Beat Bureaucracy

Case Study 1  Use the 4 Simple Rules for Beating Bureaucracy        30 minutes

Scenario: The bus driver who wouldn’t stop driving

Recently you moved and are now taking a new bus route to work. It’s January, quite cold out. On several mornings a bus has passed you by without stopping. At first you thought the bus was full. But one day when you are on the bus, you realize that the driver is passing people when the bus is not even close to full.

When passengers stand near the driver at the front, he says in a quiet, indifferent tone: “Back of the bus. Move to the back of the bus.” If the passengers don’t move, he passes people waiting at bus stops. It’s always the same driver at that time of the morning.

(When you take buses at other times of the day, drivers say the same words loudly and firmly and, if people don't move, they let new people on the bus and repeat the request until the passengers move back.)

You call the bus company to complain. The person you speak to says that the company will look into the matter. Two weeks pass and there is no change in the driver’s behaviour.

Exercise

You have decided to put energy into this issue because it’s making you and others late for work and forcing you to stand outside for an extra 15 minutes in freezing weather.

You need to get the attention of the bus company and motivate it to fix this problem. Make your plan by answering the questions below.  (If you like, you can print this page and use it as a worksheet, or highlight it and copy it to your files.)

1. Who's in charge? Don’t complain to employees who have no authority to solve problems. Ask to speak to a supervisor and don't take no for an answer. If necessary go all the way to the top.

Exercise: How will you find out who's in charge and how to contact that person?

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2. Be persuasive Explain in detail to the person in charge why you should receive assistance. Be reasonable rather than cranky or accusing. You may wish to begin with a phone call, but always put your appeal in writing and attach evidence — bureaucracies run on paper. If there is an official appeal process, use it.

Exercise: Map out a detailed strategy for how to be very persuasive. Don’t kid yourself—if you don’t do this really well, the bus company may just tell you that they will speak to the driver and then quietly drop the whole thing. Write down all of the main points you would put into a letter of complaint.

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3. Be persistent  Don’t let the system wear you down. Wear it down. Don’t give up because you’re tired or frustrated — friends, family and support organizations can bring fresh ideas and energy to the battle.

Exercise: What if you aren't getting anywhere? Who could help you? Think of your fellow bus riders; how could you get them involved? How about your friends and family—is there anyone who would be particularly good at this? What organizations might jump in on your side?

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4. Push back, hard  If your appeal is rejected, call the bureaucracy to account. Bureaucracies try to look invulnerable. Find their weaknesses. They may fear bad news coverage or phone calls to government ministers or a web campaign against them.

Exercise: Think of at least two strategies you could use to put pressure on the bus company if it ignores your letter of complaint.

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Feedback on your work

After you have answered the exercise questions, click here to see the Bureaucracy Navigator’s ideas about this scenario.