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Calling Sir Humphrey

Pansyspeak - 29 June 2006

Calling Sir Humphrey

No wonder Labour is losing touch with New Zealand - they and their officials are caught up in 'strategic conversations'. Unless you learn how to decipher this chatter you are unlikely to understand what's going on or get a fair hearing when dealing with government departments.

Therefore, this week's Pansy Speak is dedicated to cracking this conversation code.

Let's get down to basics. The Oxford Dictionary defines these two key words as:

Strategic adj.of or serving the ends of strategy
Conversation n. the informal exchanging of ideas by spoken words

So therefore the ends of strategy are served by exchanging words. If you are still in the dark, don't worry, so am I! This term, which must have some deep meaning, is peppered throughout all sorts of official documents from government departments. The term is flexible, has many different uses, and the further one digs or reads, the more confused one becomes.

For example, take the following passage from the Ministry of Social Development:
'A less technically sophisticated evaluation that can add more to the strategic conversation is of more value than a technically sophisticated evaluation whose results may distract from ensuring the most strategic use of resources.'
Or this from Housing New Zealand:

'The result of scenario planning is not a more accurate picture of tomorrow, but better thinking and an ongoing strategic conversation about the future'.

Or how about this from a State Services report:

'The quality of the strategic conversation within government is likely
to be improved as departments think more strategically about their organisational
requirements and operational priorities and methods'.

Or how about this from the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) Statement of Intent for 2006 - 2009:

'..our attention has turned to improving the quality of strategic thinking and conversations ... as part of this we have ... put more focus on synthesising research to distil the implications for our strategy'.

And I was told the following during an estimates hearing for the MED:

'Thinking strategically is encouraged in all parts of the ministry ... strategy review is also informed by strategic conversation ... The ministry carried out a review of lessons that can be learned from the year's annual strategy review process. This involved discussions with a range of participants in the strategy review process to obtain and synthesise qualitative views on what parts of the process worked well'

Sorry I asked!

It's all a load of twaddle and could have come straight from Yes Minister! Sir Humphrey's definitely in town.

The way that government departments are bandying-about this term is a worry. I would hazard a guess that strategic conversation may be one of the reasons we have seen the number of bureaucrats soar since Labour took office. I wouldn't be surprised if they were employed to engage in this with each other on a regular basis, nor would I be surprised if there weren't experts employed to make sure it's done on a regular basis!

I hope by now you are relieved that Pansy Speak doesn't engage in strategic conversations. I like getting straight to the point without any fuss or bother. The benefits of this kind of direct communication seem to escape the officials who like to hide behind ambiguous chatter and openly wax lyrical about it in their publications.

As Sir Humphrey said: 'Ministers should never know more than they need to know - then they can't tell anyone'. Perhaps 'strategic conversation' is the latest weapon for those in the know!

I would love to hear about your brushes with strategic conversation and find out how widespread this epidemic is!

Send your thoughts to pansy.wong@national.org.nz


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