The Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon

Bureaucracy can make it harder to correct mistakes.

By Liliana Pop on April 6, 2022

I am especially interested in current efforts to reform the welfare state in the UK.

Bureaucracy makes my job harder or easier by... 

Bureaucracies emerge only partly to aggregate efforts or coordinate better a large number of individuals. Formal rules and regulations sit on top of social processes in which the personalities of those involved and group dynamics well-known to sociologists, social psychologists and social scientists play the leading role.

Individual personalities and group dynamics generate underlying assumptions of how people are and how they are likely to behave. These translate quite quickly in the perceived need for fewer or more formal rules. In an environment dominated by fear, rules and regulations would be more numerous and rigid. In an environment where there is more trust and confidence in oneself and others, a light-touch type of bureaucracy is more likely to emerge.

How easy it is to correct mistakes is also linked to these broader factors and the type of bureaucracy in place.
Where fear permeates the organisation, the correction of mistakes might be felt as threatening not only for the position of the bureaucrat, but also for the organisation as a whole. In light-touch bureaucracies, correction of mistakes may be more a matter of course.

I would suggest that in the coming managerial revolution, technology is also open to these two types of uses. In some organisations that have emerged around business models that use the internet, such as Amazon, technology is notoriously used for closer measurement of individual performance and surveillance. Frontline workers are radically disempowered and contestation of rules and regulations is not open to them. Corrections are possible mostly around the units of measurement already in place.

On the other hand, it is also clear that the technological revolution is lowering costs of entry into the entrepreneurial economy for individuals and it empowers them as consumers. Here, there is extreme choice and vast room and tolerance for corrections and adjustments.

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