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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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Promising news on credentialism: Palo Alto failed basic test for malignant bureaucracy

Uploaded: Jan 4, 2019
I have railed against the pursuit of meaningless awards, credentials and other distinctions by City Hall and various advocates -- they serve only to inflate the egos and resumes of the very few. Credentialism has become a major societal problem: I hear from, and read about, managers complaining that college graduates come to them with superb credentials, but lacking crucial basic skill.(foot#1) The problem starts in high school and earlier, with a focus on passing tests to gain a credential as a proxy for developing the actual skills and capabilities. Later they get used as proxies for actual achievements: Credentials greatly simplifies paperwork, whereas evaluating achievements and skills can be difficult. Credentials were intended as a rough, first-level filter to screen out the unqualified.

Government is typically a good source of cautionary examples, not because it is necessarily worse than private organizations but rather because some of its actions are more visible to the public. In the 2017 Digital Cities Survey, Palo Alto placed 8th in its category -- cities under 75,000. When I looked at the announcement(foot#2) for what the winners in each of the 5 categories were doing to warrant this recognition, I found:
- bringing data analytics to bear (results not being mentioned implies no results worth mentioning),
- issuing directives ("issuing" implies little or no follow through much less positive results achieved),
- deployed WiFi for people unlikely to have WiFi devices (a homeless encampment),
- introduced strategic goals (there are apps that automatically generate Dilbert-esque ones),
- established a taskforce,
- scheduled a meeting (which may not have been held, much less have produced a schedule for a series of follow-up meetings),
- enabled residents to participate in decisions for which the residents didn't have adequate information to form informed opinions,
- decide to have their IT efforts support their strategic plan,
- to provide information (grocery store locations) to residents and non-profits, they decided to use a (proprietary?) Geographic Information System (GIS) instead of using a widely available system -- such a Google Maps,
- paying for professional development activities by IT staff,
- echoing the buzzwords in the survey's introduction.

Aside: Parents, if your children are learning to apply critical reading, skepticism and cynicism to the puffery that surrounds us, this announcement may provide a useful exercise.

City Hall: I thought to myself that the claims of the winning cities were all ones where City Hall has demonstrated capabilities and expertise. So how didn't we come in 8th? My hope is that some low-level manager who was assigned the task of putting together a submission for this vacuous award decided that doing anything more than was needed to report "Done" was not warranted in face of significant staff shortages.

Suggestion: Rather than treating these vanity awards as a positive, the new City Council should treat high rankings as a waste of resources and mismanagement.
City Manager won't want to tell Council: "I am please to report to you that our submission for the XYZ award failed to receive even an honorable mention." And he won't want to tell Council of winning an award because that represents a failure. By creating an lose-lose situation, we may be able to create a culture that doesn't see meaningless awards/credentials as a substitute for meaningful accomplishments.

1. Lacking crucial basic skills:
This is different from my day when employers complained that recent graduates didn't have all the skills needed to take on a specific job with little or no additional training.

2. Digital Cities Survey 2017 article from announcement:
"^Digital Cities Survey 2017 -- Winners Announced^".

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.

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 +   9 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 5, 2019 at 12:42 pm

"- bringing data analytics to bear (results not being mentioned implies no results worth mentioning), ... "

Great lead-off. "Data analytics" is the supreme buzzphrase of our era, like "systems" was in the seventies. Both are at once meaningless and sacred. But to my point: How would a Credentialist even know about results, let alone how to judge them?

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