There’s something very wrong with how we talk about international public service.

Representation is poor. There’s a gulf between those with the greatest lived experience of problems, often in the global South, and those who dominate policy conversations.

Open debate is also limited. For a whole range of reasons we don’t do well at talking about ethics and values, or acknowledging and learning from failure.

With this in mind, we want to start a different kind of conversation.


About the podcast | About the host | Frequently Asked Questions

About the podcast

Our goal is straightforward: to share ideas and inspiration between people who are grappling with the toughest problems out there. Not just for how to do the work, but how to thrive while doing it.

With this in mind we’re holding a space that :

  • Centres the perspectives of those closest to problems (with a majority from the global South);
  • Facilitates collective responses, and learning from each other, rather than waiting for top-down leadership;
  • Recognises the human element, and the ethic of public service that joins us together.


This is an independently run social enterprise. We don’t currently take funding from anybody, and we’ll let you know if that ever changes.

We’ve been running events since 2013, along with experiments in online conversations amongst practitioners. That was mostly under the name Rethink Fragility, and you can find a summary here.

It’s also important to emphasise that all guests are speaking in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of any institution that they’ve worked for.

About the host

My name is Ian D. Quick — I’ve worked on organisational development & learning for the last twenty years, with most of that in highly fragile places. You can find out more about that here.

The genesis of the podcast goes back to 2012. At that time I was wrapping up a tough few years in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo — and we were failing, as well-meaning outsiders, against pretty much all of our stated goals.

Yet there was a gulf between peoples’ lived experience on the ground, and the policy conversation. The latter was, and is, dominated by a small group of “experts” in a few cities in the global North. The outcomes invariably owe more to geopolitics than evidence, let alone a genuine ethic of public service.

Ever since I’ve been working to open up that conversation (ever-so-slightly). This has included policy advocacy in specific cases, the book Follies in Fragile States in 2015, and off-line and online practitioner round tables.

For a little more background: Episode #000 (a prologue), and episode #018 (reflections after one year).

Frequently asked questions

Er, what’s a ‘podcast’?

A podcast is a way of packaging and distributing audio content via the internet. People who subscribe via services like iTunes and Google Podcasts get each new interview delivered and downloaded automatically. (So they’ll have it on their phone to listen while on the train, cooking dinner, etc.)

It’s also possible to simply click through to the website and listen via the embedded player there. Where internet speeds are very slow, each episode can also be downloaded as a MP3 to listen offline.

Who’s the target audience?

Most obviously, people in public service in places affected by serious violence and political instability. As a working consultant, I think that we can do a much better job of exchanging practical ideas and inspiration amongst each other, rather than waiting for institutional leadership.

Alongside this, anybody who’s interested in the work. We think that the general public is perfectly capable of understanding how things are, without glossy fundraising and publicity.

What are the practicalities?

Recording takes about 75 minutes, with an informal interview structure.

Where possible it’s best to do this in-person — all that’s needed is a quiet room. The other option is by internet call. This will require a reasonably good connection, a space where you won’t be interrupted, and headphones (this helps with recording quality).

After the interview, we’ll edit the recording for clarity and length, and send you the transcript for review. You tell us if there’s anything too sensitive (or just wrong!), and we’ll cut it out. Then it goes into the queue for publishing.

Because of the editing process, it’s easy to fix any mistakes. If you mis-speak or get a fact wrong we can simply re-do it at the time, or remove it later on.

What questions do you ask?

It depends. The goal is to dig into what’s most interesting and important, so we don’t want to stick to a rigid set of questions. That being said, there is a plan. The common threads usually include:

The basics: How would you describe what you do at a dinner party (or pub)? Where has it taken you geographically?

The personal story: How did you get started, and what were the pivotal moments? What keeps you motivated these days? What advice would you give your younger self if you had the chance?

Takeaways: What are you most proud of, over the long-term? What were the most important learning moments? What do most people misunderstand, or what mistakes do we collectively keep making?

Fitting the pieces together: How do you balance personal risk, travel, long hours and all the rest of it, with other life priorities? How do you keep the right perspective in a sector where people tend to burn out quickly?

What about confidentiality?

It’s a major goal of this project to break down barriers to open and honest conversation. We believe that institutions engaged in public service should not be afraid of a balanced perspective, from an experienced practitioner and in a neutral space

That said: We understand there are practical limitations. So:

  • We discuss prior to recording what we might need to stay away from. We also give you the transcript for review prior to uploading, and can cut out topics that might get someone in trouble.
  • We are looking at the long-term perspective, not what people are doing right at this second. So it’s usually possible to stay away from topics that might be sensitive or in confidence.

Are you still running events?

Not right now. We are pretty much focused on getting the podcast done the right way. But please do join the mailing list or follow us on social media if you want to keep in the loop.