Quote of the Week
“The anti-government sentiment that Reagan crystallized has created a strange patriotism, in which to love our country, we must hate the governments we elect.”
— Steven Conn blog
National Public Service Week’s theme this year is “Proudly Serving Canadians.” The theme of Public Service Recognition Week in the U.S. last month was “Why I Serve.”
These are great themes, because they point out that so many who work in government do so because they want to contribute to making life better for others. They speak (softly, for sure) about the role of government. They also, one hopes, encourage citizens to think beyond the too-easy-to-mock stereotypes of office-bound bureaucrats sitting behind desks, pushing paper, creating silly rules, and slowing things down.
First of all, we need to celebrate the fact that so many public servants do work that directly and positively impacts citizens: teachers, nurses, street maintenance workers, policemen, scientists … is it really necessary to go on?
Second, we need to make it clear that governments – and therefore those who work for them – have critical roles to play in civil society: regulating markets, checking food safety, providing framework legislation for things like the workplace and consumer safety, zoning public spaces, putting out fires… and so on.
I was reminded that some years ago the government of Canada had produced booklets highlighting individual public servants across the country and the work they do. These were widely available and positively reviewed. Down under, the Institute of Public Administration of Australia (IPAA) has launched a photography contest called “A day in the life of a public servant.” These are great initiatives, because they help to engage and remind citizens that the public servants who they pay for do make a difference.
So let’s celebrate the fine work that public servants do to serve citizens. Let’s continue to look for new ways of doing business that reflect the new and emerging realities of technology, tighter budgets and demographic shifts.
Finally, let’s start a serious conversation on what government’s role in society should be and how it should best exercise it. And in doing so we should focus not just on today, but on a future where governments must set the stage for, and prepare, other segments of society to respond to and profit from a changing world.