Earlier this week, a friend shared a profile of Art Allen, an American public servant whose quiet work over several decades greatly improved marine search and rescue. I think Art’s story highlights several important issues facing public servants:
These observations extend beyond the public service; that’s just the context I’m thinking about most these days.
Though it came up less in this profile, one other tension stems from the “public” in “public service”. Who is that public? How to resolve respect for the values and ethics of public service (“fearless advice, loyal implementation”) with an openness to the public? How does an emphasis on user-centred design usurp traditional “stakeholder” dynamics? (I also reflect here on the notion of public servants as loyal servants of the Crown—which is usually equated with the government of the day, but is actually a more permanent, more fundamental loyalty to the “formal executive” instead of the “political executive”, an entity greater by design than any government of the day.)
This is hardly a new conversation, but I think it’s one worth having often. Especially in digital delivery teams, or groups that frequently rotate folks in and out for shorter periods of work, the various nuances and loyalties tied to the idea of being a “public servant” can easily get lost. I think it’s also worth raising up and celebrating the folks who have been in this for the long haul, whether delivering services directly or serving in administrative or advisory capacities—there’s no shortage of hardworking, dedicated people trying to make this better, all navigating a complex field.
All the best for the week ahead. It’ll certainly be enabled in some way, conscious or not, by a hardworking public servant, just as it’ll be enabled by many hardworking folks in the private sector or doing unpaid labour. All deserve recognition and celebration.