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Book Review

Probing the Bureaucratic Mind: About Canadian Federal Executives

par Ruth Hubbard and Gilles Paquet

The transformation of the environment and of the institutional order has created quite a challenge: maintaining some sort of adequacy between these evolving realities and the frames of reference in use by public sector executives. Complexity is often nothing more than a name for a new order calling for a new frame of reference, and the reluctance to abandon old conceptual frameworks is often responsible for fundamental learning disabilities.

Through a series of conversations with Canadian federal senior executives about more and more daunting problems – from coping with an evolving context, to engaging intelligently with a new modus operandi, to trying to nudge and tweak programs in order to correct toxic pathologies, to reframing perceptions and redesigning organizations to meet the new challenges – weaknesses of the capabilities of the Canadian federal executives to respond to current challenges were revealed, and suggestions made about ways to kick start a process of refurbishment of these capabilities. This means having to gain new knowledge about complex systems – something that calls for intellectual effort.

This volume draws mainly from extensive Chatham House style discussions on 24 different topics, with approximately 100 senior executives of the Canadian federal government, although a number of interviews were conducted afterward with other senior Canadian federal executives on the same themes. APEX provided a safe space for these Chatham House discussions and an opportunity for engaged senior executives to discuss daunting wicked policy problems, challenging ideas and intriguing hypotheses, and to reveal how they and their colleagues think.

Ruth Hubbard is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa. She served for more than a decade as a federal deputy minister in the Government of Canada.

Gilles Paquet is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa, and Editor of www.optimumonline.ca. For more information, www.gouvernance.ca.

You can purchase a copy of this book through www.commonerspublishing.com or www.amazon.caand www.amazon.com.

On peut commander ce livre soit chez www.commonerspublishing.com ou chez www.amazon.ca etwww.amazon.com.

Table de matières

  • Introduction
    • Beyond the traditional clichés
    • The rise of network governance
    • The federal bureaucracy under siege
    • The process
    • The outcome: probing a mindset
  • Chapter 1     Cat's cradling: the capacity to cope
    • A syncretic view of each theme discussed
      • Contextual issues
        • Diversity
        • Security
        • Ethics
        • Disloyalty
      • Organizational culture and new governance tools
        • Corporate culture
        • The Gomery world
        • Public-private partnerships
        • Partitioning anew the federal public service
    • A personal distillation of what we learned
      • The decline of open critical thinking
      • Lack of gumption
      • Paradoxes, neuroses and willful blindness
    • Conclusion
    • Annex: Basic documentation for each session
  • Chapter 3    Not in the catbird seat: the capacity to collibrate
    • A syncretic view of each theme discussed
      • Perverse incentives
        • Rewarding failure and deception
        • Punishing success
        • Positive discrimination
        • Failure to confront
      • Pathologies and challenges
        • Quantophrenia
        • Performance review
        • Speaking truth to power
        • What role for cities in public governance?
      • Pathologies and challenges
        • Moral vacancy
        • Crippling epistemologies
        • Risk aversion and fear of experimentation
        • Conclusion
        • Annex: Basic documentation for each session
  • Chapter 4     The unwisdom of cats: the capacity to reframe
    • A syncretic view of each theme discussed
      • The political-bureaucratic interface
      • Federal public service as nexus of moral contracts
      • From leadership to stewardship
      • Deputy Minister: then, now and in the future
    • A personal distillation of what we learned
      • Difficulty in thinking about systems
      • Experts can't learn...
      • A tiny bit of intellectual nonchalance
    • Conclusion
    • Annex: Basic documentation for each session
  • Conclusion
      • Four layers of capabilities
      • A syndrome ... tentatively
      • Cosmology-less wayfinding
      • The way out and forward ... a catwalk
      • Toward a new covenant through a new inquiring system
      • One starting point
      • Conclusion
  • References

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