Refactoring Government

RefactoringGovernment (aka CivilServiceReform) is a starting point on positive actions aimed to improving user experience (taxpayers) of dealing with governments in democratic (WesternCulturalAssumption?) societies.

Of particular interest are doable changes that can be accomplished by people working in CivilService?, including Government owned utilities and other civilian corporations.

Name of this page inspired by entry in a very interesting comment in

My interests are what people working for government owned corporations can do to keep competitive with private sector, while having to conform "to the letter" rules of Good corporate citizenship which are largely ignored by the competitors in private sector (e.g. massive layoffs)

PeopleManagement aspects

Fine. Devil is in the details. Are there examples of governments in democratic societies achieving significant strides in HR reforms?. Places like Singapore and Hong Kong are very commercial focussed and maybe there are lessons from these regions, no?

Encourage more personnel churn...

Have you noticed that in your local government offices there are always young faces? And they keep hiring even in difficult years and without increasing headcount. Somewhere the math does not add up if there are no churning

Government likes to hire recent graduates, which seem to have a higher churn. After about 10 or so years people stop leaving. This is partly because the government "ruins" your ability to compete outside because the culture difference between gov and private work. They should encourage churn for these "decaders". Government may have to stop rewarding for duration alone. The private sector is halting this practice (except for the big-wigs with growing golden parachutes). However, unions are against this.

Governments (usually) have much lower payscale, and higher retirement benefits. Moreover the same job in government is much more boring due to extra procedures. These procedures were there due to higher visibility/accountability of government actions, but these are very difficult to endure for people with brains. So the "long service" reward, if you call it that, is for people with extra patience. This helps "continuity of operations" (meaning consistency and fairness) demanded by taxpayers. I would say in these "long service" cases the staff concerned are locked in by a GoldenCoffin, they wanted to get out and have a life, but are unable to do so, due to 1) lack of opportunities for keeping up, 2) a large nest egg (have to be balanced with low pay over many years).

Smart young people do not go into government for getting experience. If they do go, they do so because there are insufficient jobs in the private sector. Ambitious career starters want to go to consulting firms, pay as low as government, but learn a lot.

PerformanceManagement in Government

More subordinate evaluation of supervisors would help. I am not suggesting that the weight be heavy, but at least part of the evaluation equation. A little constructive criticism from underlings cannot hurt. It can even be as simple as selecting "area most needing improvement" from a list of 20 or so factors. There are too many supervisors with huge flaws that never get checked because their superiors don't see it or don't care.

Government-like organizations tend to breed management with much higher ego than private sector counterparts. People in high places are generally skilled in "delegating" accountability and are therefore almost "gods" in their own silos. So a system suggested by the above is not practicable in government.

ProcessManagement concerns

SocialSoftware MediumIsTheMessage: A UserStory

In a section of 2005 "Enhancing Productivity" report from InformationManagement office in Australia, it was reported that "Sharespaces" was employed in the consultation process about the PublicService? response to "Australia challenges". The project team of 50 people from 19 agencies was said to have benefited from the internet enabled tool.

See article at

More transparency of processes

If we can be assured that there are good processes, and the spirit of the procedures are followed, then we will have better government.

Unfortunately I am seeing the opposite trend. Under the guise of Code of Conduct, civil servants are gagged under threat of disciplinary action or worse.

An example, recently in our country a fifty two year young CEO of Electricity utility was driven to suicide. Previously the government corporation has made public the politicians were milking the utility out of essential capital replenishment funds. The CEO was then investigated by police for corruption. After his death the Chairman of Board and other senior people resigned mysteriously as well.

The Power of DefensiveStrategies

Successful government employees have taken hint early in their careers from their leaders (the politicians). They are masters in adapting DefensiveStrategies, which are necessary in some situations, providing there exist a greater goal elsewhere requiring attention.

Use of DefensiveStrategies have to be managed better than how we manage the use of antibiotics.

Would people become less defensive if mechanisms can be found to reward "appropriate" risk taking?

Ego in High Places

Mid and senior level civil servants are often individuals with "bloated ego". In a private organization mid level management can often be replaced by another person from a different company. Not so easy in governments due to the unique cultural considerations, and the tradition of governments to provide security as a substitute for reduced pay (compared with similar sized private firms).

I don't think government has a monopoly on bloated egos by any stretch.

Hence the more senior the individual, the more invincible they feel and there is rampant SelfDeceit in both individuals and functional units. This "silo mentality" is the source of dysfunctional behaviour of the entire organization, as internal departments do not cooperate well.


From reference article below:

In the instance analyzed above, it was found management have used recruitment / selection processes to replicate people "in their image", thus ensuring their support system can resist forces of change.

SelfSealingBelief getting in the way of transformation into a LearningOrganization

Can draw examples from large HealthCare institutions, especially the public sector managed ones in UK and other countries.

Memory not contaminated by SelfSealingBelief paves the way for improvements that matter.

And in a separate May04 article at, it was said the various stakeholders took advantage of the large volume of data to play numbers game with other organization groups that supposedly should be working together. Using a standardized communication format such as HL7 would reduce some of the technical issues.

Business to Government suggestions

See for example, a 2006 UK submission by Vortex at advocate these concepts, amongst others:

LessonsFromFailure, related to InformationTechnologyGovernance, not getting transformed into ContinualImprovement patterns

From "Lessons Learned?" at

References and readings

Y'know, RefactorGovernmentMercilessly? seems like a good plan.

I try contemplating this in any sort of thoughtful way, but I find myself getting giddy and gleeful in a borderline psychotic kind of way. This is not good.

The trouble with government is that it is a self-defending resource-acquiring haven for people who want power without accountability.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder what kind of half-life a non-corrupt government would have.

Judging by the examples we have in the world today, it doesn't seem like it's even possible for government to deal honestly with its populace. Never mind "transparency" of process.

And you can't really dispense with government. Mankind isn't far enough evolved to not need it.

So you're left with this entity that attracts to it the free-ride criminals and power-hungry head cases, quite in addition to anyone who actually wants to use it for the good of all. And the kind of good guy that's required to be able to do the job well, keep his integrity, and stave off the ego-maniacal and the freeloaders, such a person (good guy) is in truly short supply.

I guess the only way to remind the inevitable hyenas of their obligations is to periodically CleanTheShotgun? out in plain sight.

And the real joke is that these clowns get into government because ... we put them there! There must be some way for John Q. Citizen to be the good guy while having the strength of character to keep his government in line.

Then again, it may just be a periodic threshold thing: every so often you have to reformat the seat of power and reinstall the Govt OS.

I have to stop now, I'm starting to giggle again.

I've considered whether I should RunForOffice (my spouse vetoed it), but I don't think that's the solution anyway. I'm beginning to think that RepresentativeGovernment has taken us as far as it can, given the constraints of the size it has grown to, limited choice of parties/platforms and the apparent moral (not to mention intellectual) frailty of seemingly many who serve in it. There must be a better way given today's technology. Maybe a PebbleDemocracy ...

But what is the alternative to RepresentativeGovernment? Having elite think-tanks has hardly proven a bureaucracy-buster.

The current structure and policies of government are inevitable given our current belief systems, including the fact that we have multiple belief systems. For example, people who believe in a free lunch will want a government that will provide the free lunch at someone else's expense (and take a portion off the top for administrative expenses). Similarly, people who believe that evil must be prevented, by force if necessary, will want a government that will use preventing evil as the justification for policies which might seem reasonable under one belief system, but repressive under another.

We need to RefactorOurMinds? first.

Would such refactoring eliminate multiple belief systems?

Not at all. I believe the issue boils down to separating concepts of doing social good (charity, voluntarism, helping old ladies across the street, etc) from coercive actions by the state. The only belief system that it effectively eliminates is the idea that I should be allowed to force you to follow my belief systems. Other than that, everything is fair game.

"I believe ... other than that, everything is fair game" sounds like every other belief system. The problem is agreeing on what coercive actions by the state will be allowed, and before that I imagine you'll need to agree on what actions by individuals will not be allowed, which will entail discussions about PrivateProperty?, among other things. Good luck on getting multiple belief systems to agree on that.

Michael Hammer, the father of BusinessProcessReengineering, had stated his views on RefactoringGovernment over ten years ago at (updated link: He later admitted he forgot about ItsaPeopleProblem in the industry that he has been credited for. So RefactoringGovernment is still going on, but nothing radical.

An anarchist would say: Government? YouArentGonnaNeedIt. On the other hand, a consultant would say: Refactoring Government? Sure, we are ready. See for more.

From an interpreted comment of Alistair in CooperativeGameWithinInfiniteGames page


Portal at Harvard has a weekly column from various contributors with experience in public sector management. It appear the site is promoting ServiceOrientedDepartments.

See also: CryptoCracy, RefactorYourOrganization, ReengineeringTheCorporation, WorkplaceDemocracy


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