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!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Getting Government Reform taken seriously

We are increasingly angry these days with politicians, bureaucrats and government – and have developed an appetite for accounts and explanations of why our democratic systems seem to be failing. The Blunders of our Governments; and The Triumph of the Political Class are just two examples of books which try to satisfy that appetite.
The trouble is that the academics and journalists who produce this literature are outsiders – so it is difficult for them to give a real sense of what scope for manoeuvre senior policy-makers realistically have. Political Memoirs should help us here but never do since they are either self-congratulatory or defensive – with the Diaries of people such as Chris Mullen, Alan Clark and Tony Benn being exceptional simple because they were outside the magic circle of real power.

Two rare and brave attempts by politicians to pull aside the curtain of power in a systematic and objective way are How to be an MP; by Paul Flynn and How to be a Minister – a 21st Century Guide; by John Hutton
Various problems make it exceedingly rare for British senior civil servants to publish memoirs.

This leaves the important category of consultants and think-tankers to turn to – with Michael Barber’s How to Run a Government so that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers don’t go Crazy (2015) and Ed Straw’s Stand and Deliver – a design for successful government (2014) being recent examples. John Seddon’s Systems Thinking in the Public Sector – the failure of the Reform regime and a manifesto for a better way (2008) and Chris Foster’s British Government in Crisis (2005) are older examples.
Barber’s should be the most interesting since he has made such a name for himself with his “deliverology” but I find it difficult to take him seriously when he doesn’t include any of the other authors in his index. 
Straw’s is an angry book which fails even to include an index – let alone mention of Seddon’s or Foster’s books. 
The Unspoken Constitution was a short spoof published in 2009 by Democratic Audit which probably tells us as much about the British system of power as anyone….

And, however, entertaining “In the Thick of it”; and the British and American versions of “House of Cards”, they hardly give a rounded account of policy-making in the 2 countries.

Curiously, those wanting to get a real understanding of how the British (and other) system of government might actually be changed for the better are best advised to go to the theories of change which have been developed in the literature on international development eg the World Bank’s 2008 Governance Reform under Real-World Conditions – citizens, stakeholders and Voice; and its People, Politics and Change - building communications strategy for governance reform (2011) - in particular the fold-out diagram at the very end of the 2008 book

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