Ruby flames and Rohrlich raves

Michael Cahill (MCBlueline@AOL.COM)
Thu, 14 Mar 1996 01:40:32 -0500

>does this mean
>that power in some cases is about executing an elaborate sleight of hand -
>masking the status quo as something else or maybe creating the illusion of
>change? I need to think about this some more - but I think this goes back
>in part to the issue of knowledge.

Holly: "sleight of hand" by bureaucrats? That might be giving them too much
credit! Actually your point about knowledge may be the key. The social
services bureaucracy I work for is in certain ways amnesic, especially when
it comes to really important issues like policy and program. It lacks an
institutional memory. This is the case because it lacks a developed research
arm. Accordingly, the agency has difficulty recognizing the outcomes of its
practices, let alone altering its practices in light of these results. A
recent state investigation commission studying the breakdown of the child
protective system here actually came out and *said* that the system was
characterized by "institutional amnesia," and that the amnesia was one of the
reaons why children were getting hurt. They were being overlooked and lost
track of. This is a major admission. To be fair, though, the criticism
applies to the whole of social services, not just to the child protective
system. As I see it, the welfare reform movement was occasioned by the
"institutional amnesia" of the old system, but it's also destined to become
the first head case of the "new" system. The basic structures of power
haven't changed as far as I can tell. There's still no memory, and little
desire to acquire it.

I used to think that the lack of an institutional memory was some sort of
bizarre fluke. I now think that not having it is crucial to the survival of
the agency. Memory implies learning from experience, which, in turn, implies
changes in practice. Pseudo-change, repackaging old ideas (how many would
ever know they're old?), jumping from one "initiative" to another -- these
things are tolerable. But real change that produces positive results.
That's something else.

Mike Cahill