Reading list, 22 April 2018

Late last year I decided to start blogging more, or at least collecting my thoughts on a more regular basis and using this blog as a vehicle for that. What I thought I’d do is try to pick an issue or subject that had come up in the week and reflect on it, record what I thought for future reference, and think through the issue. Typically that mean thinking about something that happened at work. As I’m a public servant, that’s a tricky line to walk – under our code of conduct we’re restricted from commenting publicly on government policy over which we might have some influence, even if just a very small amount of influence.

As I’ve always worked in operational roles rather than policy I’ve been freer to comment than others in the public service. Until now that is, as I’ve started a new role that’s more involved in government policy setting. I’m still reconciling this in my mind, suffice to say I have to default to being more rather than less careful.

But does the public service have the settings right? More and more of our democracy and debates about our society are happening online. Facebook, Twitter, Medium and other online platforms are where critical debates about our future are happening. Public servants are some of the most well-informed people in our society about issues critical to where we’re heading. To exclude nearly 40,000 public servants from online debate, particularly in a country of New Zealand’s size, a country not exactly well-known for healthy public debate, seems unfortunate if not dangerous.

Coincidentally, this appeared in my Twitter feed today: Government blogs and government bloggers, noting that the work of government digital teams has moved increasingly from a technical-process space (bloggable) to a political-substance space (not-bloggable). And yesterday there was news of a ruling in Australia that public servants should be able to comment on government policy if they do so anonymously: Public servants should be free to comment on social media under fake names: AAT. (Not that anonymity really solves the problem – anonymity is very hard to maintain and in any case, it undermines the very authority of thinking that a public servant can bring to a subject.)

However, that’s where we are so have some random links for reading instead:

Catherine Needham writes in the UK on the use of the word ‘customer’ to describes people in civil society: Don’t call me a customer, treat me like a human: rethinking relationships in public services.

Research in from Europe on the very long-term value of public investment in infrastructure: On Roman roads and the sources of persistence and non-persistence in development (bearing in mind Roman roads were a key component of colonisation and empire-building, so do with that article what you will).

From the socio-religious realm, Apelu Tielu responds to Israel Folau and God’s plan for gay people in E-Tangata, reminding Christians that Christ’s teachings summarised the ten commandments into two commandments: “to love God, first and foremost, and to love your neighbour”. Also interesting to thing about Paul (author of the oft-quoted Corinthians) was originally a Pharisee and “struggled throughout his ministry to reconcile the Pharisaic principles of being God’s moral police, and the exclusion of those who didn’t make the moral cut, with Jesus’ inclusive and unconditional love for the sinner.”

And finally – weirdly to this ageing Gen-Xer, there’s a Museum of Ice Cream – three of them in fact: The Post-Millennial Generation Is Here… and they’re working at the Museum of Ice Cream. I can’t even, but the combination of Instagram-friendly environment, minimum-wage precariat workers, and uncritical commitment to an organisation created by a 26-year-old self-described hustler is eerie.