Friday, October 29, 2010

Milestoning in order to drill down into the information

Over the past few weeks I've been in a flurry of activity. At one particular team meeting, I implored the Contract Specialists with whom I sit to invite me into the process, so that I can begin to actually see what is going on.  For the majority of the time I'd been in the division up to then, I had focused almost singularly on the writing of regulations and a new template for Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain contracts, but had not actually witnessed any of the goings on in action. Since then, I've been on multiple site visits, participated in award meetings bid openings, conference calls, and pre-proposal conferences, meetings with policy analysts, general counsels, and all the time maintaining a breakneck pace with developing the writing projects I've been given, and completing class assignments. I suppose I ought to be tired. But, I'm sticking to my self-made promise of exercising during the week, and going on no less than an hour's walk on the weekends. We'll have to see how I accomplish that once it gets cold. But the agency recently granted me access to the fitness facility in the building, so that should prove interesting.

This past week I attended a presentation at the Brookings Institute, the first time I'd ever been there, which provided me with more than enough material to write a solid article on the matter. In stark contrast, I feel that sitting in a room with so many education experts, including the Special Assistant to the President on Education from the Public Policy Council that I may not necessarily have gone down the wrong path. At one point in history, when, to quote one of my professors: "...and then Western Capitalism collapsed..." everyone - including teachers - were loosing their jobs, it seemed that the decade plus of my life that I had spent in the pursuit of higher understanding of education, its principles, and how to apply them, all of the practice, all of the development, had been entirely in vain. But then, enter my time as an interpreter, and following that, my entree into the National Urban Fellows program, and it seems that everything happens for a reason.

Having been through the entirety of the above, it's an interesting thought experiment to consider what is the significance of 'leadership.' That term can apply to the classroom, the agency, study groups, and of course, the frequently named municipal, state and federal levels. But I have yet to truly find myself a leadership role model after whom I would pattern myself, at least in the Public Administration/Business arena. I carry with me images of leadership styles that come from the dojo, and from Steinhardt, and ready comparisons for what Jim Collins would term Level 5 Leadership.

Interestingly, and speaking of leadership, tomorrow is Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Amusingly, at the same time, the good folks at have convened an erstwhile collection of Federal level employees, intent on bringing attention to the fact that they, in direct opposition to the popular belief that they are lackadaisical, unskilled, and poorly trained, are anything but those three adjectives for a parallel rally. Additionally, they hope to present that working for the Federal Government carries with it a distinct collection of benefits unavailable to those in positions outside of its purview.

In any event, stay tuned to my Examiner page for the next amazing adventure, and here for insightful commentary on the commentary.

Facade of the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.

This, it seems, is a strong argument for story based learning. Every time I hear the word 'rally' this scene kicks on in my head. Never fails:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scenes from Reston

Fair warning, this will be an image heavy post.

That said, I haven't been able to present any of my very interesting photographic evidence of my passing through this section of the country. Most of the vegetative representations are from the Snakeden (a fairly ominous sounding name for a public park, no?) Branch in Fairfax County, Virginia. The stream reconstruction is an interesting little public administration project in and of itself, especially given that Reston is the first of the preplanned communities to ever be built in the country (which I didn't know until I lived here.) In any case, whilst living in the Bronx, I was given to wandering the tree lined pathways in the vicinity of my place near the Botanical Gardens, and photographing the changing leaves. Autumn in Virginia, it seems, is an entirely different affair.

Mom's meatball recipe, my sauce...


PNut looking for a good book

A statue of Apollo on the fountain
in the Reston town Center

I'm used to seeing
'NYC Parks' on everything,
so I had to get this shot.

This purple is fantastic
An explanation of the Snakeden
Restoration effort. Click on
the title of this blog and it will
take you to a page with a more
 in depth history

I love the panorama function on my camera. This is about halfway along the walking path. A couple weeks ago, this field was alive with an infinite number of snapdragons, all of which have curled up and hidden from the cold front that moved through last week. I'll have to grab them in the Spring time.

I'm not going to start with the
 "Two paths diverged..." bit,
but it's interesting to see
how Fall is represented here,
in comparison to the Bronx...

These types of knots always
evoke images of otherworldly
faces yearning for escape...

More meatballs and sauce,
on the veranda

Sheeba in her favorite spot

Friday, October 8, 2010

Where's the closest tire shop?

So much has happened in the past two weeks, that it is nearly impossible to publish a faithful report, though I will endeavor to create something of a fillet.

As part of our assignments, we've been given the task of reading, and commenting on posts of our choice from the Harvard Business Review Blog, and that said, I've made a range of comments, here (as J. Valjean), and also here (as the title of this blog.) As time passes, and I acquire more information on the management aspects of public administration, it is indeed interesting to see the collection of thoughts on HBR blog. Written almost uniquely from the perspective of the private business industry, rather, as far as I've seen anyway, even as pertains to the field of Education, I'm repeatedly surprised by how - despite undeniably parallel organizational structuring, and practically mirror imaged management philosophies, - that the business world seems to inherently lag behind the public sector in terms of the more internal development type of evolution. Ed Sermier would ask: "What does that mean?"

What I mean is this: I read the "Leadership Lessons of Ants" and I'm still pondering the comments of several of the posters who seemed incredulous as to the validity of a parable to teach any sort of modern world utilizable theory. But then, coming from a teaching background, and having specifically set up learning experiences centered around parables to teach specific life lessons, perhaps I have a different perspective. Of course we use parables to teach life lessons, why do you suppose the Bible is still a best seller? Aesop lived and died centuries ago, but the inherent applicability of creative solutions (as in the crow who filled a jug with stones to be able to raise the level of water and in so doing, drink from what would have otherwise lay at the bottom of the jug, out of reach.) The Lion and the Mouse, another story not from Aesop, but a classic of Spanish literature, and an excellent lesson about how rumors quickly become something other than what we might like them to be: Los Tres Cuervos. And, let us not forget that amazingly talented inventor of moral infused children's literature: Horacio Quiroga, and his 'Las Medias de los Flamencos'. In each of these, lessons from the animal kingdom bear striking resemblance to how we might conduct ourselves amongst friends, family, and even professionals.

In terms of that, our agency is guaranteed to be in flux shortly, as there is an impending mayoral shift, and everyone at executive level has, as a matter of protocol, had to tender their resignation. This puts all of the Fellows at the agency in a difficult spot, because we've only just arrived, and the potential for significant organizational change in a very short amount of time is very real. The one Fellow placed at OCA reported a climate change so dramatic once it was announced that an administrative overhaul would be taking place, that the 6th degree would have been easier to deal with in the Six Degrees of Climate Change. I have personal feelings on the matter, perhaps I will share them as time goes on.

In the meantime, I've taken to inserting myself into as many leadership oriented activities as possible during my time at the site. I've found that it has become necessary for me to specifically seek opportunities for myself to be involved in the leadership process. At the same time, I'm participating in the rewriting of legislation, creating new contract templates, and it's a good thing that I have a background in language and linguistics, otherwise it would be a great deal more difficult for me to handle the tasks I've been handed. Also, in terms of that, I'm still not sure I'm entirely clear on the following that my mentor told me as I was trying to nail down the specifics of piece of the template with him: "Procurement is solely a commercial exercise, whereas Public-Private Partnerships are more development or investment." I'm foreseeing a conversation with Professor Savas in the future...

Last week, our Program Director came down for the Idealist career fair, and several of us in the DC area made it down to staff the table with him. During the couple of hours we were there, we were successful in attracting quite a bit of attention, and at the very least handing out quite a few information packets. I think we caused quite a stir. And speaking of a stir, having to finally articulate the Initial Capstone Proposal this week was even more difficult than the writing tasks I've been handed for the mentorship. I spent the better part of an afternoon scribbling notes and pacing back and forth by my desk muttering to myself (from the example of Booth, et al.) "Where's the closest tire shop?" But, in the end, it got done, and shipped out several hours before the deadline. Now that I have a focus, I can set about streamlining my data collection.

And now, what you've all been waiting for: El Gran Combo