Do You Really Want to Work in Government?

Our first story this month deals with an issue that’s a little tough for most people to talk about, but it’s real and it’s worth discussing. We’ll pursue it a little more closely in the future. You’ll also find some disturbing stats about, and sympathy for, government service; some basic tips about (re) building trust and a piece from Doug on Internet trolls. You’ll find more of our regular blogs at

Maybe we’ll see you at the IAP2 North America Conference in Montreal at the end of the month. If so, we’ll show you the results of our recent state of the craft poll.  Until then, carry on, eh?  (Continuez, hein?)


This is a Little Hard to Talk About  

A lot of professionals working in the U.S. are not native English speakers. In our diverse culture, some of the best scientists, engineers and other professionals in the system are native born Indian, Chinese, Chilean, Pakistani, Filipino, Iranian or a host of other nationalities. These folks are frequently thrown in front of the American public to present on complex science or policy issues with plenty of expertise on these subjects but little experience or previous help in how to best convey the information effectively.

As a result, cultural differences, accents, technobabble and language barriers become amplified. Everyone’s uncomfortable and the public leaves frustrated. Here’s one small step toward the solution to this challenge:

I went to a legally required public hearing, just to observe, at the behest of a client last night. This was one where the government guy reads from his script at the front of the room for half an hour, then works to avoid any eye contact with the people who stand up to testify in their allotted three minutes – a lousy experience for everyone. We’ve got to start speaking to each other like human beings…

Here’s a nice list of resources that should help you or your folks with public presentations:

Fixing it starts with shortening it…

It’s Hard Out Here for a Govie  

Gallup research says 71 percent of state and local government employees are not engaged at work. Per our experience with federal employees, we suspect that number’s even higher. 92 percent of state and local government HR managers say recruiting and keeping good people is the biggest challenge they face. Government hiring increased by 77 percent in 2016 and retirements are growing. So government worker engagement and morale is low, employees with institutional knowledge are retiring and it’s getting tougher to find, keep and train good, smart people.

This challenge is too important not to manage and solve. The point of the article below is that it’s imperative for employees to be engaged in their work, agencies, missions and leadership, which they often are not today. Notice the similarity between the benefits of employee engagement and the benefits of effective public engagement…Homer Simpson would. D’oh!

It ain’t rocket surgery…engaged citizens produce better communities and engaged employees run better companies and agencies:

There’s an argument that engagement is actually overrated. For businesses, maybe, but for the public sector it’s a lousy argument:

State and local government often embraced the reinvention process of the 1990’s; the feds, not quite so much. Yet today, all indicators suggest that government is less trusted than ever before. One cause might be that legislatures and the public were rarely engaged in government reinvention. They have to be part of the process:

(Re) Building Trust  

It’s not that people don’t care about being trustworthy. It’s just that they’re not sure exactly what to do or how to do it. So here you go…

Rebuilding trust between government and those of us that are governed will take time and conscious effort. However, at some point in almost every process there comes some kind of negotiated agreement and how you negotiate can be a trust builder:

There always seems to be more written about trust from a business perspective than from a government viewpoint, but most of the lessons are adaptable. This quick story is no exception:

Community Involvement & Internet Trolls  

The dictionary defines the verb trolling as making “a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.” We all experience this, and the more we use online dialogue and public input in community involvement, the more doors we open for these trolls to disrupt the process and potentially alienate well-meaning participants.Two studies published in Psychological Science looked at people’s Internet commenting styles to better understand the underlying psychology of the commenters, particularly those who enjoy trolling. The studies revealed a strong relationship between trolling and what psychologists call the “Dark Tetrad” of personality: sadism, narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling. The study author concluded that cyber-trolling appears to be an “Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.”

So how should we respond? Psychologists would suggest that we don’t. Encouraging community involvement by having commenters not respond to trolls at all can aid in fewer trolling in the future. Sadists get pleasure from your suffering, so ignoring them denies them this pleasure. When we design online community involvement programs, we like to take this a step further. First, always establish ground rules of civility online, much the same way we do in facilitating any in-person meeting. These online ground rules need to be very clear and specific and also describe the actions that will be taken with the offensive comments (generally their removal).

Whenever I remove a comment for cause, I always replace it with a statement to the effect of “This comment was removed for failing to meet the code of civility clearly identified on this site. We encourage the author to comment again to make their substantive points without insulting other participants of this dialogue.” There is not much pleasure in that. However, if your trolls enjoy having their offensive comments removed from a site, then I can’t really help.

Doug Sarno

Conflict Resolution Strategies & Conflict Resolution Techniques  

The Participation Company (TPC) partners consult, coach and train to help you with your community involvement programs. Remaining open registration 2016 International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) classes include:

The IAP2 Foundations 5-Day Course:

* Anchorage, AK: October 31 – November 4, 2016

* Fort Collins, CO: November 3 – 4, 2016: (2-Day Techniques)

* Salt Lake City, UT: December 5 – 9, 2016

Click on to register, and for more useful stuff on the TPC blog.

The Participation Company LLC is a strategic partner and provider for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA)

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