When I started working, I thought “vetting” was something you did to cover your tent when you went out camping in the woods. As in, “Let’s make sure we have a lot of vetting on the tent so that the mosquitoes don’t get in.”
Vetting, netting…it sounded exactly the same to me.
Now I know that vetting is not something you do to a tent but something you do to an idea, to make sure that it never actually goes anywhere.
As in, “Let’s vet this idea with EVERYONE to make sure that ANYONE who objects has a chance to say so, and if there is NO ONE who can think of anything wrong with it…”
Well you know how that sentence ends…often many emails, and then the concept is sent to the dwelling of Great Ideas That Never Saw Airtime.
Now, it is not true that vetting is a way of keeping new ideas from being implemented. Far from it. Govies like new ideas. We like taking action.
The problem is that we don’t implement the right ideas.
The problem is that we are ruled by fear.
Those who aren’t ruled by fear are quickly dismissed as naive and unrealistic by those who have been around long enough to see lots of innovation get implemented and then shot down the minute somebody says “Boo.”
So frequently, vetting is a way to try and avoid being shot down later on. The idea is that you circulate the concept so many times, change it per feedback to such an extent, that when it ultimately gets implemented later on (if at all) nobody can say, “I told you so.” Because you’ve got the email to prove they had a chance to comment.
If I were Glenda the Good Vetting Witch, I would fight back against the Wicked Vetting Witch of the West by making sure that the vetting process was motivated by positive energy and not destructive fear. Here’s how it would work:
1. Set up an idea-generating and voting system throughout the agency as well as in every department, and make it transparent, as well as both online and print-based. Ideas should be everywhere. Let imagination be free.
2. Set up an objective, merit-based process for choosing a few ideas to pilot every year – a process that ensures quieter voices get heard.
3. Vet pilot projects as the pilot is being implemented – feedback is more useful when it concerns something that is already in action as opposed to a theoretical idea.
4. Communicate to employees that the organization has their backs regardless of whether the idea is criticized – that they were hired for their skill and expertise and that their ideas are valued accordingly
5. Ideas are considered regardless of the source and are not filtered through the chain of command…although the chain of command has the responsibility to manage the process of implementing the ideas that are going to go forward in some way.
While in the past it may have been necessary to squelch ideas to keep things moving in an orderly fashion, going forward it will be the ideas that save us. Let’s not vet them to death because we’re afraid of our own shadow!