Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Rip van Winkle Effect

Since I've been back working in and around the state Capitol, I'm experiencing the Rip van Winkle effect.  Remember the Washington Irving story of Rip van Winkle?  He falls asleep and wakes up some 70 years later after the American Revolution.  Well in 2004 or thereabouts, I fell asleep (read: quit my job lobbying on health care for a union and became a homemaker/failed entrepreneur) for 7 years and woke up in March of 2011 only to find myself lobbying on health care for a union.

It's eery because everything is the same only some things are different.  Almost all the other staff and lobbyists in the health care area are the same people, they've just shuffled around a bit, in and out of the building, from job to job, mostly skewing in the direction of money.  Due to term limits, most of the legislators are different, but somehow they're the same as well.

The thing that's the most different is language.  While I was asleep, people started using the following words that weren't often used in 2004.  Without them, it appears that public policy is impossible to conduct.  Principal among them are metrics, silos and optics.

Of them, my husband, who was "awake" during this period, tells me, metrics is the most dispensable with insiders, but completely indispensable with Foundation grant makers.  "If you want to get a grant, you've got to be interested in metrics," he says.

Back at the turn of the century, we used to use quaint words like data or outcomes or measurements to mean the same thing.  Now, only metrics will do.

My same source thinks that silos may be the most useful of the terms.  In my job we're always trying to break down silos between subject areas or subspecialties, but occasionally it might be useful to build them.

Of the 3 terms, optics may be the most telling.  The only way to use the word optics is "I do/do not like the optics of _________"  In the beforetime, we would say, "I don't like how this looks to the public" or "I think this will play well."  Politics has always been concerned with optics of course.  But this is a fascinating concept.  See this piece in the New York Times on the term--click here.  It says that William Safire wrote his last language column partly on the word optics.

In the end, all I can tell you is that until we get more metrics on the use of these terms,  I may just crawl into my silo until it's safe to come out.  And if you don't like the optics of that--tough.

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