Happy New Year! I hope the wind, rain and storms didn’t do too much damage to ye over the festive period and that they presage fresh, bracing, gleaming starts for us all – clearing out the old and sweeping in the new. Strangely enough, on the East Coast where I have been dog and house sitting, while there has been wind and rain, generally the sun has been out, high in a blue sky and shining on the glory of the eucalyptus, palms, pines, ocean waves and Georgian splendour of Killiney. I have been galloping with the dogs and my family over beaches, piers and mountains, visiting old haunts. It was a great beginning to 2014.
I have also been listening to NewsTalk on the radio in the kitchen and in the car. The dogs like the chat (so do I). It was where I first heard about the Limerick City of Culture story. Oh dear. There is nothing like a little bit of scandal to start the year. And the press was like a dog with a bone. As the resignation of Karl Wallace started to come in, I could hear the excitement of Chris Moncrieff, ‘we’ll keep an eye on this one’. Yes, poor public management, corruption, arrogant politicians, high dudgeon and indignation, victims, heroes are great ingredients. They were gnawed and pawed at until I was sick to death of the whole thing yet none the wiser. Why was I none the wiser? Because I never really understood what had happened. It all seemed ridiculous… as is often the way with our political scandal and the way it is reported.
Yes, I am getting grouchy and old (we probably all feel old at this time of year) but I have learned a few things and the value of experience and the importance of process (though I wish there was another term) stands out. What does process mean? According to the Irish on-line Dictionaries, it means ‘a series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result’. Think about process in terms of your own life. As you get older, you have more experiences in life. Personally, I respond to those experiences. They inform me. I discuss them. I learn. I change, hopefully for the better. We all do it. So why doesn’t process and learning feature in our Irish bureaucracies?
I have worked in community development most of my life and ‘process’ is a key concept. Yet, it seems our public authorities and, may I suggest, the press still operate an alarmist, accusatory, name and blame culture without looking at the origins of the issue. Yes, maybe in Ireland we have issues with responsibility and accountability, but we also need to understand the importance of process. It cannot be replaced by any system. Sometimes people see systems as panaceas. Put in a system and everything will fall into place. But the systems won’t work unless they respond to the issue and there will always be issues, always. When one appreciates the value of process, you are able to more easily identify the emerging problems and work towards resolution, making systems more flexible and practical. Supporting a process involves a vibrancy and tension that has to be understood. That is why management is so challenging. Management needs to constantly draw out the learning from the process, develop systems that respond to the learning, and constantly revise them as factors change and process evolves. We all know how hard constant change is to deal with. Management is not easy, as every parent knows. The New Year’s Eve event in Limerick city sounded brilliant. But none of us remember that now.
Sorry, this early morning train of thought got a little complicated! But, I will try to end on a simple, practical note. When I worked in the Irish Combat Poverty Agency, we put together a simple tool for supporting community organizations to devise policy effectively. Identify the issue, research possible solutions, build alliances, develop responses and actions, evaluate success, celebrate and start again. I have used this framework for much of my working and personal life and found it useful. Maybe that is too simple, but I offer it up…as a New Year’s gift!
Happy New Year!