On Consultation

It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seat belt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seat belt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seat belt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’

That quote, which has shown up lots of places, came first from an August 2009 blog post by Greg Djerejian titled Lunch w/ the FT. He was quoting Rory Stewart, head of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, on being consulted by the Obama administration. Stewart asked, “I do a lot of work with policymakers, but how much effect am I having?"

I know blogs are not the best place to do subtle, but you see the issue, don't you? Once a certain framework has been put into place - once key determining factors are settled - all we can do is help make a plan work out better or worse. We can't change the plan itself, can't make a bad plan into a good one.

Worse, being involved in second level consultation - the kind of focus group stuff that happens when the plan's been roughed out, but the details are being sorted - means also giving tacit support to the plan. People you may neither trust nor support get to say, "We've consulted with literacy expert [your name here] and they agree with us that...."

So then, maybe consultation is not, each and every time, a good thing?

Maybe it's necessary to take part in a consultation in order to access funds. Maybe it's beneficial in terms of exposure and promotion. (I fear I'd do deeply terrible things just to have some bloke in an expensive tie call me a "literacy expert".) But only sometimes will consultation lead to positive change.

Anyway, I said, I wish you well. But I'm dawn to dusk busy with serious work. So, no. I'm staying home. (And anyway, I didn't want to attend a focus group facilitated by a well-known bully with a vested interest in the Right Answers.) Nor, frankly, am I charmed by our provincial government's creation of a Ministry of Listening To People, which I expect will be every bit as useful as the year old Secretariat of Giving Obvious Advice To Non-Profits (media here).

I will work hard for you. I will give you and my learners my best. But I will not provide you with political cover or lend to you from my very limited social capital.

And I try
(oh my god do I try!)
I try all the time
in this institution.
And I pray
(oh my god do I pray!)
I pray every single day
for a revolution.
4 Non Blonds

top image from INKCINCT cartoons :)

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