#TBT: 20th Century Public Service Olympics

Mar 26th, 2015

Its that time of year when Canadian government departments start thinking about Public Service Week. Traditionally held in June, the event celebrates the good work public servants do across the country serving Canadians in so many different and important ways.

#TBT got me thinking today. So, in the spirit of Public Service Week, I’m inspired to highlight just how far the digital world has changed public service.

The idea?

A 20th Century Public Service Olympics. Team Decathlon.

1 day. 10 events. 60 minutes.

Rules: (1) 21st & 20th century technology expressly prohibited unless provided for during the event; (2) mandatory professional work attire (no lululemon, Nike or name brand athletic gear) and, finally, very importantly, (3) hierarchy matters – so if your team has a senior official on board, defer as required.

The events…

  1. Deputy Dash. Walk briskly from Langevin to Centre Block on Parliament Hill (about 100 meters) beside a Deputy Secretary taking dictation with a pencil and notebook in 5 minutes, wearing gloves, hauling a briefcase, and avoiding puddles. No huffing or puffing on arrival. And please do not drop anything.
  2. Fax You. Send a 5 page fax to three different people on three continents and get hard copy confirmation in 5 minutes. Don’t forget to hand write the cover page. An international trade agreement deal depends on it.
  3. Be Prepared. Lift and carry two locked Government of Canada legal size tan embossed leather briefcases (35 lbs each) across the parking lot (about 50 meters) in 5 minutes, then open the cases, extract the correct file and brief up. Don’t stop, rest or drop one case. Remember the keys.
  4. Carbon Capture. Prepare a one-page Ministerial letter using a manual typewriter and 5 sheets of carbon paper making 5 copies in 5 minutes. Without a mistake.
  5. Band (or Bond)age Central. Enter the subject matter, author, date, and file number, by hand, into a ledger then file 25 paper files into a central file registry in 5 minutes. Avoid paper cuts at all costs.
  6. Steno Pool (Google it) Hurdles. Push an overloaded mail cart between 30 occupied desks delivering mail to each steno pool member without disturbing clerical work within 10 minutes. If you disturb someone, start again.
  7. Crisis Management. Coordinate an emergency meeting of five departments in three regions, including two central agencies, in 10 minutes using only a RIM 850 2 way pager. Yes, only a RIM 850.
  8. Bilingual Bonus. Two parts to qualify. First, take dictation of a one-page letter using the Pittman (or Gregg) shorthand system of stenography. Second, using an IBM Correcting Selectric Typewriter, transcribe the letter in 8 minutes. Without mistakes – in either case.
  9. Party Line.Direct and manage 10 incoming domestic and international calls in 2 minutes using a manual telephone switchboard in the office of the Assistant Deputy Minister. The one that looks like an octopus on steroids. Remember, there are no second chances.
  10. Wiki Wonka. Create, populate and promote a new GCPedia page for the 20th Century Public Service Olympics using using only your intelligence, creativity, enthusiasm and Wordperfect, in 5 minutes. No approvals required.

We’ve come a long way making public service digital.

And we have a long way to go.

Maybe Canada’s Science and Technology Museum can help.

But here’s the thing.

Technology can’t change our values.

Humanity & hope for our country.

Its the reason why we joined public service in the first place.

And its the reason we stay.

So, thanks to all public servants who have gone before us.

Because they lived the Team Decathlon dream for real.


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