Having just spent three months immersed, in addition to my normal everyday immersions, in the world of Prince Edward Island elections, our visit this week with our colleagues at Elections Canada is kind of like being called up to the bigs after playing minor ball for a season. Or at least invited to coffee with the bigs. A really involved coffee, where everyone talks about address matching, geocoding, PDs and FEDs and CRTs.
Which is not to say that the minor ball played in Prince Edward Island isn’t all a man could ever ask for. But here in the bigs, everything is, well, just so much bigger.
My most daunting challenge of the day was to figure out that, because of the scale of their operation here (i.e. 50,000-odd polls in Canada vs. 296 polls in PEI), there is great, necessary, division of labour.
On Prince Edward Island, Provincial elections are managed by a permanent staff of three. Plus me, the contract programmer. And, during the election, a healthy number of returning officers, data entry staff, poll clerks and so on.
But on issues of technology, there is, ultimately one decision maker, and one implementor. This doesn’t scale well, I admit. And it does tend to make life as the implementor, during the election period, rather full. But man oh man does it make things simple.
With scale comes the need to build pyramids of people, and chains of responsibility. Being used to living in a flat landscape, the world of pyramids is challenging to get used to. It’s not impossible; it simply means making my head think a different way. And it means understanding that the myriad little conversations I have with myself actually happen out in public here.
The flip side of this complexity ramp-up is that the people I’ve been meeting here are all super-smart experts on their piece of the divided labour pie. It’s thrilling (especially for an inquisitor like me) to spend time with such people, if only because it gives me the ability to talk with people who not only understand, and are compelled by, the same weird election stuff I am, but who have thought through many of the same issues, on a national level, with the resources to take different solutions and approaches out for a real ride.
We had a long and interesting day here today. We’re out to dinner tonight, and then back at it tomorrow. I’m going to try and hook up with my old friend Tim Wayne for lunch before we head back to the Island just after supper. Then it’s back in the air to Montreal for the weekend with Oliver.
Must rest my mind now…