Tuesday 23 April 2019

Our Tarot Treasury

It is at least as bad as I'd thought. The event I mean. Danyl's reporting is excellent.
Fiona Ross is a thought leader in the public service; an articulate and engaging public speaker. She stands at the front of the room: a seminar space on the third floor of Treasury. The 30 people in the audience fall silent. She begins. “We all know we live in a DEVUCA world.”

Everyone nods thoughtfully. Except me. I raise my hand. “We live in a what?”

Ross looks at me and blinks. “DEVUCA.”

I try to imitate the sound, unsuccessfully. Someone at my table explains the acronym in a low voice. “It stands for diverse, ambiguous, volatile, uncertain …”

“I think complexity is in there,” another person suggests. There is some disagreement. No one is quite sure exactly what kind of diverse complex ambiguous world we occupy.

“Google it,” Ross advises.

“I will. How do you spell …?”

“And in a DEVUCA world we all need to be more empathic and inclusive. That’s why Heartwork is so exciting.”
Maybe at the next event they'll all wear flower pots on their heads in celebration of a DEVO world.

Among the more depressing aspects of Treasury's degeneration is that, for many on the left, it still defines the right hand side of an Overton window. If Treasury pronounces something, only madness can lie beyond that to the right.
Treasury looks deceptively normal, like an ordinary government department. It is not. Treasury is the most powerful organisation in the public service. In parliament the seats in the House occupied by government MPs are known as “the Treasury benches”. To control Treasury is to control the country.

Treasury is located at the bottom of the Terrace, opposite the Beehive. The building is handsome, spacious, filled with air and light. But in the minds of progressive intellectuals and left-wing activists Treasury casts a black and terrible shadow over the history of modern New Zealand.
But Treasury isn't that anymore. It's something else.
That was all a long time ago, and today’s Treasury is working hard to return New Zealand to a pre-neoliberal, prelapsarian state. Next month the government will release its first “Wellbeing Budget”’ It uses the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework, a world leading concept which, Ross informs us, the department has been working on for 18 years. Instead of focusing purely on economic capital the public service, led by Treasury, will seek to grow the country’s human, social and environmental capital. But also still the financial capital. “We’re definitely not saying economics and finance isn’t important.” After the session is over I ask Ross, “How does any of that connect to this game? Are there any metrics to show Heartwork leads to those outcomes?”

“We’re still building the evidence base for that.”

The Heartwork game is separate from the Wellbeing budget but related to the concept of wellbeing, the company’s other co-founder, Clare Rousseau, a former Treasury analyst tells me. Heartwork incorporates the ideas of Marshall Rosenberg, a psychologist and conflict negotiator who advocated non-violent communication, and combines his teachings with Te Whare Tapa Whā, the “four cornerstone” model of Māori mental health, along with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; the Stanford Social Review’s model of the Dawn of System Leadership; Mindfulness; Gamification and “Theory of U”, a change-management theory from the 1970s filled with Heideggerian jargon about presencing and co-sensing.
I didn't attend last week's session. I wouldn't have liked it, and I'm rather sure I wouldn't have been welcome.
There is a disturbance in the psychological safe space of the Heartwork learning journey, and it is mostly the fault of Eric Crampton, chief economist at the New Zealand Initiative, a champion of the neoliberal reforms and a critic of the new wellbeing focused Treasury. The experiment with Heartwork came to Crampton’s attention last week. He blogged about it, and this led to a Newshub story in which National leader Simon Bridges attacked the card game as “bizarre and actually wrong”, while Jacinda Ardern quickly explained that Heartwork was “nothing she or any of her ministers had anything to do with”. It’s the reason we’re warned at the beginning of the session not to take photographs or any recordings or share any of the personal stories that emerge during the event.
My column on the mess at Treasury is now online at NBR ($)

Danyl goes through how you play the game. Except it isn't really a game. Games will usually involve other players. The Heartwork game is just, well, playing with yourself. So whatever questions you have about the game - you can go there to read how it goes.

I have a few other questions though.

Did Treasury hire Heartwork to provide this session? If it did, what is probity like when contracting for this kind of thing with a former consultant reported to be friends with folks in ELT? Is the registration fee a partial recouping of the costs of the card decks for Treasury, or is it Heartwork’s charge for the session? Does Treasury’s Guidance for Setting Charges in the Public Sector apply?

If Treasury didn’t hire Heartwork for the session, and instead it’s been through other arrangements, what’s policy at Treasury around hosting commercial outfits like Heartwork for these kinds of sessions – do they charge rent on the space? If a different company wanted to run a similar event at Treasury for their own proprietary teamwork program marketing thing [there are oodles of consultants in this general space], what would be the process around approving that?

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Dale Carnegie being happy to provide sessions with similar objectives/outcomes, for example. And it would totally make sense for Treasury to send staff for training for this stuff on an as-needed basis. But the nut of it here is if Carnegie’s local trainers [or other equivalent] asked Treasury if they could provide a $35/head session at Treasury with Treasury and others invited, on what basis could they decline them when they’ve allowed Heartwork? Carnegie at least is reputable. What if the Scientologists wanted to provide e-readings?

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