Bureaucracy Battles

Navigating through institutional bureaucracy is rarely easy. Doing it remotely is even more difficult. As the Conflict Cultures interns are wrapping up our internship, we’ve been asked to synthesize our two semesters of work into a map visualization. I’m very excited to work on this part of the project. When I first started this internship, I assumed all the drudgery of spending hours combing through webpages to find accurate information about museum locations would culminate in a mapping project. I am so glad that I was right! The greatest obstacle is coordinating all the work from afar. At the moment, the biggest hang-up is who will have administrative control of the mapping software, which boils down to figuring out who within the bureaucracy has to sign off on what form.

From my perspective, this final project should take all of thirty minutes. We’re using Google Fusion Tables for our penultimate map. Essentially, users upload spread sheets with X,Y coordinate information and other metadata, and the software populates a map. An administrator creates what the software terms “views” for collaborators. Views are just specific parts of the root spread sheet that individual collaborators have permission to edit and view. Once the administrator has assigned views, each collaborator just needs to upload their data and, voila, Google makes a map. Since we’ve all been using the same spread sheet format and data standards, our spreadsheets should merge seamlessly. The hard work is already done. All that needs to happen is for one person to assign the views and everyone to upload their data. This could happen in an evening. Done.

But, it’s not going to be so easy. Because we’re working with the Smithsonian, we have to figure out what entity will own the administrative account. The decision will be made based upon departmental budgets and authority. Although I understand these considerations are important for the longevity of the product beyond our cohort of interns, it is frustrating all the same. I feel that if we were in a typical, physical working environment I could have shown everyone on my computer how to fashion the map together, then Brian could have just walked down to the appropriate office, had a five-minute conversation, and walked back with an administrative account. Granted, that process might be spread out over a few days, but I still think it would be more efficient. What’s going to happen instead is a tangled chain of e-mails littered with confusion and misinterpretations that will delay the final product.

Although the only way I could reasonably complete the internship requirement is virtually, I definitely prefer traditional arrangements. While it is convenient that I can go to my nine to five and fit in my internship hours around it, so many details get lost over the wires. While my internet connection is high speed, bureaucracy never is, especially without the ability to be an in-your-face squeaky wheel.

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