about getting the label, the billing code, where to bring the envelope, etc. When I do my work, I have to copy how each task was done last time, no matter how stupid that was, because there’s no way to know what requirements we really need to meet. Then somebody will decide they want it done differently and I have to redo it, even though there was no way I could know. There are policies and procedures on our intranet, but they are vague, out of date and contradictory, so everybody ignores them. Am I crazy to want a rule book so I’m not always guessing what will go through?
The good news is, you are not crazy. We all hate red tape that gets in the way of doing our jobs, but Leisha DeHart-Davis coined the term “green tape” for rules that help us do our work. In one study, DeHart-Davis, Davis, and Mohr surveyed government workers about rules for their jobs. Workers who said their workplaces had more written rules, rather than unwritten rules, were more satisfied that the rules were applied consistently and less likely to say the rules were unnecessary, burdensome and excessively controlling. They also had better job satisfaction. When everybody can read the rules, at least you know what you need to do, and you are less at the mercy of other people’s whims.
The bad news is… Read the rest in Federal Times https://www.federaltimes.com/your-career/the-bureaucrat/2019/06/13/dear-bureaucrat-i-want-my-job-to-give-me-rules-am-i-crazy/
Public administration practitioners can be more successful if we learn from each others’ experience and inventions. We can look to medical doctors and to software developers for two ways practitioners can learn from each other.
The first way is case reports, as are published in medical journals. A case report is a description by a practitioner of a situation she encountered, what she did about it, and the results. Case reports are different than the case studies used in public administration teaching and scholarship. Case studies focus on the information about a case that illuminates a technique being taught or a theory being considered, but one value of case reports is presenting specifics that do not fit any existing framework. For example, AIDS research started with a case report of an inexplicable case of Kaposi’s sarcoma. Another difference is that case studies are typically by a researcher who was not involved in the events, while a case report is by a practitioner who handled the case.
A second way is open source work products. The narrowest definition of open source is disclosing the human-readable “source code” of a computer program. But open source has evolved a broader meaning, in which any type of work product is shared publicly, so that any interested person can contribute improvements to it. The work products that public administrators could make available to each other for open source collaboration include procedures, position descriptions for personnel, statements of work for contracting, and any number of other artifacts we produce and use in our practice. Center for Public Administrators is experimenting with open source collaboration on “annotated work instructions” as an alternative to ISO 9000. (See Project on Annotated Work Instructions.)
For more about case reports and open source work products in public administration, see my article in Public Administration Review (paywalled) or the open access version.
Center for Public Administrators participated in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s “Stories in Innovation” event on June 24, 2016, with our presentation on Annotated Work Instructions. The presentation showed how a public administrator can build an efficient process for her work, and convince others to comply with that process, even when the procedures promulgated by agency officials are vague, contradictory or non-existent. The deck is at
Here are my slides on Annotated Work Instructions for the NECoPA conference at George Mason University on Nov 6
You can get more information about NECoPA at http://psc.gmu.edu/necopa/ and you can register for the conference at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/necopa-15-tickets-16515410036