How (Not) to Name Government Departments

January 31, 2007

When I worked in the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, there was always conjecture over how to pronounce the acronym, DCITA.  Was it with a hard C or soft C?  Was it dockeeta, deseeta, dockita, deckeeta, etc?  The deseeta pronunciation never sat comfortably as it sounded too much like deceit which was definitely not what we were on about.

I’ve been watching closely the name changes to the recent Federal Government departments, particularly the renaming of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.  The obvious acronym here then would be DIC – with the Secretary of the department being the DIC-head.  Wisely, they have decided to abbreviate the department to the acronym of DIAC.

But this may not be that much better.  A diac is a little known electronic term.  This from wikipedia:

The DIAC, or DIode for Alternating Current, is a bidirectional trigger diode that conducts current only after its breakdown voltage has been exceeded momentarily. When this occurs, the resistance of the diode abruptly decreases, leading to a sharp decrease in the voltage drop across the diode and, usually, a sharp increase in current flow through the diode. The diode remains “in conduction” until the current flow through it drops below a value characteristic for the device, called the holding current. Below this value, the diode switches back to its high-resistance (non-conducting) state.

In public service speak, this means

Resist for as long as possible until a crisis or an overwhelming flood of public opinion is reached and then conduct your work as fast as possible until the crisis or flood abates below a certain level then go back to the standard operating state (ie resist for as long as possible).  

Note that a DIAC does not conduct (except for a small leakage current) until the breakover voltage is reached.  I guess that means you always need to have a minimum amount of leaks coming from the department to keep the media current. 

A rule to follow:  Never name a department without checking its acronym against Google, wikipedia and the common sense library.  And secondly, try and avoid duplicating the acronym of another government department (why create the Department of Environment and Water Resources to match the DEWR of the existing Department of Employment and Workplace Relations). 


DPSIR – Neat Approach for Describing Challenges

January 29, 2007

One of the strategic management approaches that we have here at work is the notion of challenge and response.  That there are issues that we are facing that are presenting us with a challenge and that we have to articulate and implement some form of response to that challenge.  Public service organisations tend to be great at responding but often have difficulty with framing and understanding the challenges that are faced.

In some planning discussions last year, we used the DPSIR model.  It is derived from some early OECD work and has been primarily used for environmental systems.  It can be summarised as:

  • Driving forces of change (e.g.industrial production)

  • Pressures on the system (e.g. emission of air pollutants into the air)

  • State of the system (e.g. air quality)

  • Impacts on population, economy, ecosystems (e.g. health problems)

  • Response of the society (e.g. emission permits)

It got people to think a bit more deeply on the challenges that are being faced, what is driving them, how the current system is being affected, what evidence there is for change and wider impacts before coming back to the response for dealing with the challenge. 

Putting climate change on the front burner

January 25, 2007

My good friend and fellow Melbourne futurist Stephen McGrail has an article in The Age today.  Stephen is a consultant at Futureye. He discusses how climate change has now become a major issue for most businesses whereas only last year, it was considered as something to worry about later.  Drought, water crises and Al Gore have changed the landscape. 

Stephen goes further to note the uncertain outlooks for the next decade or two.  From extreme points of view of radical reductions in carbon emissions to slowly, slowly approaches that set more modest emission targets.  He advocates organisations to adopt proven foresight tools to make sense of the future and test the resilience of current strategies and practices.

That Tim Flannery has been named Australian of the Year (yet another scientist gets the gong!) adds further height to the “tsunami of change” that is building on climate change.  In Flannery’s interview on the 7.30 report tonight, he mentioned that we have lost a decade in our response to climate change which means that more radical changes are required.  Hardly good news but there is still hope. 

Well done Stephen on getting the article published and making the back page. Now to get futures on the front page…

Another 2007 Conference – Spiral Dynamics Certification

January 25, 2007

Isn’t it always the way when you write a post (or finish a paper) that you then notice something else that you feel that you should have added? 

Another conference/workshop has come on my radar for 2007.  It’s the Spiral Dynamics certification course.  I first heard about SD through the foresight course at Swinburne from a few practitioners and since then I’ve read more widely on it.  It is one of the best models that I have seen for explaining human nature and the trajectory for change.  I use it as a principal framing model for other personal developmental theories including Piaget, Kohlberg and Cook-Greuter.  I recently read the book “The Never Ending Quest” which detailed the evidence and story behind the development of this model.  It showed that when life problems are solved at a particular level, new existential ones emerge which require the activation of additional neuropsychological equipment in the brain.  The process continues and it shows that Utopia is never reached, just new problems emerge.

It’s an incredibly deep and rich source of material, profound in its application to individuals and organisations alike.  I’ve always wanted to do the course, now it’s just a matter of trying to source the funds to actually participate.

Opportunity cost and psychology of war

January 23, 2007

Just a quick follow up on my recent article on shifting narratives for war legitimacy.  I’ll try to make this the last one on the war for a while. 

There was a letter to the editor in the Fin Review on 19/1/07 by Barclay O’Brien that I have summarised as:

  • It is the war that was based on lies, started illegally, conducted poorly, and explained posthumously.
  • It is the war that has divided allies, sacrificed Western values (rule of law, treatment of prisoners, civil liberties), incited more terrorists and worsened life for the Iraqis.  
  • It is a war that will continue to foster regional instability, distract governments from other crucial problems (Palestine, etc), and misdirect resources. 

The misdirect resources issue was taken up by John Quiggin the other day.  As an economist, he talked about the opportunity cost foregone as a result of the war and in effect asked the question “how else could we have made human lives better and longer with a trillion dollars?”   Governments generally ask that question of their funding buckets but not necessarily in terms of war. 

He also notes the psychology behind the current narrative of “staying the course” in terms of win/lose with the psychological acceptance of a high probability of greater losses in return for a small probability of winning or breaking even.  Typical problem gambling situation it seems.  And of course as with many situations in government, it requires the generation of a crisis (in this case the failure of a military intervention) in order for the cultural narrative to be broken down and for future approaches in similar situations to be transformed.

Consilience of knowledge in the natural sciences

January 22, 2007

I was reminded recently of the great EO Wilson and his most interesting work on consilience.  This is a word not greatly understood by many knowledge managers who happily are prepared to recite the data-information-knowledge mantra but do not consider either what is next or some of the fundamental issues around dealing with knowledge.

Consilience is the linking of facts and fact-based theories across discuplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.  As an integral and systems thinker who is constantly working to “transcend and include” the dilemmas and paradoxes that confront me, I find the exploration of consilience one way to act against the reductionist mindsets that are constantly surrounding us. 

Consilience is occurring in the biological sciences with unification between ecological and molecular biology, overcoming the schism that lay between molecular genetics (and the certainty of chemistry and physics) and evolutionary biology (which is more observational and seeks patterns in the data).  I read recently that the next phase of consilience in the 21st century will see the unification of biology and psychology as we move from understanding the role of the gene to understanding the brain.  Of course, I would prefer to not just look at the role of the physical manifestation of the brain but also its consilience with energetic and other properties which at this stage are often considered esoteric or unscientific or simply discounted. 

As the boundaries blur between traditional knowledge domains and we learn to communicate better across disciplines (science, humanities, philosophy, theosophy) and as easy access to more factual knowledge grows, more integral perspectives will arise and we will approach as EO Wilson puts it, the greatest of all intellecual challenges, the testing of consilience. 

2007 Upcoming Conferences

January 18, 2007

As usual, there is a host of forthcoming conferences that seem like they would be great to attend.  These include:

National People and Organisational Development Summit – great speakers including Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Richard Hames.  Sydney, 6-8 February

Happiness and Its Causes – Dalai Lama, Howard Cutler and a number of good pre-and post-conference workshops – Sydney again, 14-15 June

actKM 2007 conference – Canberra, late October.  I’ve been going to their conferences for the past few years and they’re a great bunch.  This year they might look to do something with more workshops and networking and less talking heads.  Doing KM, rather than talking KM.  Why don’t more KM conferences actually embrace what KM is about rather than just talk about it?

 I might not get to go along to any of these conferences.  I am busy organising an internal Justice conference at the moment which is a nice challenge.  If anyone does get to go along to the other conferences, particularly NPODS, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.