what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

miscellaneous


A busy 2 days – Friday was the day I was closing the mountain house for the winter. During the night I noticed what I thought was fog outside. It turned out to be snow – and, by morning, was a good 7 cms. Fortunately it was soft – so no problems with the side road connecting the village to the main road after I had disconnected the water and placed the booby traps. Then an enjoyable drive to Bucharest – although not the last hour negotiating the traffic into the gridlocked city.
I didn’t therefore have much time for the internet – but enough to surf for “managerialism” and find an interesting short paper “In Praise of Managerialism” http://www.ashridge.org.uk/website/IC.nsf/wFARATT/In%20Praise%20of%20Managerialism/$file/InPraiseOfManagerialism.pdf

This morning I read Colin Talbot’s all too rare blog Whitehall Watch – which had a reference to one of my old favourites – the development economist AO Hirschman of “Exit, Voice and Loyalty”. He was a real original (still alive at 94) – a rare interdisciplinarian who celebrated the “trespassing” across disciplinary boundaries. “A Propensity to self-subversion” is a good example - http://books.google.com/books?id=LlvD47cU-qAC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=&f=false
That, in turn, led me to “Government and Opposition” - one of the Wiley publications to which I have a month’s free access – and several hours downloading articles from others in their stable such as Public Administration and Development. I generally don’t have much time for this journal – but was impressed to find a couple of articles in a 2006 issue on the theme of spiritual values in the workplace. “Growing numbers across many sectors feel an unprecedented crisis of identity and integrity. In international development, institutions often find themselves subordinated to the military in ever increasing conflict situations (the ‘development-security complex’). Locally, the global tendency is for public administration to be ‘re-engineered’ on the basis of so-called ‘market’ values (the ‘New Public Administration’). Private sector management models are, nevertheless, hardly exemplary. Corporate greed and scandals proliferate in a world featuring increasing poverty extremes, resurgence of old or advent in new diseases (e.g. HIV/Aids), environmental degradation and racism. This article takes, as its starting point, the fact that the workplace has become an insecure and alienating environment.
In pursuing the relationship between spirituality and religion, the article next distinguishes between, the dogmatic, institutionalised and potentially dangerous characteristics of many religions and the more intuitively contemplative character of spirituality with its stress on awareness of self, impact on others and feeling of universal connectedness.
Bearing in mind the often extremism as well as variety of religions (as distinct from spirituality), the second section examines the interrelationship between the two. A number of models are advanced concerning relationships between belief, belonging, salvation and ritual. It is argued that attention needs to be given to the inner side of religion, which requires individuals to embark on a spiritual journey through contemplation and reflection, rather than the more visible side of religion expressed in ritual. In sum, spiritual dialogue is offered as a way forward and as a mechanism for building spiritual community through engagement.
The final part of the article focuses on a trans-Atlantic spiritual engagement initiative. Faith-based discussion groups have been formed amongst business executives and professionals in USA (theWoodstock Business Conference promoted out of Georgetown University) and more recently in the City of London at the St Paul’s Cathedral Institute (the Paternoster Pilot Group). These aim to develop more meaningful work orientation: rediscovery of higher purpose and its relevance to restoration of ethical business and public service values, as well as better integration of personal and social domains
Well said! This links to an earlier post ("living each day" Oct 22). I will let you know more once I have read the article!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

managerialism as ideology


I asked why we had so easily forgotten the caution against hubris in the work of Karl Popper, James Scott etc Bit of a naive question! One obvious answer is that career incentives have developed in the last few decades for public managers, consultants and politicians who could sell the latest fashions in the private sector. Unfortunately this has tended to happen just at the moment the deficiencies of those ideas were becoming obvious (at least to those in the private sector). But the private consultants who were losing their market were only too happy to recycle their product. In the 1980s – when it was so difficult to get the public administration system to change - the key words in the field of commercial management were “reengineering”, “total quality management”, “transformation”; “reinvention” “culture change”.
Incremental change was for wimps! Suddenly, it was all or nothing!
And look at the number of Labour local politicians who were absorbed in the mid 1980s by private consultancies. Time was when the George Robertsons of this world were seduced by the American Atlanticist think-tanks. Management consultancies did the same business a decade or so later. Margaret Hodge was one of the most prominent. No wonder – as David Craig’s books so vividly show – that the spending by New Labour on such consultancies increased by a factor ten!
Nature abhors a vacuum - when old Labour lost its ideology, New Labour found managerialism!

Trust


Basically Labour (despite all the brave words) is no different – it simply does not trust people. And let there be no bones about it – this is an issue of trust.
The delivery of public services involves different groups of people – political, administrative, professional (at national and local levels) and the citizen. Time was when local professionals were trusted to do the job - that's changed in Britain over the past 30 years as a layer of public managers have been inserted between the professional and central government.
In Scandinavia, however, local professionals and local politicians have seen their responsibilities increased in structural changes in the past few decades. It's well known that the excellent Finnish educational system gives large autonomy to the local actors. Is this coincidence - or cause and effect?
In other countries again managers in the private sector have been trusted to do a better job – and functions such as water, transport, health and social policy have been transferred to the private sector. And, in some countries (Switzerland, Germany), citizens themselves are trusted to play an important role.

I’m now beginning to understand rather better one of the quotations on my masthead - "We've spent half a century arguing over management methods. If there are solutions to our confusions over government, they lie in democratic not management processes" I liked this quotation but I have to say I never quite understood it. Was he really arguing that politicians knew best?
Clearly not – his reference was to the process by which a society deals with its problems. By central diktat – or by dialogue? People like Will Hutton tried to sell a different, more European, approach to Blair before he came to power – the name they used (the Stakeholder approach) clearly didn’t resonate.
Twenty years ago, Robert Putnam started a debate about trust and "social capital" which too rapidly got colonised by academics and international organisations. But there is an issue there we have to return to - how come that, within Europe, such different models of social trust exist? Is this in fact (as people like Leopold Kohr argued so eloquently 60 years ago) a function of scale? If so, does the recent Scottish experience thrown any light on this issue?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

the wrong model of government


I’m now trying to explore the wider implications of the thoughts I posted earlier this morning – both on the blog and on the Guardian’s article comments pages - for the issue of getting government systems to deliver better value to their citizens.
The question which the Guardian article confronted was how society (not just teachers) can best deal with disruptive pupils. And parental satisfaction with the schooling system is as reasonable a test as one could imagine for how well a governance system is operating. (In Azerbaijan, I suggested the basic test was how easily people could cross the street!) Those who study and write about government and public administration over-complicate things - we need some simple tests like these!
So let’s explore what this example of the tools available to deal with disruptive pupil behaviour tells us about the British “governance” system.
The British political, professional and legal systems have made a lot of interventions over the past 30 years into the affairs of the school. Laws, targets, national curricula, guidelines, procedures and outside groups (such as police, social workers and a new breed of auditors) now constrain what teachers can and cannot do. Schools cannot easily get rid of unruly pupils – and have to deal with them in normal classes.
And yet the results of all this effort appear to have made the situation worse. This is ironic – since the NewLabour government boasted in its early years of having found a wider range of policy tools which could be used to fine-tune social behaviour.
I remember so well some of the chapters in Geoff Mulgan’s significantly-entitled “Life after Politics – new thinking for the twenty-first century” (1997). In particular Perri 6’s “Governing by cultures” – which classified the various tools government had to change social behaviour.
Douglas Hague’s title was also interesting – “Transforming the Dinosaurs”. That was strong language to use about schools and universities!
And, in 1999, we had the Modernising Government paper – and the Cabinet Office (under Geoff Mulgan) produced fascinating papers on policy-making and the development of effective strategies. Part of the new weaponry was “evidence-based policy-making”.
The tools of (central) government seemed so clear! This was social engineering with a vengeance!
I realise that this does not appear to be very helpful to the parent whose child’s education is suffering from the disruptive behaviour. But bear with me......

Knowing Labour as well as I do (having been a paid-up member since 1959 and a leading regional councillor from 1974-1991), I was disappointed but not surprised that local government did not appear as one of the possible mechanisms of change. New Labour had already absorbed that power ethos which was revealed when Hartley Shawcross spoke in 1946 the famous words - “Now WE are the masters”. That phrase gave the game away – that voting was simply to facilitate “the circulation of the elites” who knew best. The ratonale was superbly set out in Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.
Sixty years later the assumptions of the British system have not changed - those at the centre know best - so central targets are set; laws are passed; and complex and invasive control systems established. John Seddon has been one of several recent critics of this "command and control" model which the recent Cambridge University report on primary education rightly called Stalinist.
And just look at the mechanistic language we all find ourselves using - policy "tools"; "machinery" of government! For God's sake, don't we realise that we have allowed ourselves to be classified as machines - subject to a few people pulling levers. It was Gareth Morgan (Images of Organisation http://books.google.com/books?id=h-f429ueNRYC&printsec=frontcover&lr=&rview=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false) who made us realise the different metaphors we use to describe organisations - and how much they affect our thinking and awareness of options.
Morgan suggests there are eight basic "images" viz organisations as "political systems", as "instruments of domination", as "cultures", as "machines", as "organisms", as "brains", as "psychic prisons", as "flux and transformation" and as "instruments of domination". And the machine metaphor is the most primitive!
Have we utterly forgotten the powerful critique about the counterproductivity of state measures eg James Scott's classic Seeing like a state - how certain schmes to improve the human condition have failed? (1999)
OK this is long enough for the moment! What I am trying to say is that dealing with an issue like disruptive behaviour requires us to step out of the centralist, machine model of government - and go to a very different way of thinking. Are the British people up to this? I shall try to develop this theme in subsequent blogs

the new Weimar Republic


The painting which heads the last posting (“rotten from top to bottom”) is, of course, Georg Grosz’s famous “The Pillars of Society” which has been a favourite of mine since I first saw it – epitomising as it does the greed of those who rise to positions of power.
Painted as Germany descended into the despair of the 1920s, it was (in 1926) am amazingly prescient picture of the moral corruption which would overwhelm its elite and people. The sketch is another Grosz - a vivd portrayal of the social isolation which is a natural product of greedy elites.
Both images are now, sadly, a very apt logo for Britain. I will write more about this - and what disruptive pupils tells us about the state of "policy sciences", experts, politicians, consultants et al - in my next post.
For more on Grosz see the link on Olga’s Gallery which is always so pleasant to visit - http://www.abcgallery.com/G/grosz/grosz.html

rotten from top to bottom


Today’s Guardian has a good piece on the experience of 2 teachers who were recently charged with assault for manhandling in class an aggressive and persistently disruptive child. The whole force of the system was arrayed against them – one was cleared (after a year of suspension), the other found guilty and has lost his job. Amazingly there were already (06.00 UK time) more than 140 comments on the whole issue of school behaviour. The article had appeared last night – and people had been scribbling furiously throughout the night! As I scrolled through the comments, I was appalled at how emotional and polarised they were. Guardian readers, after all, are supposed to be reasonable people! Was this, I wondered, the evening wine and whisky talking? One contributor put it well – “just because you were abused at school (by a bullying teacher) doesn’t mean that teachers deserve anything that comes to them!”
The usual culprits were called into action – lack of discipline; the emphasis on rights; end of streaming; social workers; teaching methods; the culture of selfishness; television etc. Only 2 contributors mentioned that other European countries did not seem to experiencing this scale of problem. I then realised that the shallow and emotional tenor of the “discussion” was not just an annoying triviality – but was the clue to the problem under discussion and a pointer to the real answer.
For the first time, I was moved to draft a contribution of my own – here it is (number 147)

Interesting that the more thoughtful comments should come from those with experience of other countries eg France, Germany and Sweden. This is a very serious issue – which goes far beyond the issue of school behaviour – and does deserve more than cabby-driver rants. Britain does have a different culture of power from other countries. Those at the very top have never been held properly accountable; and the power has become more and more centralised. Our politics are conducted in more and more of an adversarial (and childish) manner – and the rhetoric of consumer-friendliness conceals the fact that our organisations are run in autocratic style. We do not talk to one another in a civilised manner because there is no civilised or thoughtful discourse at the highest level – only the exercise (and abuse) of power.
Other European countries have constitutions, legal (and sometimes even company) structures which have forced those at the top to justify and often to negotiate their actions. That, too, has been the Japanese way.
I’m afraid that, until we sort out that fundamental issue, our schools will continue to be the political football they are.

Things can change – the new Scottish parliament was given an electoral base which gave those supporting small parties a voice and required coalitions. And the Parliament gave itself a more inclusive and accountable structure – and has tried to reach out and involve the population.

There are no easy answers or quick fixes – the school issue is a classic example of the need for the stakeholder approach which requires, at all levels, responsibilities and rights to be properly recognised and balanced (and that very much includes the parents).
When people feel powerless and angry – they look for victims – and I’m not talking here about pupils. The country is angry because they have no voice – and those in power have been exposed (yet again) for the abusive and greedy people which the structures they inhabit allow and encourage them to be.
My reference to “abuse” is not a reference to political expenses (see my other blog for a couple of comments on that subject) - but to the much wider and longer abuse which is described so eloquently in Harold Perkins’ The Third Revolution – professional elites in the modern world

Kenneth Roy has described the latest twist of the larceny of the professionals in

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

health warning - blogging can be good for your mind

Honore Daumier - the legislative belly
OK an example of the benefits of a daily blog - I read a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s (of “Blink” fame) latest book This points me to his website - and allows me to download all the articles from New Yorker which form the content of this latest book. I recognise some of them – eg the review of the small book which classifies the various ways we try to explain (“Why?”) and the critiques of personnel evaluation tests.
I notice how elegantly the essays are constructed – beginning always with a very concrete incident we can all relate to; then introducing us to the arguments of a few authors; and exploring where those arguments take us. I read with great enjoyment (in the middle of the night no less!) a piece about the light which those writing recently about “risks” and accidents throws on the Challenger space vessel explosion.
My mind then takes me to the essay as a form. I remember the impact which the essays of 18/19th century English writers such as Addison, Francis Bacon and Charles Lamb made on me at secondary school. “What is truth, said Jesting Pilot, and would not stay for an answer” is a phrase stuck in my mind - and is apparently Bacon – although the wonderfully evocative piece on burning pork is apparently by Charles Lamb – not Bacon as I had thought! I start to google the various names and find a wonderful website devoted to.....essays! Lamb’s on pork is there. The site, however, has a classic and somewhat American bias (it’s from Brigham Young University – which as I recall is Mormon??) – so there don’t seem many modern examples eg George Orwell. But it’s clearly a treasure trove eg one by AA Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame) struck a strong chord with my nomadic spirit

It was, of course, Montaigne who started this art form in the 16th Century in his castle near Bordeaux– and his Complete Works stands on a shelf above my study door. As I read Gladwell’s essays, I suddenly hear in my mind the tones of Alistair Cooke - as he read his Letters from America (for almost 50 years). What an institution he was! Weaving a spell as he slowly moved from his opening ear-catching sentences through a charming analysis of part of the American system to a laconic conclusion. I hope they use his texts on the Brigham Young courses. And then I thought of Thom Wolfe – whose 1970 essay “Mau-mauing the flak catchers” was such a merciless description of the funding culture which grew around the US War on Poverty. Unfortunately I couldn’t find this essay online – although (thanks to Wikipedia and New York Magazine) I could download his even more famous satire of “the radical chic”. If only someone would do a similar satire on EU funding – someone surely must have!! But it’s beyond a joking matter! Wolfe invented some great phrases - "shit-detector" was his word for someone who can smell out imposters and charlatans.
And so I am led, finally, to satire. And to realise how powerful a tool it can be. I’m not familiar with what the ancients contributed to this genre (some of the Sufi stories have gentle satire) so I generally start with Voltaire’s Candide and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
In our times, Antony Jay is well known for his “Yes, Minister” which showed on BBC in the 1970s. Forty years on we now have the not so subtle “In the Thick of it”. And “The Office” was apparently (the only decent BBC TV series I can access in central europe is Morse and Misummer Murders!!) a hilarious and accurate attack on office politics.

It’s not often, however, you get a management writer spoofing his profession but I discovered recently systems guru Russell Ackoff's Management F-Laws And Stuart Weir wrote earlier this year a spoof on the British political system -
Other examples of modern satire on management and politics would be much appreciated.
Anyway the point of this blog was to show the discoveries and rediscoveries which can come from a simple article and surf.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Scots heritage


I learned a lot from re-reading Arthur Herman’s The Scottish Enlightenment – the Scots’ invention of the modern world (2003). He’s an American with no obvious axe to grind. I knew about Adam Smith and David Hume (although not properly appreciated the latter’s arguments eg “reason is – and ought to be – the slave of passions”). I knew about the openness of Scottish universities in medieval times and their strong links with continental universities (not least as a final stage of legal education); about the Scots role in the British Empire (and in exploiting the opium trade); and that most of the stuff with kilts is actually a Victorian invention.
What, however, I hadn’t realised were things such as –
- The speed with which Scotland apparently changed from a backwater of Iran-like religious domination and prejudice to playing a leading role in the development of the “study of mankind”
- just what a galaxy of stars there were in Edinburgh and Glasgow between the last 2 Scottish uprisings of 1715 and 1745. Frances Hutcheson I had vaguely heard of – but not his core argument that “all men of reflection from Socrates have sufficiently proved that the truest, most constant and lively pleasure, the happiest enjoyment in life, consists in kind affections to our fellow creatures”. The pulpit should not be a place to inspire fear and terror; but to uplift and inspire.
- William Robertson whose classification of history into 4 stages apparently shaped the modern approach to history
- The basically English agenda of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in 1745 – and how both Highland chieftains and the new bourgeoisie in Glasgow opposed him.

Nor have I ever read such a clear exposition of the issues and theories these individuals dealt with in the early decades of the 18th century – nor of the role of the Church of Scotland. My father – as a vicar of that Church and a great historian – will be turning in his grave!
And several times, phrases hit me with some personal force “The great figures of the Scottish enlightenment never lost sight of their educational mission. Most were teachers or university professors; others were clergymen who used their pulpits for the same purpose. In every case, the goal of educational life was to understand in order to teach others, to enable to next generation to learn what you yourself have mastered – and build on it” That helps me understand my drive!!

Several other things the book emphasises –
- How much Scotland benefitted from the 1707 merger with England – from which the Nationalist government now wishes Scotland to cut loose
- How misunderstood Adam Smith has been.
- The role Scots politicians played in liberalising British politics in the 1830 period
- How major a role Scots played in the American revolution – and, indeed (on the downside), in the development of its “revivalist” religious tradition!

I;m afraid that the book is not available in googlebooks.....I'll now try to find a suitable picture....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is blogging useful only to the blogger?

The last few days have been glorious – I was sunning myself on the terrace yesterday afternoon – and today has dawned bright and cloudless. With the extra hour’s gift this morning from summer-time ending during the night, I skimmed through the blogs I have bookmarked. It made me think about their value. Many books have been written recently about blogging – its nature and its possible social and intellectual consequences The New York Review of Books reviewed some of the books and blogs at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21013 and http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22960

My "About the blog" section tries to explain my motives for this blog - I'm trying to make sense of my professional life and to see what I can usefully pass on to to others! So the blog is a discipline on me - not yet perhaps offering the reader very much (except pretty pictures!)

What about the blogs I look at - how useful do I find them? Of course my bookmarking is a highly selective activity – reflecting the interest I have in books and organisational change. The book-bloggers are a special breed – generally retired people who have the time to pursue and share their passion for reading – generally novels. For a sample see - http://www.britlitblogs.com/
I have, so far, bookmarked a hundred-odd general bloggers whose writing reflects some of my interest in understanding social, economic and organisational forces in the world – and in contributing to “positive change”. Who are they?
The first category is those who are paid to write – journalists, think-tankers, academics. They write well – but generally in specialist mode. They focus on a specific event and then relate this to some more general principles. Journalists (such as Ian McWhirter) and think-tankers (such as Matt Taylor (RSA Head) and Gerry Hassan) find this an effortless task. Academics such as Paul Krugman also have their journalistic side.
Then there are the overtly “political blogs” – politicians and party supporters – most of which confirm how low politics has fallen. So much self-centred and petty comment. Of course there are exceptions and I will add a link when I can find one!!

Then there are more theoretical blogs which have an interest in a discipline such as economics or sociology on theory and are generally written by struggling post-graduates. For example http://austrianeconomists.typepad.com/ or http://thesociologicalimagination.com/ or http://www.themonkeycage.org/. They give an insight into the soulless world of academia!

Some blogs are like helpful librarians – referring you on to interesting articles you would otherwise miss eg http://don-paskini.blogspot.com/ And there are digests of blogs eg http://scottishroundup.co.uk/These I enjoy.

Blogging, I seem to be saying, may be good for the blogger - in raising their profile or helping articulate inchoate thoughts - but what does is actually give the reader? The gems I look for are the free-spirits – those not attached to institutions such as the BBC, academia or think tanks who have had some experience of the real-world; are not specialists and continue to have an open mind. One such person seems to be Scott London - see his comments on dialogue http://www.scottlondon.com/blog/archives/61

Saturday, October 24, 2009

economics and management - the modern religious doctrine


One of my heroes has always been the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen’ tale "The Emperor’s New Clothes" – the only person able to break the hypocrisy, fawning and lies around him and speak the truth. I was very happy therefore a few days to come across Steve Keen’s 2001 book “Debunking Economics – the naked emperor of the social sciences”. The last decade has, of course, seen many books critiquing the basic assumptions of economics and trying to build a more realistic discipline – but Keen’s seems to go further is being almost an alternative textbook. You can get a good sense of it here
For my sins, I not only studied economics, I actually tried to teach it at a polytechnic for several years. At University I had had the greatest of difficulty with some of the basic ideas (particularly the theory of the firm!) and would, occasionally, feel that I was studying a set of religious texts. )(Incidentally, this is an idea brilliantly explored in 1994 in Susan George and Fabrizio Sabelli's Faith and Credit - the World Bank's Secular Empire).
I stuck with the subject only because of my interest in regional and urban development for which I could see some practical application. Eventually my disillusionment became too great and I switched my work to urban management. The other part of my Degree had been Politics and political sociology - with John Mackintosh (of "Cabinet Government" fame) one of my tutors. Here I felt on stronger ground - and was particularly excited to read books such as Heclo and Wildavsky's The Private Government of Public Money and EH Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis - both of which stripped away rhetoric to expose the realities of power.

But Britain has retained its mythical attachment to its form of "liberal democracy" - and developed a similar mystique around economics. Almost the same day I found the Keen book, I found a marvellous statement of the reality of the British political system - produced a few months ago by the UK Thinktank Democratic Audit
It is easier nowadays to make the point that economics is a religious doctrine - resting, as people beyond the classrom are slowly recognising, on dogmatic assumptions. The same is true of the even more popular field of management - which I have seen grow in my lifetime from a few (American) departments and books to a series of global industries In reality it is a new Roman Catholic Church - with its interdoctrinal disputes. Sad that there are so few demystications available in that field - Zuboff's The Support Economy (2001) was one of the few.
But back to economics - one of the latest Nobel prizewinners, Paul Krugman, asked last month why the economists got it (the finanical crisis) so wrong. He suggests that mathematical modelling is the answer - but the question which should be asked is why noone pays attention to the answers which have been available for 20 years or so? Paul Ormerod wrote his Death of Economics in 1993 - and that reflected a decade or so of private, professional concerns which could not be voiced for fear of losing tenure etc. A good resource for crtiqiues is post-autistic economics which was set up in 2000 by French students objecting to the irrelevance of economics

Friday, October 23, 2009

more recent influential books


The booklist I gave recently was, I failed to mention, of those books which had made a major impact on me at an earlier stage of my life – which, in a sense, shaped my attitudes. For example the powerful Camus and Koestler essays against capital punishment. So far I would add only one to the list EJ Mishan's "Costs of Economic Growth" (1967) which was a gentler Kohr critique and a forerunner to Schumacher’s writings on a different economics.
Tony Crosland’s books were elegant attacks on the inequalities of British society – but with a different “take” on how to deal with them than the build up of the state offered by the traditional left. Popper gave me the horror I have of an overbearing state – and people like Illich gave me my anarchistic streak. However it was Bernard Crick’s "In Defence of Politics" I suspect which persuaded me that politics was an honourable and necessary pursuit.
The collection of books therefore gave me both my political activism (as Brecht said – “So ist die Welt – und must nicht so sein”) – and some of the approaches which might be able to deal with the injustices (and inefficiencies) I wanted to deal with. For the first 22 years of my adult life I chose to pursue a political role – but at a local and regional level with my commitment to community development and community enterprise giving vent to the anarchistic element.
For the past 20 years, I have been operating as a consultant (although critical) – and perhaps reaching the point when I need to change/raise my game.

And I should now refer to the books/authors which have “spoken to” me in that last phase. My publicadminreform website http://www.freewebs.com/publicadminreform/mentions a lot of books – and has indeed several large bibliographies In “key papers”) which are worth looking at. But the following are the first which come to mind -
Stepen Covey; The Seven Habits of Effective People (1991) In the early 1990s this was the only management book which I could find translated into the various languages of central europe in which I was working – and therefore an ideal focus for some discussions.
Robert Greenleaf; On Becoming a servant leader (1996)
Charles Handy; all his writings
Paul Hawken etc Natural Capitalism – the next industrial revolution (1999)
Christopher Hood; The Art of the State (1998)
Will Hutton; The State we’re in; The world we’re in (2002)
David Korton; When Corporations rule the world (1995)
Ronnie Lessem; Management Diversity through cultural diversity (1998) and all his other books
George Monbiot; Captive State the corporate takeover of Britain (2000)
Guy Peters; The Future of Governing – four emerging models (1996)
Susan Strange; Mad Money – when markets outgrow governments (1998) Casino Capitalism etc
Theodor Zeldin; An Intimate History of Humanity (1998)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

living each day....


The snow melted very rapidly – and today is a typical blustery but bright autumn day. The wolves are already here – devouring this week a small foal. As I waited at the station for my significant other, I read Thomas a Kempis’ The Inner Life – thanks to Penguin’s Great Idea series. Very powerful! I was amazed to find this passage – “You should order your every deed and thought as though today were the day of your death.......each morning remember that you may not live until evening – and in the evening not assume to promise yourself another day"!
I remember being so impressed by Stephen Covey’s exercise in imagining that we were observing our funeral – and hearing what people were saying and thinking of us!

We do indeed need to celebrate the past much more – while remembering (as writers such as Marcus Aurelius and Tolstoy have emphasised) that we do and should live only in the present. I suppose this is one reason for this blog – wanting to put my thoughts in order – aware of my frustration at how little, for example, of my father’s thinking had been left in writing. I have a few of his notebooks – but they are either of journeys he took with his own father or lists of quotations that he could use in his sermons. It was the same with Geoff Shaw when he died – he had been so busy succouring the poor and, latterly, trying to put a new quality into politics that he had no time to write anything.
I am reading a very thoughtful book which I donwloaded recently – “Questions of business life” which is result of one churchman’s humble attempt to answer the question of what Christianity can offer to those in the middle of business affairs. It is both a helpful summary of relevant literature and theological principles and their application to dilemmas such as accountability (the stakeholder debate), corruption and alienation. The book came out of the discussions held at Ridley Hall - which is an Anglican theological college in Cambridge. Its primary task is training people for the ordained ministry, and part of the author’s job is teaching them courses in Ethics and Leadership. But Ridley has also spawned a number of projects which reflect a concern to relate Christian faith to key aspects of contemporary culture. Business was one of these projects - with many seminars on concrete issues facing businesspeople successfully held. 
I admire such retreats - I have been invited both to St George's Hall at Windsor and to the Ditchley Foundation for weekend sessions on Urban Regeneration.
One of the principles behind that last workshop (Jan 1989) was to bring people together from sectors which did not normally speak to one another. Religion; trade unions; military, for example, were represented. As a result of that weekend, I had an amazing day (and lunch) in New Jersey a year later - courtesy of Monsignor William Linder whom I had befriended at Ditchley. He ran a series of community initiatives there - one of which was a restaurant in a converted church! The Priory Restaurant. As we ate with some of his selected colleagues for a discussion, I learned the meaning of "companion" - con-pane - those you eat bread with. Just as Marlyn Fergusson taught me the meaning of "conspirator" - con-spire - "those you breath with"!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

a bible for our times


The outage lasted all day and allowed me therefore to read the entire Kohr book ("The Breakdown of Nations") - without the distractions of the internet! And what a book!! It pulsates with clarity, originality ...and wit.
Part of his argument is that – just as companies grow large and inefficient and have to be broken up by Monopoly Commissions – so have States grown to a size that makes them dangerous.

Remember he was an economist – and drafted the book in the early 1950s! He quotes the evidence there was even then that innovation came from small companies – and that decreasing returns of scale sets in early (evidence continues to accumulate that few company mergers are successful – and yet they continue).

In similar vein, he shows that cultural excellence was produced in small states – who may not have always been peaceful but whose wars with one another were short and limited in their damage. His early chapters are powerful statements that, when an organisation reaches the point of domination, it will always succumb to the temptation of aggression.

And he anticipates the contemporary arguments of writers such as Fridjof Capra and Margaret Wheatley about what students of organisations can learn from physics and the new insights into “chaos” – by a simple observation about “atoms”.

His main challenge, however, is to the principle of specialisation and you will find in chapter 6 – “The Efficiency of the Small”. There he is merciless in his critique of the “wealth” of the “modern” world – daring to suggest that most of is useless and counter-productive and that people were happier in medieval times! “The more powerful a society becomes, the more of its increasing product – instead of increasing individual consumption – is devoured by the task of coping with the problems caused by the rise of its very size and power

I always have pencilled underlines, ringed sections and exclamation marks in the good books I read – and my copy of this book is almost disfigured! Two insights I found particularly relevant – one which he produces as one of the reasons for the intense cultural productivity of the small state –
 “in a large state, we are forced to live in tightly specialised compartments since populous societies not only make large-scale specialisation possible – but necessary. As a result, our life’s experience is confined to a narrow segment whose borders we almost never cross, but within which we become great single-purpose experts”... “A small state offers the opportunity for everybody to experience everything simply by looking out of the window" – 
whereas a large state has to employ a legion of soi-disant experts to define its problems and produce “solutions”. The other striking comment he makes is –
the chief blessing of a small-state system is ...its gift of a freedom which hardly ever registers if it is pronounced.....freedom from issues....ninety percent of our intellectual miseries are due to the fact that almost everything in our life has become an ism, an issue... our life’s efforts seem to be committed exclusively to the task of discovering where we stand in some battle raging about some abstract issue... The blessing of a small state returns us from the misty sombreness of an existence in which we are nothing but ghostly shadows of meaningless issues to the reality which we can only find in our neighbours and neighbourhoods
Most people would probably see this as utopian – and yet its argument is ruthless and very much in what I would call the “realist” mode (one of the reasons why I was taken with several of the books in my earlier list). As he puts it at one stage in the argument –
many will object to the power or size theory on the ground that it is based on an unduly pessimistic interpretation of man. They will claim that, far from being seduced by power, we are generally and predominantly animated by the ideals of decency, justice, magnanimity etc This is true, but only because most of the time we do not possess the critical power enabling us to get away with indecency”.
This is the bible for both new management and the “slow-food” movement! The writing sparkles – and includes a good joke about a planner who, having died, is allowed to try to organise the time people spend in Heaven into more rational chunks of activity, fails and sent to help organise Hell. “I’m here to organise Hell”, he announces to Satan – who laughs and explains that “organisation IS hell”.

I once said that all courses relating to government should have Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation - the conquest of the middle east on their reading list. This is a book which portrays both the victims of the slaughter and their families and also those in the Western bureaucracies – both private and public – who make the slaughter possible and ignored the lessons of history. Their words are closely analysed – and their actions held to account in a relentless way which restores one faith in journalism. I would now add Kohr’s book to that reading list – not least because it offers an answer to the question we ask from time to time “When will they ever learn?”

Bill McKibben's Deep Economy - economics as if the world mattered (2007) is another book which would be in that list (as well as Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma). I have a short comment on McKibben's book on my public admin reform site. Although he recognises Schumacher, Leopold Kohr gets no mention. Sad!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

books which made an impact


The painting is so appropriate at the moment - when I am trying to identify the books which have made an impact on me. The storm which was rumbling all night around the mountains has eventually knocked the electricity out - and I am (even at 08.30) having to write this with the aid of a candle. This is what my first list looks like -

Saul Alinsky’s Reveille for Radicals (1969)
Stanislaw Andreski’s Social Science as Sorcery (1972)
Peter Berger’s Pyramids of sacrifice – political ethics and social change (1975)
Albert Camus’ Letters to a Friend (1944)
EH Carr’s What is History? (1961)
Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics (1962)
Tony Crosland’s The Conservative Enemy (1962)
Ralf Dahrendorf’s Class and Class Conflict in industrial society (1959)
Marlynn Fergusson’s Age of Aquarius (1980)
Ivan Illich Deschooling Society (1971)
Leoplod Kohr; The Breakdown of Nations (1957)
Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932)
Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its enemies (1945)
JR Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards (1992)
Donald Schon; Beyond the Stable Society (1971)

Doubtless there will be some additions....To save my battery, I shall now have to switch off the PC battery - and work by pencil and notebook two further questions (a) why did they make an impact? and (b) what books would I now recommend to anyone with an open mind who wanted to understand the world better and play a role in improving it?

Monday, October 19, 2009

is small beautiful?

Painting is Rusi Ganchev's(1895-1965) "A Park "
Interesting that I bought recently a reissued version of Leopold Kohr’s classic The Breakdown of Nations which argues that all major problems would be minimised if the world’s major countries were to dissolve back into the small states from which they came.
It was written by him in 1951 although he did not manage to find a printer for it until 1957 – and it made an impact only with the appearance in 1986 of a paperback version which is when I first read it.
He was an economist and had an influence on his great friend EF Schumacher who wrote the much better-known Small is Beautiful in 1973.
You can get a sense of Kohr’s argument from these excerpts
It is a convincing read – and should make a Scottish nationalist of me. But one of my hesitations has to do with the perverse social processes which seem to contaminate and undermine efforts to change our value systems and structures for the better. Feminism was and remains a worthwhile project – but so far the promise of it bringing a softer more humane set of values into government and the work-place has not been realised. Instead the women have had to show they are “plus royaliste que le roi” – ie tougher and more masculine.
I see the same happening to the nationalist project – as the Scottish nationalist government prepares for the promised referendum in 2010 on independence. Instead of offering a new vision of government and society, their First Minister seems to offer more of the same – not just in terms of policies but in terms of thinking about the form and role of the state - even down to the prospect of useless Embassies! Scottish opinion-makers likes to think of the country belonging to the Scandinavian fringe – and should therefore follow through the logic – ie decentralise powers to local municipalities. However, this is currently a vote loser – since Scottish municipalities are now so large (average 150,000 population) and (apart from the 4 cities) no longer relate to perceptions of community. Perhaps that is why Kohr-type arguments are not heard in the nationalist argument – since they would point to something smaller than a population of 5 million.
But there is one issue in Britain capable of making people think about this problematic of scale in a different way – and that is the “political expenses scandal” which I wrote about in July on my other blog (and again yesterday) and which shows no sign of going away. People are beginning to ask critical questions such as
- Does the UK need 625 MPs (when we have Scottish and Welsh devolution)?
- do MPs play any useful role any more? For decades the complain has been that they are simple ciphers of the Executive – and this situation has got worse. Their classic claim to hold the Executive to account is risible these days – and now they need to be held to account!
- Perhaps the whole notion of “representatives” is basically flawed – and the people need to take more direct Swiss-like control? Open Democracy has opened a campaign 2010 on this whole question and one interesting contribution is here 

See also this essay  

measuring one's eco footprint


An Italian woman offering “eco-holidays” in Sicily – in a neglected village on the edge of a town (Cefalu) which has been able to exploit mass tourism. It sounds a dream – with the amazing properties she owns having her personal touch not just in their design but in the way she has tried to attach the (declining) village skills and economy to the project. Visitors are taken to see (and taste!) the making of the goat-cheese, wine and bread; to use scooters and horses rather than cars. She personally has led the drive to waste recycling etc But there is a eco-downside which the article doesn’t mention – the fact that all the (highly satisfied) visitors are zoomed in and out by plane! Add the plus and minus eco columns – and out comes a negative.
I suppose she could argue that her visitors would have flown anyway and that her contribution is therefore positive. She has not only created a more sustainable environment in the village – she is also trying to demonstrate to its younger people that they don’t necessarily have to leave the village to get jobs since the old skills do, with suitable marketing, offer a sustainable life. Perhaps also she can “sell” a different vision of life to some of her visitors. But, at least for the visitors, the eco-footprint is negative – and they are being dishonest in buying their holiday as an eco-venture! Interesting issues....check it out at http://www.sicilianexperience.com/

In a small way, the issue relates to another website I came across yesterday “Front Porch Republic” which is a celebration not only of the pleasant North American architectural feature I first came across in Pittsburgh but of the social and political benefits of small towns and “smallness” generally.
http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=707. I want to explore this theme of smallness – but in my next post.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

tower of babel

Pieter Bruegel the elder (1563)
I ended my last post with an attack on universities. This is not the first time I have found myself attacking university over-specialisation in the social sciences. When I was struggling in the early 1970s with the appalling social and economic conditions in which almost 20% of the people in the West of Scotland lived, I could find no discipline in academia which could help suggest what we might be able to do at a local level to improve these conditions.

A few of us had to struggle to put a strategy together – the only help we received was from the Tavistock Institute in London and Rowntree Trust in York! Once we had shown the way, the universities spawned their courses and research projects – and began to present themselves as community resources.
Attacks on universities can easily be (mis)represented as leading to “burning of the books”. They also seem rather lonely if not selfish ventures. All those currently in positions of power have passed through university portals and part of their identity rests on the parchment they carry - which marks them as “physicist”, “engineer”, “accountant”, “economist” etc.
Why should they bite the hand which has given them this status? Or deny such positions to those waiting at the gates? The genie cannot, it seems, be put back in the bottle....

But, as I return to the theme 20 years later, I feel that the perspectives, terminology and career structures of the ever-spawning academic specialisms have actually contributed to social alienation and the decline of confidence in government. Why did no-one take Stanislaw Andreski seriously when, in 1971, he wrote his book “Social Science as Sorcery”? Why did it so quickly become out of print?
In the global competitive environment in which universities now operate, universities are now capitalists like anyone else – but the (unchallenged) medieval rhetoric their leaders use about their social role gives them a cloak which conceals even from themselves the evil they are doing.
What is that evil? It is in
· doing nothing to disparage the ethic of utilitarianism, individualism and private profit and
· being the major source of the development of Orwellian new-speak, technical jargon and a modern Tower of Babel.
So what might they be doing?
Basically going back to the Scottish tradition of moral philosophy and political economy – and finding the common language to allow the social sciences to communicate with one another. There are many (older) texts which could form the core of reading for such a course – eg Ivan Illich; Leopold Kohr; Michael Oakeshott; Karl Popper; Neil Postman; JQ Wilson. I will try shortly to give a more definitive list.

In the older blog on my website, I posed the question of which book you would give to a beneficiary – for example in a central Asian or Caucasian country. My choice in Uzbekistan in 2002 for the Deputy Prime Minister I was working with was Guy Peters’ The Future of Governing - four emerging models. In Azerbaijan I gave my Minister Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power!

recovering what has been lost


I want to pursue some thoughts I found myself expressing today when trying today to explain the purpose of the blog. There seem four separate but clearly related lines of argument and I’ve highlighted the phrases which I think are particularly important to develop –
· “The restless search for novelty dishonours the work (practical and written) of the past”. And I inserted an observation in a footnote about how quickly some extraordinary books seem to go out of print.
· “the recent rhetoric about monitoring and evaluation seems to have displaced the more interesting discourse of organisational learning - but, sadly, leaves those who work in organisations cold and cynical. Few people have the chance to come together and shape things in a sustained way - to build on what has gone before”.
· “making sense of the organisational endeavours I've been involved in - to see if there are any lessons which can be passed on” to those who want to make public organisations good for both the public and those who work in them.
· To “restore a bit of institutional memory and social history

When I sat down to make more sense of all this, I was reminded of a cartoon I had not thought of for decades and google tells me it is Jules Feiffer - who is apparently alive and well. I'm sorry I can't reproduce the cartoon - but th bubble coming out of the little boy's head says -
I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn't poor, I was needy. Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy, I was deprived...then underprivileged. Then they told me underprivileged was overused. I was disadvantaged. I still don't have a dime. But I have a great vocabulary”.
The vocabulary changes and implies that the problem has also – so government is not held accountable for its actions on the previous problem. And a new set of experts are needed.
Whenever we get a new perspective on an issue, we invent a new specialism – with a new elite which then marginalises the message from the bloodstream of the organisation.

Government positions require degrees and post-graduate Degrees – international bodies require PhDs so they are inhabited by those who have successfully played the academic game of specialisation and who are far removed from the hoi poloi

Tolstoy and Hans Christian Andersen – and cartoonists like Jules Feiffer say it all so much better. Even TS Eliot -

……. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again; and now under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.


We need a body of people who tell the universities - "enough is enough!! These specialisms must go. Some simple truths are being masked by both the jargon and terminology you encourage people to use; and the craven cowardice you encourage".

nomad in central europe and central asia




It’s not easy to give up a powerful position in such a large organisation which was doing such interesting work – let alone to leave one’s country of birth. But that is what I effectively did one bright autumn day in 1990 – when I set sail from Kingston on Hull en route for Copenhagen and what was supposed to be a short spell with the Director of Public Health for the European division of the World Health Organisation. On the basis of my presentations of our urban strategy to their Healthy City network, she had invited me to help her identify the opportunities for preventive/public health work in the newly-liberated countries of East and Central Europe; and so began a series of visits to the Health Ministries and voluntary initiatives in each of these countries. The 6 weeks turned into 6 months – and basically set me on a new career as consultant. The EU was putting together its programme of technical assistance and I was one of the first consultants to the CzechoSlovak Republic – working with their new local government system.
When that work finished in late 1991, I returned to the Region – but only as an interim measure because, by then, I was clear that my time in Scotland was over.
Margaret Thatcher was killing local government[1]. I had left my academic base in 1985 under pressure from students understandably hostile to my absences and had therefore been a full-time regional politician for 5 years. At my age (mid 40s), I could not start a new career in Scotland – particularly holding such a high profile public position. Anxiety about my future had, in fact, led me to periods of depression and the breakdown of my marriage. I had, however, used these 5 years to network in Europe[2] – and it was now beginning to pay off. In particular a German colleague recommended me as Director – of all things – of the EC Energy Centre in Prague where I passed a very happy year in 1992. The hypocrisy and exploitation I saw in that position was, however, to lead me to write a very critical paper; send it to the European Parliament and resign from the position. But, on the basis of my CV, other assignments in Romania, Hungary and Slovakia quickly followed. But I was increasingly uneasy with the nature of the EC Technical Assistance work.

The blind leading the blind?
Nobody had ever lived through a triple transformation (Markets, nations, democracy) ever before. People had been writing profusely about the transition from capitalism to communism – but not the other way around. The collapse of communism was a great shock. Few – except the Poles and Hungarians[3] - were at all prepared for it. And understanding such systems change requires a vast array of different intellectual disciplines – and sub-disciplines – and who is trained to make sense of them all[4]? The apparently irreversible trend toward greater and greater specialisation of the social sciences places more power in the hands of technocrats[5] and disables politicians from serious involvement in the discourse of the international bodies whose staff therefore engage in the reconstruction of other country’s state systems with no effective challenge – from any source. Strange that these are the very people who preach about accountability and corruption!!!
Those of us who have got involved in these programmes of advising governments in these countries have a real moral challenge. After all, we are daring to advise these countries construct effective organisations – we are employed by organisations supposed to have the expertise in how to put systems together to ensure that appropriate intervention strategies emerge to deal with the organisational and social problems of these countries. We are supposed to have the knowledge and skills to help develop appropriate knowledge and skills in others!

But how many of us can give positive answers to the following 5 questions? -
- Do the organisations which pay us practice what they and we preach on the ground about good organisational principles?
- Does the knowledge and experience we have as individual consultants actually help us identify and implement interventions which fit the context in which we are working?
- Do we have the skills to make that happen?
- What are the bodies which employ consultants doing to explore such questions – and to deal with the deficiencies which I dare to suggest would be revealed?
- Do any of us have a clue about how to turn kleptocratic regimes into systems that recognise the meaning of public service?[6]

These were the questions I posed in a paper I drafted and presented to the 2007 NISPAcee Conference. You can find the paper in "key papers" on my website.

[1] By three strategies – legal limits on spending; transfer of functions to other sectors; and abolition of municipal bodies. She killed the Greater London Council in 1986; the English counties a bit later – and her successor John Major abolished the Scottish Regions in 1996.
[2] I was one of the British group on the Council of Europe – the Standing Conference for local and regional authorities; member of a IULA research group which produced a book on public participation in 1988; and member of the Ricardo Petrella ROME group on urban change
[3] who, with other countries admitted in 2004, had experienced these systems earlier in the 20th century!
[4] Elster and Offe were early in the field – but do not seem to have followed through
[5] JR Saul is one of the few who have tried to expose this – in his tour de force “Voltaire’s Bastards” (1992). And Harold Perkin’s "The Third revolution – professional elites in the modern world" (1996) is a more moderate argument about the self-seeking nature of professional classes. Why is it rarely get the chance to read books which are more than 5 years old?
[6] Anti-corruption strategies have, of course, become very fashionable in the international community – but seem to me a good example of a mechanism which serves the interests of donors (jobs) and beneficiary countries who have such strategies wished upon them. For the latter it gives the pretence of action and also fits with the traditional culture of rhetorical exhortation.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

ten rules for stifling innovation

In the authoritarian cultures I work in (and who doesn't - these days?), I find my training sessions are enlivened when I have a translated version of the "rules" which Professor Rosabeth Kanter ironically put into her book which reviewed (in the early 1980s) how large organisations (like General Motors and IBM) were trying to restructure themselves to deal with the challenge they faced from small fast-moving and innovative companies.
Basically she found a lot of rhetoric and new structures concealing old behaviour.....Give me please a painting to convey this message!!!!!
"TEN RULES FOR STIFLING INNOVATION"
1. regard any new idea from below with suspicion - because it's new, and it's from below
2. insist that people who need your approval to act first go through several other layers of management to get their signatures
3. Ask departments or individuals to challenge and criticise each other's proposals (That saves you the job of deciding : you just pick the survivor)
4. Express your criticisms freely - and withhold your praise (that keeps people on their toes). Let them know they can be fired at any time
5. Treat identification of problems as signs of failure, to discourage people from letting you know when something in their area is not working
6. Control everything carefully. Make sure people count anything that can be counted, frequently.
7. Make decisions to reorganise or change policies in secret, and spring them on people unexpectedly (that also keeps them on their toes)
8. Make sure that requests for information are fully justified, and make sure that it is not given to managers freely
9. Assign to lower-level managers, in the name of delegation and participation, responsibility for figuring out how to cut back, lay off, move around, or otherwise implement threatening decisions you have made. And get them to do it quickly.
10. And above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, already know everything important about this business.

reinventing the broken wheel



Ilia Beshkov (1901-1958 Bg)

In 1970, SM Miller published a short article - "Reinventing the Broken Wheel" - Lesson-Drawing in Social Policy" - which drew from experience of a variety of Government programmes supposedly aimed at dealing with poverty and inequality. The points should be pinned up in every Cabinet Office throughout the world - viz

· How a programme starts is important: what it promises, the expectations that it raises. The poor are frequently both suspicious and deceivable - expectations can rise very rapidly and collapse suddenly.

· Social Policy cannot substitute for economic policy and actions. Many poverty programmes have attempted to avoid this issue - only to stumble late on this finding.


· General economic expansion may not present jobs for the low trained, particularly when dual or segmented labour markets exist. They made need additional help to get and keep jobs or to raise their inadequate incomes.

· If social policies do not control major resources in their areas - eg financing in housing - they will be severely limited in what they do

· The task is not to integrate the poor and unequal into existing structures eg schools. These structures have gross inadequacies and defects. They must be changed as well - frequently also benefiting the non-poor.

· Programmes should be aware of this danger of building up dependencies - and look for ways in which their users can assume responsibility for the programme and themselves.

· One-shot, one-time programmes will have limited affects. While the complaint is often made that the poor are handicapped by a short time-span, they who are more frequently handicapped by the short time-span of public policies as policy attention wanders from one issue to another.

· Organisation is fateful. How programmes are organised affects what happens to those who deal with them. Where programmes are aimed at the short-run, have uncertain funding, high staff turnover and poor planning and organisation, it will be difficult for people to accept or benefit from them.

· People live in communities, in groups, in families. Programmes cannot successfully help them if they are treated as atomistic individuals.

· Ambitious, conflicting programme goals and activities lead to trouble. Most programmes have this problem.

· A programme is what it does; not what it would like to do or was established to do. The distribution of funds and staff time are good indicators of what an organisation actually does rather than what it believes it does or tries to convince others that it does

Local authority services were designed to deal with individuals - pupils, clients, miscreants - and do not have the perspectives, mechanisms or policies to deal with community malfunctioning. For that, structures are needed which have a "neighbourhood-focus" and "problem focus".
The Strathclyde strategy did in fact develop them - in the neighbourhood structures which allowed officers, residents and councillors to take a comprehensive view of the needs of their area and the operation of local services: and in the member-officer groups.

But we did not follow through the logic - and reduce the role of committee system which sustains so much of the policy perversities. That would have required a battle royal! After all, it took another decade before the issue of an alternative to the Committee system came on the national agenda - to be fiercely resisted by local authorities. Even now, the furthest they seem to go in their thinking is the "Cabinet system" - which has been offered as an option several times over the past 30 years (Wheatley; Stewart) but never, until now, considered worthy of even debate. The system of directly elected mayors - which serves other countries well - still does not command favour. One of the great marketing tricks of the English is to have persuaded the world of our long traditions of democracy. The truth is that our forefathers so mistrusted the dangers of unacceptable lay voices controlling the council chambers that they invented a range of traditions such as the one creating a system of dual professional and political leadership in local government. As the powers of local government increased in the post-war period - this became a recipe for confusion and irresponsibility. Little wonder that local government was called "The Headless State" (Regan). Chairmen of Committees have been able to blame Directors; and Directors, Chairmen.

In the 1990s it was interesting to see some local authorities now organised on the basis that was beginning to appear obvious to some of us in the late 1970s. The more progressive councils now have three different political structures -
· One for thinking and monitoring - ie across traditional boundaries of hierarchy, department and agency (our Member-Officer review groups)
· One for ensuring that it is performing its legal requirements (the traditional committee system) · One for acting in certain fields with other agencies to achieve agreed results (Joint Ventures for geographical areas or issues)

part VI - trying to tame the system

I realise that I am breaking the rules of blogging (and writing) by using it to serialise a longer paper. What you are reading first on a blog is the last thing written - and, at the moment, these "blogs" have references which can be properly understood only by looking at earlier "blogs".
But it's a useful process for me - since placing the text on the internet (accessible to everyone and anyone) forces me think of the reader and therefore helps editing. Generally, my first thought is for the ideas - and this is very obvious by the size of the original paper from which the text is excerpted is key paper 5 on my website which you will find on "links" (publicadmin reform).
And I do have to be clear why I bother to draft these papers (on "key papers" on the website) about the lessons from the various initiatives I've been involved with - and, in particular, about events of 30 years ago. Part of the answer, I suppose, is that international consultancy is a lonely business. You don't get the chance to take part in internal seminars - so you have to talk to yourself! That may explain the more recent papers - but not the accounts of earlier events. I suppose the reason why I still think and write about these older events is because so few others do. Those who write books are pursuing the modern - which carries with it the implication that what went before was useless. And few books are written about the work done by the hundreds of thousands of officials and councillors at the coal-face. I do feel that our sense of who we are requires us to have an historical perspective - particularly about our working lives. Who was it who wrote that without a sense of history, we are doomed to repeat all the mistakes??


In those days (the 1970s) the mythology was that the urban ghettos (which were actually the new housing schemes on the periphery of the towns and cities) had a disproportionate amount of money spent on them. The opposite was in fact true: it was the middle class who benefited disproportionately from state spending - particularly education and housing subsidy.

Up until then the attempts of a few of us to persuade our political and officer colleagues that (a) the conditions in the housing estates were unacceptable and (b) that there were better ways of using local authority resources had met with indifference and hostility. There was, we were patronisingly told, nothing we could do to change the behaviour of such people.
In 1975, however, a national Report (Born to Fail) gave us proof that the conditions were much worse in the West of Scotland than in the rest of the UK: each town had its collection of housing schemes which were seen as problematic. They could not therefore be fatalistically accepted. They were not God-given!
And, furthermore, this was not an internal report with confidential status and restricted circulation. It was a public report which had aroused the interest of the regional and national press. It could not be ignored. Some sort of response was called for.
In trying to develop a response we faced strong resistance from two sources - first the left within the Labour Party who argued that economic realities meant that there was nothing that could be done at a local level (and in this they were joined by Keynesians). Growth and redistribution were matters for national Government.
The second difficult group was the staff of the public sector whose loyalties were to their particular profession rather than to a local authority, a neighbourhood or policy group! And many staff had deeply-held prejudices about the capacity of people in these areas - and the desirability of working participatively with them - let alone other professional or local politicians.
How we devised a policy response - and its focus - had to be sensitive to these attitudes. The search for policy was also made immediately more difficult by the absence of any "experts" in the field. We knew there were none within the Council: and appeals to the local Universities produced no responses in those days.

We could, however, vaguely see four paths which had not been attempted -
· Positive Discrimination : the scope for allocating welfare State resources on a more equitable basis had been part of the "New Left" critique since the late 1950s (Townsend). Being a new organisation meant that it was to no-one's shame to admit that they did not know how exactly the money was being allocated. Studies were carried out which confirmed our suspicions that it was the richer areas which, arguably, needed certain services least (eg "pre-school" services for children) which, in fact, had the most of them! And, once discovered, this was certainly an area we considered we had a duty to engage in redistribution of resources - notwithstanding those who considered this was not for local government to attempt.
· Community Development : one of the major beliefs shared by some of us driving the new Council (borne of our own experience) was that the energies and ideas of residents and local officials in these "marginalised" areas were being frustrated by the hierarchical structures of departments whose professionals were too often prejudiced against local initiatives. Our desire was to find more creative organisational forms which would release these ideas and energies - of residents and professionals alike. This approach meant experimentation (Barr; Henderson; McConnell).
· Inter-Agency Cooperation : there needed to be a focussed priority of all departments and agencies on these areas. Educational performance and health were affected more by housing and income than by teachers and doctors! One agency - even as large as Strathclyde - could not do much on its own. An intensive round of dialogues were therefore held in 1976/77 with District Councils, Central Government, Health Boards, Universities and Voluntary Organisations: it must be said that considerable time elapsed before there were material results from this eg it was 1984 before the Joint Area Initiatives in the larger Glasgow Housing Schemes were up and running.
· Information and Income-Maximisation : the Region could certainly use its muscle to ensure that people were getting their entitlements : ie the information and advice to receive the welfare benefits many were missing out on. The campaigns mounted in the late 1970s were soon pulling millions of pounds into these areas: and served as a national model which attracted the active interest of the Minister at the time.

THE EMERGENT STRATEGY
45 areas were designated as "Areas of Priority Treatment" (APTs); to try to work differently in these areas; and to learn from that.
Basically the approach was that local residents should be encouraged to become active in the following ways -
· have their own local forums - where, with the local politicians and officials, they could monitor services and develop new projects.
· have access to a special local initiative fund - The national "Urban Programme" Fund. It was not a lot of money - 10 million dollars a year from a total development budget of 300 million and had problems referred to in section 11.1 below. But without it, there would have been little stomach for the innovative (and risky) projects. At the best of times, senior management of most departments would have been a bit ambivalent about locally designed and managed projects: and these were not the best of times!
· have their own expert advisers (more than 300 community workers and more specialist advisers (in such fields as housing, welfare benefits, credit unions, community business) in what were initially 45 designated priority areas of, on average, 10,000 people with unemployment rates of about 20%)

Such an approach allowed "a hundred flowers to bloom" - and the development in 1982, after an intensive and inclusive review of the experience of the first five years, of the principles and framework of the Social Strategy for the Eighties.

part V - more open and creative policy-making

I have written an extensive paper about the innovative work I was involved in from 1975-1990 in the Region trying to make its policies, structures and staff more sensitive to the needs and aspirations of those who lived in its poorer areas. It is paper 5 of “key papers” of my website. Here I just want to focus on the structural aspects of our work – how we tried to get officials, councillors and community activists working more productively with one another to solve problems.
This entry talks about our member-officer groups -the next entry looks at how we tried to "make a difference" in the poorer areas.
At the end of Strathclyde Region's first year of existence in 1976, a major weekend seminar of all the councillors and the new Directors was held to review the experience of the new systems of decision-making. The exhilarating experience a few of us had had of working together across the boundaries of political and professional roles first to set up the new Departments and second on the deprivation strategy was something we wanted to keep. And other councillors wanted that involvement too.
Our answer was "member-officer groups" (Young 1981). These were working groups of about 15 people (equal number of officials and councillors) given the responsibility to investigate a service or problem area - and to produce, within 12-18 months, an analysis and recommendations for action. Initially social service topics were selected - youth services, mental handicap, pre-school services and the elderly - since the inspiration, on the officer side, was very much from one of the senior Social Work officials.

The member-officer groups broke from the conventions of municipal decision-making in various ways -
· officials and members were treated as equals
· noone was assumed to have a monopoly of truth : by virtue of ideological or professional status
· the officers nominated to the groups were generally not from Headquarters - but from the field
· evidence was invited from staff and the outside world, in many cases from clients themselves
· the represented a political statement that certain issues had been neglected in the past
· the process invited external bodies (eg voluntary organisations) to give evidence
· the reports were written in frank terms : and concerned more with how existing resources were being used than with demands for more money.
· the reports were seen as the start of a process - rather than the end - with monitoring groups established once decisions had been made.

The achievements of the groups can be measured in such terms as -
· the acceptance, and implementation, of most of the reports : after all, the composition and the openness of the process generates its own momentum of understanding and commitment !
· the subsequent career development of many of their chairmen
· the value given to critical inquiry - instead of traditional party-bickering and over-simplification.
· the quality of relations between the councillors : and with the officials

With this new way of working, we had done two things. First discovered a mechanism for continuing the momentum of innovation which was the feature of the Council's first year. Now more people had the chance to apply their energies and skills in the search for improvement.
We had, however, done more - we had stumbled on far more fruitful ways of structuring local government than the traditional one (the Committee system) which focuses on one "Service" - eg Education which defines the world in terms of the client group: of one professional group and is producer-led. And whose deliberations are very sterile - as the various actors play their allotted roles (expert, leader, oppositionist, fool etc).

big was not bad



This is now what the area looks like - about one metre of snow at my level - more at higher reaches.
But Revenons aux moutons! Let's pick up the story line
I supported the reorganisation of local government – which, in 1974, not only literally decimated the number of municipalities[1] but created the massive Strathclyde Region[2].
I had gained visibility from the workshops held by my Local Government Unit on the various management, community and structural challenges and changes facing local government – and this, I think, was the main reason I found myself elected as Secretary of the ruling Labour Group[3] of that Region. Even at my young age (32) I was reasonably well-known – with an open, energetic and, perhaps most importantly, non-partisan look to me.
And in the same year, a Labour Government returned to power – and was to remain there until 1979.
In the 12 “shadow” months we had to prepare for our new responsibilities, we set up new-style policy groups to try to produce relevant solutions to the massive socio-economic problems faced by the West of Scotland[4].

Lessons about Leadership
The first elections of 1974 gave Labour a handsome majority in Strathclyde Region - 72 of the 103 seats. And on the first Sunday of May 1974, the newly-elected came together to choose the leadership of what was the largest unit of local government in Europe (with a staff of 100,000 responsible for services for half of Scotland's population: an annual budget of 3 million dollars).
The powers of the new Region had attracted a good calibre of politician - the experienced leadership of the old counties and a good mix of younger, qualified people (despite the obvious full-time nature of the job, we were expected to do it for a daily allowance of about 15 dollars. Clearly the only people who could contemplate that were the retired, the self-employed or those coming from occupations traditionally supportive of civic service - eg railwaymen and educationalists)
With a strong sense of heading into the unknown, a dual leadership was created - with the public persona (the President and Policy Leader) being someone fairly new to politics, a Presbyterian Minister (without a church) who had made his name in "urban ministry" working with the poor. Geoff Shaw inspired great respect - particularly in the world outside normal politics - and brought a new approach. He was determined to have more open and less complacent policy-making: particularly with respect to social inequalities([5]
Appointed as the Leader of the Majority Group (and therefore holding the patronage powers) was an older and politically much more experienced man - an ex-miner. Dick Stewart may not have had the formal education and eloquence of Geoff but he commanded respect (and fear!) amongst both politicians and officials of the Council for his ability to get to the heart of any matter and for his honesty. He readily grasped the key elements in any issue: and would not easily deviate from policy. To persuade him to change, you had to have very strong arguments or forces on your side - and a great deal of patience. This made for policy stability: occasionally frustrating but so much more acceptable than the vacillation and fudge which passes for so much policy-making! Geoff stood for moral direction: Dick for order.
Both had a deep sense of justice: and utter integrity to their principles. And the new political structures unusually adopted for this most unusual of local authorities gave them both an equal share in policy leadership.
The difference in perspectives and styles occasionally caused problems: but both approaches were very much needed in the early years. In some ways one saw the same dynamic in the early years of the Czech Republic - between Havel and Klaus. It raises interesting questions about whether - and how - such dualism could be institutionalised in local government.
Sadly, when in 1978, the Convener died, the tensions led to a rethink of the concept: and all power concentrated in the hands of the Leader.
changing the balance of power
In 1975 I gained some prominence by being one of the contributors to the Red Paper on Scotland edited by Gordon Brown - who was even then being talked about as a future Prime Minister. In that paper[6] I exposed the narrowness of vision of Labour groups controlling then so many Scottish municipalities – and in various lectures to professional associations I challenged the way they treated the public. Ironically, by then, I was part of the leadership of an organisation which managed the largest collection of professionals in the British Isles!
Influenced by John Stewart of INLOGOV, I became a big critic of the committee basis of local government – accusing it of being a legitimiser of officer control. We developed a more independent tool for policy development - member-officer groups. Being of more analytical than political stock and without leadership ambitions, I saw (and learned from close quarters about) various styles of leadership[7] - both political and administrative. These were the years of the “Yes Minister” BBC Programme - which exposed the machinations of civil servants in the British political system and I could see the same processes at work in our large Region. I became an early fan of elected mayors which I saw as redressing the balance of power better toward the electorate. My theory of change in those days was best summed up in the phrase – “pincer-strategy” ie a combination of reformers inside government and pressure from outside might produce change. All this was before the vast literature on change management....

a strategy for reform
I was lucky (to put it mildly) in having a job as lecturer in liberal studies. The Polytechnic had aspirations to Degree work but this required many years of careful preparations and, for 10 years I was required only to arouse the interest of various diploma students in current affairs. I read widely – particularly in public management - but, particularly from 1975, my full-time job was effectively the political one. And the task into which I threw myself was that of dealing with the problems of “multiple deprivation”[8] which had been vividly exposed in a 1973 national report and which our Council accepted as its prime challenge in 1975 and developed in 1978 into a coherent strategy. It was this strategy I reviewed – with the help of 6 major Community Conferences – and reformulated as the Council’s key policy document - Social Strategy for the 80s. I will talk about this in the next instalment.....

We were trying to change both an organisational system and a social condition and were very much feeling our way. Social inclusion has now – 30 years on - developed a huge literature but there was little to guide us in those days. I therefore drafted and published reflective pieces about our work, assumptions and learning in various national journals and books[9] – and was heartened with the invitations I received from other local authorities to speak to them.
The Tavistock Institute[10] also included the Region in a research project on inter-organisational relations and invited me to serve on the steering committee. This encouraged my interest in organisational development. And the dissertation for the policy analysis MSc I took in 1983 was on “organisational learning”. So, in a way, I was already preparing the ground for my subsequent move into consultancy.

[1] Changing a 4 tier system of 650 local authorities to a 2 tier system of 65.
[2] Covering half of Scotland’s population and employing staff of 100,000 (we were the Education, Police and Social Work authority)
[3] A position which allowed me to participate in the informal meetings which would decide key issues ahead of the weekly cabinet meetings. This position was voted in 2 yearly elections of Labour councillors – and I held the position successfully for 18 years by virtue of not belonging to any political clique. There were four of us in various key leadership roles and we were known as “the gang of four” – an allusion to the Chinese leadership of that time!
[4] Helped by the work of the West Central Scotland Planning group – but the publication in 1973 of the national study “Born to Fail?” was the catalyst to action.
[5] See Geoff by Ron Ferguson.
[6] “The Red paper” was seminal in raising radical political and economic issues about Scottish governance. It appeared in the middle of an active political debate about devolution of powers to a Scottish parliament and questions about how the new Regions would fit with a Scottish parliament. The title of my paper - “What sort of Overgovernment?” – was trying to suggest that a more profound issue was how those with power treated the powerless.
[7] Leadership was all the rage in management books – but the best book, for me, remains The Leaders we deserve Alaister Mant (Blackwell 1985).
[8] Now known as “social exclusion”
[9] The first 2 major articles (10,000 words apiece on multiple deprivation and how to tackle it; and second on the different strands of community development!) appeared in Social Work Today in November 1976 and February 1977 - thanks to the perspective of its new editor Des Wilson whose “Cathy come Home” documentary had exposed the scale of homelessness in UK. In both pieces, I showed the importance of “policy framing”. The second paper was subsequently reproduced in the book Readings in Community Development ed Thomas
[10] Influenced by people such as Fred Emery and Trist – and Walter Bion