Frameworks

IN MY WORK AND in the life I enjoy outside of work, I am constantly and relentlessly confronted with strategies, plans, frameworks, units of competency, planning policies, control plans, standard instruments, codes, validation matrices, key indicator lists, and an infinite variety of other written documents by which people attempt to guarantee particular aspects of human activity. They have a particular language, such as that a document like the Australian Core Skills Framework, for use in vocational training, bears a lot of similarity to NSW strategic planning documents, setting out land use parameters. They're boring and they're annoying and they're all very much the same. It's not what they, on their faces, are for, the sameness is part of what they are: a technology of public and private government. They all share other characteristics: they're all exercises in categorisation ('Domains of Communication'! Zone Objectives!), they all exist as part of an interlocking and linked library of policies, referring to other policies endlessly, and they are all written with the objective of compliance—they try to achieve what ought to be, rather than what is. Neither are they the product of the dull libertarian imagination's concept of bureaucracy ('Red Tape!'), a dead hand of government spending, holding back vigorous Reaganite market activity; the mentality is just as pronounced in the private sector, and its happiest environment are, like adult education and training, and urban planning, the ambiguous sectors which are neither public nor private. On one hand, it serves me right for pursuing white-collar work in a regulatory industry, on the other, all of these are just part of Australia's rigid, rule-bound culture. None of us can expect anything else: this is not a planning policy pity party.

What strikes me is that what these documents—let's call them in general Frameworks—are reaching for, is a sense of fairness that we all know is denied in practice by institutions. We all know that actually, the skills of urban planners, adult trainers, teachers, and every other kind of worker, are developed over time through experience, and we can see that the world that these skills and practices exist in is unjust and unfair. We know that the most skilled workers spend most of their days applying rules-of-thumb, and following processes that constantly change, because they have to, arbitrarily. Enter the urge to build theoretical Frameworks for compliance, an understandable desire that people's work should come from some consistent and comprehensible system. How terrifying it is, to a society that makes a priority of perceived fairness over any actual equity or quality (which is to say: Australia), to acknowledge that in fact, what most people do to work is fit any available theory to the immediate demands of what-needs-doing. No wonder that the economists' joke at their own expense ('ah, it works in practice, but does it work in theory?') works so well as a general observation about how this society works!

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