--> Gill Blog: Lessons in Policy Implementation from Mr. Clarke

Gill Blog

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Lessons in Policy Implementation from Mr. Clarke

Most readers of this blog understand that one of the central challenges faced by emergency planners is to harmonize communications and policy between silos that were previously separated. It often seems so easy to sit back as an armchair quarterback and assume that moving policy forward can be achieved at the snap of a finger. Often though, like so many things in life, things are much easier said than done, and the examples we base these conclusions on don’t necessarily have to come from the highest corridors of power, but from just around the corner.

Yesterday afternoon, I was going to my local Starbucks to scan the net to see if there might be some interesting piece to blog, when just before entering I heard a voice from the outdoor patio say “Tony?” I turned around and saw it was actually my old eighth grade social studies teacher, Jim Clarke (Mr. Clarke - except for a little gray – didn’t look a day older than he did when he was my teacher more than 25 years ago, and he still stands today as one of the best educators I ever encountered).

Mr. Clarke and his wife were enjoying their iced coffees, so they invited me to join them for a little chit-chat. After going through the regular routine of finding out who’s been up to what, we turned to the topic of family. They both had recently arrived back home after dropping their youngest daughter off to her freshman year in college in Alabama (their daughter received an athletic scholarship in synchronized swimming, and found this school put the best foot forward when making their offer).

We started talking about the familiar dislocation that is generally felt by all kids who arrive at college for the first time – checking into a dorm, moving stuff in, getting class schedules, and opening a bank account. For some reason though, the Clarke’s own experience was particularly troublesome. As Canadians, there were now a number of new bureaucratic hoops they had to jump through in order to do those simple things like getting an ATM card, opening a bank account, and even acquiring a student number.

Without getting into the details, they went through a nightmare, and when they actually went to student affairs (those who so diligently wooed their daughter to enroll at their institution) and told their story, they described the administrator’s reaction as being profusely apologetic, and a little embarassed. As they explained, the new policies were being completely driven by Homeland Security Policy, and the administration was being forced to comply; “It was never like this before” the Clarkes were told.

This story points out the difficulties that exist at the cultural level of policy adoption. The basic lesson learned from this story in my opinion, is that if the experience of a Canadian synchronized swimmer in Alabama can cause a kafuffle between campus policies and those of Homeland Security, I wonder what types of power struggles are simultaneously taking place within organizational silos in the highest levels of government that previously were autonomous, but now have to cooperate with others.


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