Michael Barber’s 2015 book How to Run a Government has what to a Brit is a rather off-putting American sub-title – “so that citizens benefit and taxpayers don’t go crazy”
But, for at least 5 years, he was Blair’s right-hand man in the Cabinet Office trying to “deliver” better performance of carefully selected targets mainly in the educational and health sectors and has, for the past decade, used this experience to build a global reputation as a “delivery” or “implementation” guru in various parts of the world – not least Canada and the Punjab. And he is one of a small (if growing) number of people who has been able to both straddle the worlds of government and consultancy and write coherently……..
So I didn’t hesitate to buy the book from Bucharest’s Anthony Frost Bookshop – even although it failed my “standing on the shoulders of giants” test (ie its - short – reading list failed to mention some important texts from other practitioner/academic/consultants such as Christopher Foster and John Seddon let alone such writers as Chris Hood and Pollitt; Robert Quinn and the entire literature of change management)
But I’m at page 170 and thoroughly enjoying it – despite the occasional over-indulgent self-referencing….. Hardly surprising that he’s made a fair number of enemies in his time but his straightforward language and description of the various techniques and working methods he’s found useful in the last 20 years of advising political leaders in various parts of the world I find both useful and refreshing.
In 1999 I pulled together my own scribbles about reform efforts – for a new audience I was then facing in central Asia - In Transit – some notes on good governance. This was just as New Labour’s Modernising Government effort (which lasted until 2010) was getting underway. I followed these with great interest although the ex-communist context in which I was working was a very different one – see my “The Long Game – not the logframe” (2012) for its assessment of the chances of Technical Assistance programmes making any sort of dent in what I called (variously) the kleptocracy or “impervious regimes” of most ex-communist countries.
There are surprisingly few reviews for a book which has been out for some 18 months which says a lot to me about academics, consultants and journalists…..