The Blind Men and the Elephant (in the room)

By Julian King, with apologies toJohn Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six folks from Wellington
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy their mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And proclaimed the issue was,
A crisis of the workforce:
“You know it’s true because
Half of my profession
Has gone to work in Oz!”

The Second took as evidence
Some focus group opinions
“There are too many chiefs”, quoth he,
“They outnumber the minions”
And called a line-by-line review;
“The change will save us zillions!”

The Third approached the animal
With professional detachment
“There’s simply not enough resource
To satisfy the catchment”
And produced Rules of Rationing
For immediate dispatchment.

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And said “I have a dream
Of answering the problem
With my dedicated team –
But oh alas, we can’t without
A stable funding stream”.

The Fifth got slowly to his feet
And sadly did reflect,
“It seems to me the problem stems
From decades of neglect,
And a system though well meaning
That doesn’t show respect”.

The Sixth looked down upon the mess,
From at the Pearly Gates,
“I might still be alive today,
Had not they made me wait,
And yet I paid my taxes,
It’s depressing to relate”.

And so these folks of Wellington
Disputed loud and long,
Each in their own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in towers of ivory
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

This is modelled on a poem by American poet John Godfrey Saxe, which he based on an Indian fable. The original is posted here. As that website notes, “It is a good warning about how our sensory perceptions can lead to some serious misinterpretations; especially when the investigations of the component parts of a whole, and their relations in making up the whole, are inadequate and lack co-ordination”. A good reminder to all of us who are involved in policy and evaluation!


February 2011

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