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When the bureaucrats show up in Leeds….

September 7, 2010

‘Bureaucrat’ to me is not a dirty word.  I happen to think we need people to organise policies and procedures to bring some sense of organisation and pattern.  To enforce the rules when they need enforcing.  Government and governance can be good.  As long as they remember certain things.

Bureaucrats have been turning up at meetings organised by people who do not work in the official bureaucracies of the city.  They are not employed by the Council, or Business Link, or the Regional Development Agency, or the Arts Council.  But they recognise gaps that these agencies leave and they fill them.  There are enormous gaps left in the online world (anyone tell me of a bureaucracy that does a good job of engagement online?) and the world of the independent and the creative.

These ‘worlds of ones’ are difficult to service for bureaucracies who prefer to batch process large groups of similar types as this offers a much more cost efficient way to ‘achieve’ the outputs that they are contracted to achieve.   At least on the surface.

For me the presence of the bureaucrats is a very welcome one.  The more diverse the group the more potential for something interesting to happen!  They bring skills, resources, political insights and a certain knowledge about how things actually get done in the city that few of us can match.

It is interesting to watch the way in which some of the bureaucrats engage.  For some there is much  note-taking and reporting back, but very little interaction or contribution.  For others the contributions are mainly defensive and explanatory, providing the background to a particular campaign or decision that the ‘world of ones’  has been less than impressed by.  And some perhaps offer personal opinions, thoughts and beliefs, fearlessly, recognising that they attend these conversations as people and not primarily as bureaucrats.  And some, perhaps most yo an feel are torn between keeping their heads down and ‘managing’ risk or just diving in and facing the consequences, whatever they may be, later on.

Leeds Council and its agencies are beginning to wake up to the ‘online community’ (I hate that label as most of my life is not lived online).   What is interesting for me know is to see what happens now.

Are we (The Twitterati, the Web 2.0 Evangelists, the ‘people that slag us off’ as we were recently described) simply a new addition to the list of ‘stakeholders’ to be ‘managed’? Or is there an understanding that perhaps things have changed.  That hyperlinks subvert hierarchy and bureacracy.  That we may be impossible to manage but might respond well to engagement and facilitation. That we are not interested in justification and defence but in relevance, identity and soul.  That co-creation might offer a way forward?

We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.  I wonder if we will be able to develop a way of working in the city that blends the best of chaos and order.

Who is up for Charodic Leeds?

Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”

We’re both inside corporations and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down. – Cluetrain Manifesto

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