Beat Bureaucracy

Case study 2: The Navigator speaks

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: You can't ask to speak to a supervisor because they won't answer the phone. How will you reach a supervisor and get their attention?

Strategy  To show that you mean business, send the registered letter to the director of the Enforcement Program with copies to the elected official who is responsible for the program and the head of government (e.g., state governor or provincial premier). You could also send copies to an anti-poverty advocacy group and a newspaper reporter or columnist. Even if you don't get the response you need from the program office, you will have gone on the record in writing about this injustice. They won't be able to claim they didn't receive the letter.

2. Be persuasive Explain in detail 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: Write down several persuasive points about why the Enforcement program should be pursuing your case vigorously. What written "evidence" could you provide?

Strategy  Your children are being victimized. You could identify several important problems created by your lack of money. Attach bills for their clothing, food and shelter--remind these well paid bureaucrats what it costs to raise two small children and how difficult that can be on a small salary.

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: Assume that the Enforcement Program has scheduled an appointment to meet with you. Who should you bring with you? Think of your friends and family—is there anyone who would be particularly good at this? Or is there an advocacy organization for single parents that might come with you?

Strategy  Is there someone in the family who is outspoken and logical? Or a single-parents group that might send a representative, or at least a letter of support?

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 if your letter is ignored.

Strategy  If you haven't read this newspaper article yet, read it now. My friend got her payments.

Or how about a Facebook campaign? Use the letter you wrote to the Enforcement Program and the Program's lack of response as evidence of the government's indifference to children and its hypocrisy in claiming that the Enforcement Program is a success.


Click here to read Case Study 3, “You lose half a day's pay due to an airline's mistake.”