When I first read Dr. Douglas Hartle’s case study, I thought it would be a great script for the BBC television series Yes Minister. Then I became a senior official in Ottawa, drafting MCs and attending interdepartmental consultation meetings, often reminiscent of Hartle’s story.
As public servants are sworn by the Oath of Secrecy not to divulge how particular Cabinet decisions were made, Hartle wrote what he described as an attempt to convey, in fictional form, the essence of the MC consultation and decision making process as seen by a former senior bureaucrat. It’s a popular case study in public administration and Canadian politics courses.
The case study begins with the inner thoughts of the senior official who drafted the MC, on his way to a Privy Council meeting. “I looked upon the meeting as anticlimactic and the hours of work spent in getting the words on paper as largely wasted. But pride in affecting a political decision is, as every bureaucrat knows, at least as satisfying as the pride in the acknowledged authorship of an official document…..The draft might be ridiculous. But does not the pride of the professional lie in doing a ridiculous act well?”
It’s an informative as well as entertaining read. The Institute of Public Administration (IPAC) has published it as “Case Study Ethics 1.29“. (cost is $5). There’s a limited preview at “Google Books“, if you are curious.