Justice. Somehow, we seem predisposed
to a sense of justice. Listen to the schoolyard
cries: "It's not fair!" From
an early age we have a sense of just what
is "fair" and what is not.
Perhaps we derive our sense of fairness
from our parents, perhaps from our peers;
perhaps we are born with it as some sort
of Kantian a priori "sense".
Some of us, however, seem to diminish
that sense along the way, or perhaps subsume
it to the norms of the peer group in which
we find ourselves. Thus, office workers
might end up with a different "sense"
of fairness than military personnel (warning:
this is not a scientifically-tested statement).
Take bureaucrats, as a group (no offence
intended to individuals). The bureaucratic
idea of fairness may be easily described.
It is: the unwavering application of a
specific rule or procedure regardless
of the circumstances.
That is, bureaucratic "fairness"
consists of an equality of response to
all applicants, regardless of the circumstances
of their application. That equality of
response is seen as "fair" -
everybody is "treated equally".
But, of course, it is not "fair".
What is needed is not equality of response
but equality of outcome. And the only
way to achieve equality of outcome is
to allow the applicant to define what
outcome is required. Thus, we assist each
person to successfully achieve their own
goal. Now that seems fair.
What is needed, in fact, is facilitation
by the bureaucracy to assist the applicant
in reaching their desired outcome (by
the way, I saw a bumper sticker that read:
"Civil servants are neither".
The task for governments - and the ideal
of good governance for the 21st century
- is to shift bureaucracy to a position
in which it is a facilitator of community
wants, needs and aspirations.
The reason many of us feel that bureaucracy
is an obstacle, rather than an assistance,
lies in exactly that situation described
above: bureaucracy does not respond to
us, to our circumstances, to our position.
One rule is applied to all, one procedure,
one perspective. Flexibility is built
out, as it is thought to be a nuisance,
unmanageable, unable to be implemented
in a world where everyone wants something
The reason that bureaucracies insist
on a "one-size-fits-all" approach
is that they are concerned that they cannot
deliver a tailored response to all. The
mistake they make is that they are not
required to "deliver".
What is needed is not that bureaucrats
deliver something to us, but that bureaucrats
assist us in achieving our own goals.
The difference is in the "locus of
responsibility"; it is that old (and
previously discussed in this column) difference
between "clients" and "cases",
between "customers" and "citizens".
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