The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Friday 13 April 2012

Creating The Space: Part 2, Re-Thinking Bureaucracy

I ended Part 1 of this post by noting that political bureaucracies cannot control the outcomes and processes of community development.  I further lamented that most bureaucracies continue to operate from within a mechanistic, technocratic worldview.  So last Century!  Indeed, so 18th Century.  The word bureaucracy was coined in the early 18th Century by a French economist who coined the term by combining two French words, bureau (office) and cratie (rule of).  It didn’t take
J S Mill long to describe bureaucracy as a “vast network of administrative tyranny” in 1837.  How many of us have thought since then that bureaucracies are a necessary evil?

In a world in which new worldviews, new paradigms, new ways of thinking and organising are desperately needed, do these necessary evils have a place?  Especially, do bureaucracies have a role in community development?

I suggest that they do, as a transitional catalyst towards a more socially just, more equitable, more sustainable world.  Community development itself needs to take on some big issues and it needs the space in which to operate.

Big Issues

The big issues that community development has to work with in the 21st Century include: climate change, growing wealth inequality, war/terrorism, peak oil, increased claims of participation and rampant consumerism.  These are not discrete issues.  They are all intimately connected, inter-related, feeding back on one another.  In short, they are complex.

If we are to face these issues we will need flexibility, creativity, adaptability and dialogue (not debate).  We will need a new consciousness.  Community development is one of the vehicles that could stimulate such consciousness.  How do we stimulate something new?

Out of the Void

We require space.  Trouble is that as soon as we find some space we humans are inclined to try to fill it:  Silence – fill it with speech;  Open air – build a skyscraper;  Empty stomach – buy McDonalds.

If we search through most of the mythologies and stories of the beginnings of time and life we find an uncanny similarity.  The world came out of nothing, out of the Void, out of “the Nothingness”.  Intuitively we have known that space is the birthplace of “things”.  Today, science is catching up on this intuitive knowledge.  Furthermore, science tells us that 99.99……..% of the world is actually space. 

Can we envisage that?  Think of an average family home in a Western suburb.  If that was the world, matter would be a microscopic speck of dust on the mantelshelf.  The rest would be space.

Space – yes.  Empty – no.  Space is full of energy, vibrations and thought.  (Who’d have thought that?)  It is where our creativity, our intuition, our “flashlight” ideas come from.
Graphic: Ben Gilberti
Yet, as I said, we seem to be uncomfortable with space and want to enclose it and fill it up.  What’s more is that once an idea does emerge we, especially our bureaucracies, want to control the idea, capture it, tame it and make it conform to notions of order and uniformity.

Re-Thinking Bureaucracy

It doesn’t need to be that way.  With some re-thinking of their purpose, bureaucracies could help to create the space in which community development takes place.  Bureaucracies could act like a gardener.  They could till the soil, provide some nutrients, ensure that the soil is irrigated, make sure that the soil is not deprived of sunlight, and then have faith that the seeds in the soil will sprout and flourish in their own diverse, harmonious and magnificent ways.

Unfortunately most bureaucracies are acting more like open-cast miners.  They push aside the natural growth, dig in one direction, displace people, plants and animals in the process and end up with a sterile pit.

OK, enough of the metaphors.  What role can bureaucracies really play?  Firstly, bureaucracies have to give up on the idea that they are in control, that they know best, that the resources belong to them.  That’s not easy.  Systems thinking says that systems have three distinguishing features: elements, connections and purpose.  Elements in a system are easy to change.  In a bureaucratic system we could change the Managers, the Administrators, the Clerical workers etc. and still have the same bureaucratic system.  Changing the purpose is not so easy – yet that is what needs to happen if bureaucracies are going to create the space in which community development can occur in order that the big issues can be worked on.

OK, OK!  That’s what bureaucracies need to give up.  What can they do to create the space?  Well, I’ve given it some thought and here is a quick brainstorm of some ideas: (a later blog will expand on these suggestions)
  • allow outcomes to emerge
  • provide opportunities to network and share ideas
  • provide organisational (not project) funding for community groups
  • acknowledge volunteers
  • pass on information
  • start thinking big picture, rather than getting trapped in detail
  • maintain connections and relationships
  • be open to two-way learning
  • connect, connect, connect
  • remove red-tape (don’t drown in paper-work)
  • be open, honest and transparent
  • recognise success but don’t steal it
  • view failure as a stepping stone to success
  • encourage innovation and a “try-it-and-see” attitude
  • go with the flow
Pie-in-the-sky?  Bureaucracies won’t change?  Most of the big issues suggest that we haven’t got time to sit back and bemoan that it won’t work.  It has to work, and it has to start with our thinking.  We have to re-think the purpose of bureaucracies, which just may mean that we will have to re-name them, because they won’t be bureau-cracies anymore.


  1. I really loved both of your pieces on bureaucracies. I think that they CAN change it with our thinking, as you said. I also love your list of suggestions. Well done indeed sir.

    1. You may have noticed that I forgot to add a crucial suggestion: trust communities to organise themselves.


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