Civil Service / General / Government / Technology

A tenuous Civil Service analogy

The Civil Service has been likened to many things (most of which, particularly in recent times, are not very complimentary). A treasure chest (of the pirate variety) is probably not amongst the most commonly used analogies, but it does provide quite a useful- if slightly tenuous and inevitably cheesy– representation.

There’s often lots of treasure inside… but it can be very hard to get to
By “treasure” I’m referring to money and talent, both of which exist in sometimes quite staggering quantities in the Civil Service. In such a vast organisation access to money is often complicated, and talent isn’t always recognised. Additionally, relevant talent can be hard to locate and fiercely protected.

Many people want access to it. Some are pirates*
Many people (including members of the public, suppliers, MPs, and civil servants themselves) interact with the Civil Service. Most of them have noble intentions. But not all.

There’s not always treasure within (or “there are some skeletons in the closet”)
If you find a treasure chest you may not be happy with everything inside it. The same is true of the Civil Service; no organisation can please everyone, and every organisation has done things they later regret (or which are portrayed negatively).

It encourages competition and can provide direction
Hunting for treasure incites competitiveness and gives individuals focus. The same is true of the Civil Service; it can provide support and direction to individuals and organisations under the umbrella of the government, and encourage (and rely on) competition- for example between suppliers.

The supporting structures may seem out-of-date but they often provide sturdy foundations
Many of the Civil Service’s computer programs are based on legacy systems.  They were typically written years ago and, as such, are often inflexible and very complex (as the locks and bolts around a treasure chest are…). Part of the reason they’ve lasted so long, however,  is because they frequently provide solid foundations.

It encourages creativity (but not always intentionally)
If you’re looking for a treasure chest you’ll need to be creative. If you find a treasure chest you may have access to wealth that could fund more creativity. The Civil Service (/ the government) inspires and is aided by, and sometimes helps and enables, creativity.

A lot of people ignore/ overlook it
It’s easy to overlook a treasure chest (if it’s well hidden). Similar is true of the Civil Service; many don’t realise the role it plays and how the organisation can help them, or go out of their way to minimise their interactions with it. If it wasn’t here, however, we would soon notice (or would we? Perhaps that’s a topic for another blog post…)!

I could go on, but suspect the links would become increasingly sketchy. If you have alternative suggestions for Civil Service or government analogies please post them in the comments… the more creative the better.

* In this post “pirates” refers to the shiver-me-timbers variety.


4 thoughts on “A tenuous Civil Service analogy

  1. Treasure is a nice analogy. I’ve described it previously as a fish tank:

    “I’ve always thought of government as a fishtank, with lots of dark places to hide and plenty of slippery, fast-moving inhabitants. You can of course get the fish to where you want to go, but it takes a bit of practice, a good net, or the courage to drain it all and start again.”


    • Ooh I like that, good suggestion. I’m sure there’s a very tenuous link in there to do with those plastic treasure chests that are put in fish tanks and work/ people but I’m not going to go in to it!

  2. perhaps combine the two? instead of a fish tank or treasure chest think Ocean. A pool of mystery. With the mystery starting to be removed thanks to modern technology. (localgov etc).
    This is a turning point in history. Never has the common man been allowed to swim in the ocean, look for the treasure chest or watch the slippery inhabitants.
    With the advent of internet access we can all reap the benefits of the treasures of the deep.
    And with ubiquitous connectivity through fibre to every home in the country we can break free of the copper fishing nets which are poisoning the sea.
    Hopefully with our own data centres in our own country we can also break free from microsoft et al too, and fish our own waters safely.

  3. I’ve always thought of the Civil Service as a more eccentric version of Grange Hill… but perhaps that’s just me!

    There’s some fantastic people, there’s some brilliant idea’s that surface within the Civil Service and that makes proud to be part of the institution…. but unless you know the “right people”, fit in with the “right politics” it’s rather hard to grab that “treasure” and bring it to the surface. But the same can be said about any large organisation unfortunately I think…. size breeds complexity and promotes survival instincts.

    I think that the more that we promote lateral innovation and collaboration (and Social Media is a great enabler here), without the need for countless business cases, PIDs, Risk Registers etc then the more “treasures” we will see emerging.

    Right now, the Civil Service in a rather fragile state with everything that is going on economically and politically.

    We need to be able to foster the right environment to enable those “treasure hunters” to thrive and be willing to come forward, otherwise we will stay in the dark just trying to tread water to ensure our relative survival. We need to nurture an environment that encourages innovation, not just mere survival which is what I fear we may be facing over these next few years.

    But that’s just my personal opinion based on what I’ve seen so far.

    However, I would like to be proved wrong.

    We could do so much more, if given the opportunity to do so. That’s my hope, my dream… my “vision”.

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