Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Ministry of the Inane: Part II

I once worked in a policy shop at a time when we were expecting a new Government to come in - well, the same party but a new leader and Prime Minister who was expected to clean house and fill the cabinet with his cronies.  This is known as a "transition" and departments get to work putting together briefing materials for their new ministers to bring them up to speed on what the department does and what the burning issues of the day are.  One part of this process I was responsible for was canvassing all parts of the department for "legacy" issues - issues that the minister could be proactive on and put his or her mark on. 

To do this I created a template that the various branches could fill in describing the burning issues of the day.  One section of the template was something along the lines of "Operating Environment".  Under this heading I explained that "Factors in the operating environment that may have an impact on the policy initiative (e.g. economic climate, federal-provincial relations, public opinion, etc.).

We convened a staff meeting to discuss the template and when we got to the Operating Environment section, my director said "Nobody will understand this.  They'll just pick one of those things and be done with it."  I explained e.g. meant exempli gratia, or "for example".  This is universally known and I assured her everyone would know these were examples.  But, no, this wasn't good enough.  What did I end up having to put in brackets?

"Examples may include, but should not be limited to, any one or combination of the following."

Instead of "e.g."

Within a couple of months I was on stress leave.  The bureaucracy's ability to complicate and obfuscate never ceases to amaze.

Again, I look forward to your own tales from the trenches.


  1. I'm currently on assignment from my usual boring low-level science job to a position with a fairly hefty (and largely unadvertised, and I suspect rather above my pay scale) amount of policy work ... let’s say it’s been an eye-opening experience. Last week, while requesting clarity on how to proceed following some 11th hour feedback from a stakeholder group, Ottawa quoted my own letter back to me as advice. Thank you, fearless leaders.

    1. Lovely! The accumulation of these types of little incidents, piling up over the course of 15+ years, are why I have to get out.

  2. I love these stories. Keep them coming!

    I'm trying to think of a few that I can share, but most of them...I can't. I have a good one going up on my blog tomorrow, though.

  3. I look forward to reading it! I feel less lonely when I read others' experiences with silliness in the workplace.