There’s an old(er) song that goes, “I wish that I know what I know now, when I was younger” (Oh La La by Faces, for those interested in trivia).
If I knew the things I know now back when I was starting out as a Public Servant six years ago, first as a co-op student completing my Master of Public Service at the University of Waterloo, and then when I got my first contract with the OPS, I would have been able to really hit the ground running.
It took years of experiences, coffee chats with experienced professionals and lessons learned from leaders and colleagues willing to pass along their knowledge to know what I know now.
But man, if only I had a book like The Public Servant’s Guide to Government in Canada, I would have had a bit more of a leg up.
It’s a book that every new and aspiring public servant should have in their learning library. Small but mighty in its 108 pages, The Public Servant’s Guide provides lots of tips, advice, and learnings that would take a few years on average to accumulate.
Now, you can’t put a price on the kind of mentorship and experience that comes from years in the public service and it’s a worthwhile investment in your career to learn from your experiences and from others…some things you just have to learn that way to let things really sink through, but it helps to have a bit of help along the way.
Written by Alex Marland, a professor of political science from Memorial University and Jared Wesley, a self-styled “pracademic- a practicing political science and recovering bureaucrat” at the University of Alberta who is also part of our IPAC national community through the Edmonton Regional Group, the book is styled as “an overview and introduction to life in the public service. It connects theory and practice to produce a handy desk reference” and to me, saying its handy is a humble undersell.
Without giving too much away, The Public Servant’s Guide provides an overview of the federal government primarily, but is useful to understanding the provincial government as well. It provides a good overview of the experience of public servant in government administration.
- It is peppered with tips for new professionals
- It explains the difference between the public service and political staff in a brief yet holistic way.
- It outlines some of the management approaches tried and tested in public management such as new public management, and the role of the public service bargain (read: ethics and values)
- It provides a dos and don’ts on writing briefing notes.
- It talks about managing your career in the public service.
For those fancying themselves as wonks, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to policy, denotes the prominence of the discipline and why it tends to be a draw for most new professionals and students of public administration.
The Public Servant’s Guide is full of great tips on what you should do to stay informed about happenings in government, to ensure that you are supporting the forward motion of the wheel of government: monitoring government speeches, asking questions, aligning work with your deputy minister’s priorities and government priorities, practicing real time information monitoring to be on top of critical issues of your ministry.
If you buy only one book as a recent grad or new public servant with the limited funds that come from student debt and contract positions, you should buy this one. I wish that I had this guide when I was starting out.
Thank you to University of Toronto Press for providing a copy of the book for us to read and review!
Alana Del Greco,
Advisor, Policy | Office of the CAO | City of Brampton
IPAC Toronto Board Member