what you get here

This is not a blog which opinionates on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Scribbling from Foreign Lands

I still remember the autumn morning in 1990 when I stood beside my car at the Hull docks waiting to board the ferry that would take me to a port on Denmark’s west coast with a subsequent drive to WHO HQ Copenhagen. On the basis of my strategic work in the West of Scotland, the Head of European Public Health division had invited me take up a short assignment helping her develop a health promotion strategy for the newly-liberated countries of central and eastern Europe.

Ilona Kickbusch was a formidable German lady who didn’t appear to need much help but I was desperate to explore new horizons – having rather boxed myself career-wise. And so it proved – with a new career in “institutional development” in central europe quickly opening up first in Prague, then Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Brussels and Latvia.

The projects were, however, largely an apprenticeship as I learned to deal not only with a new role but new subjects (transitology; a national rather than local government focus) – as well as a way of presenting ideas which took account of interpretation needs. Thus I would always try to give interpreters advance briefing – particularly for any conference papers…. 

But in 1999 I became the Leader of a fairly large team in Uzbekistan on Civil Service Reform although there was little or no pressure for any real change from the Prime Minister’s Office (our beneficiary) which gave me the luxury of being able to write material for the small number of officials who did seem to be interested.

I took to doing regular – and highly interactive - sessions with middle-level officials at the Presidential Academy of Public Administration – in a training centre set up by the project.

I learned quite a lot as a result – about European systems of local government; privatisation; and that dreadful thing called “human resource management”. I was particularly proud of the little series of publications I left behind eg the 60 page Transfer of Functions – European Experience 1970-2000. 

All of this was to prove invaluable to me in the two projects which immediately followed. 

In Azerbaijan I was Team Leader from 2003-2005 on a Civil Service project which worked with a network of personnel managers and, very much against the odds, managed eventually to have a Civil Service Agency set up to introduce new-fangled merit-based appointments. It’s apparently still going strong…..

The early days were difficult – a civil service Law had been passed by Parliament but no one knew what to do with it…..A previous Team Leader had resigned in frustration. Instead of an office in the prestigious Presidential Office Building, I was offered rooms in the nearby Presidential Academy of Public Administration. There I befriended some staff with whom I started to work on lectures and 3 books…… totally outside my Terms of Reference. I like to think that my method of working won friends and influenced people…. Although it did cause some problems with the European Commission monitors who watched with bemusement…

But the European Office supported me and I began to acquire friends in the President’s Office and Parliament who actually encouraged me to campaign publicly – with lots of press interviews and even a television hook-up with the public!

The three books I co-authored were published with European funds and the first on public management and the civil service to be available in the Azeri language. So I was proud of that too….

I had no sooner finished that work than I was flying to Bishkek to take up a two-year project as Team Leader in Kyrgyzstan (2005-7) which helped establish a Local Government Board; did a lot of training of municipal people….and also left three books behind – one of which tells a good story about learning and strategic change - Developing Municipal Capacity and strongly challenged the prevailing assumptions in the capital about whose capacities needed developing!

Only one of these had been in my terms of reference - Road Map for Kyrgyz Local Government (2007) which I regard as one of the best things I ever produced…  The more I worked on it, the more I appreciated the potential of this device. The opening page warns that - 

A road map does not give a route – YOU choose the route. A roadmap simply locates the key features (mountains, rivers and swamps) you need to be aware of when trying to travel from the A to the B of your choice. So this is not an attempt to force foreign models on the local situation

Another point about a road map is that it cannot cover every changing detail nor tell you how you should approach certain situations – sometimes a large bump in the road or impatience can have fatal consequences! So a road map is only a guide - local knowledge, judgment and skills are needed to get you to your destination! And, like a map, you don’t have to read it all – only the sections which are relevant for your journey!

So don’t be discouraged by the size of the booklet – simply dip into the sections which seem most useful to you

Such projects always have an “inception period” (generally a month) to allow the team and beneficiary to take stock of the situation and make adjustments…which even paymasters realise are needed when a President flees the country – as happened in March 2015 as I was completing my round of visits not only to “beneficiaries” but other “stakeholders” such as UNDP, The World Bank and US Aid. I took full advantage of that period (which involved my own flight – back to Baku for a week of safety) to ensure the “maximum feasible flexibility” in the project. 

One of the high points of the project for me was when, at a Conference of the municipalities, I invited the participants to play a game similar to “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. As you will see from the annexes of the Road Map, I simple reminded people of

·       the main elements involved in making a successful car trip (features of the car; geography; roads; petrol stations);

·       listed the key players in the local government system (politicians; laws; citizens; lobbies)

·       invited them to pin the appropriate label on the map

At that point, I decided that it was time to see how the newest members of the European Union were coping. I had acquired an old mountain house in a remote village in the Carpathian mountain which my Romanian partner took from a shell in 2000 to a warm habitable home with superb vistas from front balcony and back terrace of two spectacular mountain ranges……

I got the chance to spend only one summer there in 2007 there before being tempted by one of the last Phare-funded projects which bore the highly poetic title – “Technical Assistance to the Institute of Public Administration and European Integration - for the development of an in-service training centre network linked to the implementation and enforcement of the Acquis”. The project’s aim was to – 

 “ build a system for in-service training of Inspectors and other stakeholders to satisfy clearly identified training needs and priorities in the field of acquis communautaire implementation”. Five fields were selected by the Institute for the initial development of training and training material – Food safety; Environment; E-government; Consumer protection; and Equal opportunities. The project appointed Bulgarian specialists in these fields to manage this process of designing and delivering training. In six months the project was able to -

·       Produce 18 training courses

·       Draft Guidelines for assessing training; how to carry out assessment which helps improved training.

·       Produce a Training of Trainers’ Manual; and a Coaching Manual

·       Run 30 workshops in the 6 regions for 500 local officials

·       Draft a Discussion Paper to identify the various elements needed to help improve the capacity of Bulgarian state administration. This offered examples of good practice in both training and implementation.

“Procurement issues” (for which read a combination of Bulgarian and Italian corruption) delayed the start of the project by some 4 months…….and continued to plague us for the remainder of the year. But it was, for me again, a marvellous learning opportunity during which I learned so much about both the fundamental issue of “compliance with European norms” - as well as how effective training could and should be organized……

Monday, April 19, 2021

My scribbling from 1975-1990

HEALTH WARNING – this is a very self-indulgent post which simply records (essentially for my own use) the pieces which are still accessible from my writing during the years when we still used typewriters

I’ll add the post 1990 material in a future post…. 



What sort of Overgovernment?” chapter in the famous “Red Paper on Scotland” (1975) edited by Gordon Brown.

My chapter looked at the then popular argument that Scotland, having just reorganised its local government system, entered the EU and facing the prospect of a new national Assembly, could become “overgoverned” – a sentiment which neoliberals were just beginning to express with their references to the “overloading” of government. I would like to think that the chapter anticipated this – although it certainly questioned certain aspect of democracy in municipal authorities….

Community Development – its political and administrative challenge

Social Work Today

Feb 1977

Western civilization blinked in 1968..its leaders panicking as the demos stirred and turning to 3 Wise Men who duly produced in 1975 the Trilateral Commission Report on The Future of Democracy (all 227 pages) which talked about the “overloading” of government and the loss of public trust…...I had been in the streets in May 1968 but, no longer a student, engaging in community politics - working with community activists as they organized themselves

This is a long and prescient 1977 paper drafted as a result of a study of community development which lasted several years -which critically assesses the claims of pluralist democratic theory and finds them wanting.Five functions of political parties are identified and tested – with the conclusion that they were losing their basic functions. ...Three different schools of community development and their relationship to political parties are are identified and explored.

The Search for Democracy – a guide to and polemic about Scottish local government

1977 book of which I retain a sole copy in my mountain house

A short book written around some 40 questions community activists and students were putting to me about the new system of Scottish local government which had arrived in 1975. I was in a fairly unique position to deal with this since I had, for some 3 years, been occupying one of the leading positions in the country’s largest local authority – Strathclyde Region. I’m not able at the moment to give excerpts……

Local government, learning and social change” Linkage newsletter 3 of Institute of Operational Research (IOR) 1978

Article in a Tavistock Institute newsletter (Linkeage) about the need for political learning. Reflects the work of such systems analysts as Geoffrey Vickers and Stafford Beer.

A Little Local InequalityChapter in “Scotland- the Real Divide” ed by Gordon Brown and Robin Cook 1983

The piece started with a piece of purple prose describing the contrast between the glorious location of one of the areas in my regional seat overlooking the river Clyde and the grim realities of the lives of the people there. The article then describes how a new Social Strategy of the Regional Council was giving local people more hope

“Scottish Local Government – what future?” Chapter in The Scottish Government Yearbook 1984

A critical assessment of the system – a mere ten years after a major reorganization

My more academic side on display

Various papers on Social Strategy for the 80s


The Council’s strategy was unique in the UK and I made it my business to make sure that people in the country were aware of it. See also Criticism and public rationality – professional rigidity and the search for caring government; Harry Smart (1991)

Case Study in Organisational Learning and Political Amnesia

The definitive paper on the Strathclyde Region’s Social Strategy experience – written a few years after I left the Region. Be warned – it’s 50 pages long!! 


Sunday, April 18, 2021

Just Words - 50 years of scribbling

I have been in a dangerous place this past week – down Memory Lane.

I blame Hugh Johnson’s beautifully-produced “On Wine – good bits from 55 years of scribbling” - picked up for a song in a remaindered Bucharest bookshop last week and whose format and sub-title has inspired me to start piecing together my own “collected writings”.

Johnson has, of course, been a wine correspondent – published not only in a variety of journals but in his own books – not least his famous annual wine pocket books. 

I started well – founding a Local Government Research Unit in 1970 which, over a decade, produced quite a few papers (now lost) and even a couple of little books. And this led in turn to quite a few invitations to write in journals with titles such as “Local Government Studies”, “Social Work Today” and “Community Care” – and even to chapters in books such as “The Red Paper on Scotland” (ed Gordon Brown 1975); “Scotland; the Real Divide” (ed G Brown and R Cook 1983); and The Scottish Government Yearbook 1984. 

The focus on my writing in the first 2 decades was on two subjects – the system of government in Scotland; and the massive change the Region was trying to make in its “Social Strategy for the Eighties” (then Nineties) in the roles and relationships of those who had and those who lacked power. This last was quite unique – no government unit in the UK had ever attempted such a thing.

And I have, after all these years, realised one odd thing. It attracted absolutely no pushback…no resistance. Not from the Conservative party, not from the Liberals, not from the Scottish Nationalists (then a mere handful of eccentrics) - let alone from the professional bodies representing our staff. I was often the guest at training sessions, for example, of police officers. Everyone’s response was an embarrassed acceptance.

Clearly this was by virtue of the way we had presented the issue – as emerging from the irrefutable evidence of a National Children’s Bureau statistical evidence on poverty and its scale in the West of Scotland…and something therefore that we had to deal with at our level…at least initially. Central government and its bodies were seen as allies – not enemies – and approached in a very different manner than that which characterised our English municipal colleagues. It is this material I must now track down… 

The move to Europe in late 1990 and a new role as (EC-funded) consultant in capacity development since then has reduced my profile – although it gave me access to the EC publications network which I used with alacrity once it became obvious that they exercised absolutely no vetting on what I wrote – particularly in the project Final Reports I did between 2002 and 2012. My “Just Words – a sceptic’s glossary” was developed from such work

My travels took me to fascinating places in both central Europe and Asia about which I've already recorded short notes. Indeed I’m suddenly reminded of a wonderful book by a Dutch Journalist "In Europe - travels through the 20th Century" (an epub) about his visits to those parts of Europe which played a significant role in Europe during the past century. He does a marvellous job of weaving past and present together to give us a deep picture of Europe. I could do something similar in my “Collected Writings” which currently bears the draft title “Purposive Government”

One of my motivations is the disappointment I felt when I through my father's papers after his death...Here was a man who had slaved at his desk every Saturday evening as he compiled his weekly sermon for the "congregation" he following morning - and yet all I could find after his funeral were a few diaries of his camping holidays in the 1930s with his father; and the text of material he had prepared for some of the classes he ran. None of his own deep, personal thoughts..... 

Of course - like most of us these narcissistic days - I go to the opposite extreme ....my only excuse is that, having enjoyed the company of many books, I feel I owe it to others to help guide them through the deluge of material which engulfs us.....

The wonders of the Word Processor have made it easier to retain copies of the material I have written in the past 22 years – material on floppy disks borders on the old-fashioned - and text in books and journals almost irretrievable except if I strike lucky in a second-hand bookshop or friend’s library.

Three years ago I compiled notes on my work of the past 50 years in No Man’s Land; journeys across disputed territories which I have now added to the list of E-books.

Monday, April 12, 2021


1. Policy Analysis

Paul Cairney is one of these rare academics who writes well. He has had a policy analysis blog for 12 years which is simply the most comprehensive on the subject there is  He makes the topic as interesting as it actually ought to be.

His latest post refers to an article he’s just written about Covid 19 and health policy-makingI was impressed that, after the obligatory “abstract”, the article was preceded by a “Plain Language Summary” which I understand is a feature of at least this Open Research Europe site. And I also liked that he had teamed up with health and political science academics in at least one foreign university apart from his own, Stirling University.

I should at this stage confess that I was a graduate from one of the first (part-time) Policy Analysis courses run in Britain in the mid 1980s by Lewis Gunn of Strathclyde University – with the emphasis on the rationalistic side of things being challenged by the likes of Charles Lindblom. And I still vividly remember the first time “frame analysis” was presented to us.

But this did not prevent me from presenting an overly rationalistic “stage-approach” when, in 2002, I drafted a Manual for senior Slovak Civil Servants…. If only I had known that, by then, Deborah Stone’s Policy Paradox – the art of political decision-making was into at least its second edition! It remains for me the best read on the subject…

2. Eric Hobsbawm – a Life

Eric Hobsbawm was a brilliant British historian who lived to a grand old age and left us definitive and superbly-written histories of our age which you can access on this post of mine. There’s a nice 1995 profile of him here.

LRB commissioned an hour-long documentary on him which you can view here

3. Leading Questions

Dave Pollard is one of the few bloggers whose posts I generally read in full – always thoughtful, generally provocative. His latest post is typical - professing lack of interest in what people had to say about themselves in CVs or expressions of future hopes – but preferring rather to suggest…… 

six “leading questions” that might evoke some kind of useful sense of who someone is and what they care about - and possibly assess whether the person you’re talking with might be the potential brilliant colleague, life partner, inspiring mentor or new best friend you’ve been looking for. These are the questions:

1.      What adjectives or nouns would you use to describe yourself that differentiate you from most other people? When and how did these words come to apply to you?

2.     Describe the most fulfilling day you can imagine, some day that might realistically occur in the next year. Why would it be fulfilling? What are you doing now that might increase its likelihood of happening?

3.     What do you care about, big picture, right now? What would you mourn if it disappeared? What do you ache to have in your life? What would you work really long and hard to conserve or achieve? How did you come to care about this?

4.     What is your purpose, right now? Not your role or occupation, but the thing you’re uniquely gifted and inspired to be doing, something the world needs. What would elate you if you achieved it, today, this month, in the next year? What would devastate you if you failed, or didn’t get to try? How did this become your purpose?

5.     What’s your basic belief about why you, and other humans, exist? Not what you believe is right or important (or what you, or humans ‘should’ do or be), but why you think we are the way we are now, and why you think we evolved to be where we are. It’s an existential question, not a moral one. How did you come to this belief?

6.     What’s your basic sense of what the next century holds for our planet and our civilization? How do you imagine yourself coping with it? How did you come to this belief?

These are not easy questions, and asking them might prove intimidating or even threatening to some people, which is why in the last post I suggested volunteering your own answer to each question yourself first, in a form such as “Someone asked me the other day… and I told them…”. It’s also why there are supplementary questions to each, to get the person you’re asking started. And the last supplementary question in each group lends itself to telling a story, since that’s what we’re most comfortable with. Even then, some of these questions will stop many people cold, which might tell you something about them right there.


4. Britain - and its Union

Peter Oborne may be a right-wing British journalist but he is certainly not typical in his readiness to attack the myths of so many of his ilk – particularly the country’s highly elitist system of power. I have been a great fan of his Triumph of the Political Class since it came out almost a decade ago.  

When therefore he sticks it not only to Boris Johnson and Donald Trump but to the enture media class, you can rest assured you’re in for a great read. And so it is with his Assault on Truth – Johnson, trump and the emergence of a new moral barbarism (2021) which is in epub format.

It’s on Johnson’s watch that the collapse of the so-called UK is becoming final - as this paper from the neutral Constitution Society demonstrates - Britain at the Crossroads - can the British State handle the challenges of devolution?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

“Surgery of the Mind”

When communism suddenly imploded in 1989, noone really knew what to do. Earnest tomes had explored how capitalism would tear itself apart and morph into communism but few had bothered to consider – let alone prepare for - the opposite path. Transition to the institutions of democratic capitalism was the only option. In a few cases (Poland and Russia) that meant shock therapy – in most others, the building of a new institutional capacity for both the market and democracy in which training was a major component. 

I got a bit uneasy about the mechanistic way I saw training being delivered and started to question the various assumptions which were being made about the key roles in the process. Was this, I wondered, just the way things worked in ex-communist countries – or was the problem perhaps deeper??

Training is something that always seems to be done to someone else. The verb indeed seems to be parsed "I know: you learn: they are to be trained"!

I had a wiser older political colleague who, whenever he heard the word “training”, would react by retorting “surgery of the mind”. 

On the basis of 2 decades working in central Europe and Central Asia on programmes of capacity development, a 2011 paper tried to identify the key lessons I had learned about training - starting with these questions -

- WHO needs to learn WHAT?

- WHY (motivation)?

- HOW do people (in public service) learn most effectively?

- from/with WHOM?

- HOW are trainees - and trainers - evaluated?

 - WHO decides these various things - and HOW?

I noticed that the authority of two groups set the pace

(a) training suppliers (in which academia was initially dominant) and

(b) the senior managers who commissioned training.

It was these two groups who decided -

·       what skills and knowledge were to be developed

·       in whom

·       who was to provide such courses

·       how and where this was done.

As the senior managers usually delegated these issues to the more junior Training or Personnel Manager, most of these questions were decided by the academics who ran the courses - who were generally subject specialists with no training themselves in training methods.

And in the early years, the focus of training was seen as the more junior staff; the topics technical (eg finance); the location a classroom; and the method a lecture.

The "recipients" of the training had little influence on such things: and the effectiveness and credibility of training suffered as a result. Several decades down the line we seem to have "learned", at considerable cost, two big lessons about organisational training strategies

·       good and highly appreciated courses can give managers new enthusiasm, perspectives, skills which, however, are wasted when they return to an organisation which does not allow the newly acquired skills and attitudes to be applied since it lacks the will or ability to change.

·       some organisations aware both of the need to change, and of the role of training in that process, find that the courses they have sent managers to have been structured in a traditional scholastic way which, however unconsciously, teaches conformity and respect for authority - rather than the inter-personal and strategic skills involved in managing effective change.

Effective learning requires

·       the "learner" to feel that (s)he is in control of the process

·       to be integrated in and supported by the working environment

·       an initial process of helping him/her develop a set of individual learning "targets"

·       training suppliers to respond to these.

·       in a highly participative way

Formal, scholastically-based training is of limited value unless linked to - and supported by - the working environment. There is little point in someone going on (say) a one-month course unless the individual's immediate manager strongly supports this whether as part of project development or management development - and to the extent of new responsibilities being given on return.

More and more organisations in the West are realising that the sort of change they need to make can only be done by the whole organisation engaging in joint learning - led from the top.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Education under the microscope

Every month, the Great Transition Initiative invites its readers to explore a specific question relating to climate change  and how we might best respond - with the author of Journey to Earthland selecting the question and managing the discussion.

Last month the theme selected was “educating for the future we want”.

I’m normally very hesitant about engaging in discussions of this topic – in which everyone professes to be an expert and in which strong prejudices are quickly on display - but I felt it was about time I pulled my disparate thoughts on the subject together, starting with a confession and personal profile. 

I personally enjoyed my (state) schooling and respected my teachers (and fellow-students) - although I had no clear idea about my course of study at university and chose modern languages by default, moving in the last two years to politics and economics.

In the mid 1960s, graduates had the pick of the job market. So I had 4 different jobs in so many years - before getting my dream job as a Polytechnic Lecturer able to indulge myself for about 15 years before students complained that I was failing to give them what they required. A few years later I started a career as a consultant to government bodies in ex-communist countries - and latterly learned a lot about training…..

It’s not so long ago that kids were told that, if they did well at school, they would be rewarded with a great job – which we often kept at for our entire life. Charles Handy remembers how puzzled he was at the emphasis given to pensions when he got his first job at British Petroleum in the 1950s. Handy was the first to raise questions about ”the future of work” and went on to lead what he, later in the 1980s, designated a “portfolio” career – with jobs increasingly on short-term contracts. Education remained important in such a system – but with a greater emphasis on the post-school and university sectors.

With the increasing reality of robotisation, what advice should parents now give their children? Basically, it seems, the same message as the deschoolers of the 1960s…..rediscovering the need for creativity? The speaker in the video is education expert Sir Ken Robinson whose 3 books include "Creative Schools – the grassroots revolution that’s transforming our schools" (2015). 

And, of course, the new fear - which the pandemic has intensified - is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will further accelerate future losses. A World without Work – technology, automation and how we should respond by Donald Susskind (2019) may make grim reading – particularly when taken in conjunction with The Future of the Professions which the author penned  a few years earlier with his father – but it offers a sound and balanced analysis of what awaits.

One of the interesting points it makes is that AI has developed with the speed it has not by machine intelligence aping human intelligence – but by big data crunching…..Our minds, it seems, remain intact….

And it is the working of our minds that has become the focus of a newfound interest from psychologists (and “cognitive scientists” as they rather grandly call themselves)

I had, in the 1970s, been a fan of Ivan Illich; social critic (Paul Goodman); Education Professor (Neil Postman) and adult educator and philosopher (Paulo Freire) – although working away behind the headlines loomed the more profound figure of psychologist Carl Rogers. And in 1983 fellow psychologist Howard Gardner published the book Frames of Mind – the theory of multiple intelligences whose effects are still being felt today. Five Minds for the future (2006) is a clearer statement 

The public has become increasingly vexed as international league tables have demonstrated national weaknesses in systems which are now seen as crucial for a country’s economic success…..Whose advice should we heed on such things?

- Politicians – who have the authority to make changes?

- Teachers – who have the responsibility for managing the system of schooling?

- Experts – who study and monitor the workings and the performance of the system?

- Parents – who have variable degrees of responsibility, activity and expectation?

- Pupils – who have their own expectations and attitudes? 

When we ask such a question, the variability of the answers is quite amazing. Each country tends to have its own pattern – with the Finnish system regularly quoted as the most successful but outlier country in which highly-trained professionals are trusted to get on with the business.

Most people would probably still respond to the question with a reference to the need for collaboration - few would trust the politicians.  

And yet it’s politicians who set the pace in many countries! It’s hardly surprising that neoliberal Britain sets the most store by competition and choice for schools and parents – with “academies” being the preferred  educational tool for New Labour in the period of its rule from 1997-2010.

Europe is (and remains) more consensual in its approach – with the French elitist system being the exception which is only now being challenged.  

My references are always too anglo-saxon – so I was delighted to find a Dane (Knud Illeris) as the most respected European educationalist and look forward to reading his How we Learn – learning and non-learning at school and beyond (2007) as well as Contemporary Theories of Learning – learning theorists in their own words ed Knud Illeris (2018). And to reading more thoroughly this issue of a European educational journal  

I’m intrigued by how little reference there is to “power” in discussion about schools, education and training and hope to turn to that next

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

How to build State Capacity

The last few posts have argued that -

- few (if any) societies can any longer claim to be democratic

- we need, very loudly, to be exposing such claims as the falsehoods they are

- a new vision of a democratic society needs to be articulated

- pressure groups should coalesce around the demand for citizen juries

- political parties no longer serve any useful purpose

- we should be insisting that governments start focusing on the big issues which are currently kicked into the long grass

- governments, in other words, should govern

At this point I remember the reaction of The Candidate played by Robert Redford as he realises he has won his fight for a Senate seat – “what the hell am I supposed to do now?”.

It’s bad enough that Ministers have time only to deal with immediate crises – how therefore can we also expect them to find time to deal with long-term issues? Basically by shuffling them onto someone else… But Tony Blair was ridiculed for appointing the ex-head of the BBC to be his “Blue skies thinker”.

At least between 1971 and 1983 there was a body called CPRS (Central Policy Review Staff) which not only undertook strategic thinking but was able to publish its reports quite openly. This could – and did – create problems for government and was soon judged not to be necessary by ideologue Margaret Thatcher…..Its spirit needs to be resurrected!

Arguably the EC’s technocrats have, in this instance at least, been a positive force – creating for member states strategic guidelines which have been used in a multiplicity of fields to give benchmarks and inspire laggards to action….

The tools are at hand. Making a positive case for government interventions may not have been easy in the past 40 years but a few people dared to do so – and to keep developing the necessary tools. I thought Henry Mintzberg was the first Canary in the mine, as it were, with his 1996 Harvard Business Review piece on “Managing Government” which argued that we had gone too far in our rejection of the State. But John Bryson and Barbara Crosby had published Leadership for the Common Good – tackling public problems in a shared power world  a few years earlier – in 1992 (it can be accessed in full by clicking the title). This was also the year “Discovering Common Ground” by W Weisbord was published - a series of case-studies of localities and companies coming together to explore how they might best respond to the challenges they faced. The history of the “search conference” is nicely summarised here.

Mark Moore famously used his position at Harvard’s School of Government to work with senior Public Servants to develop in 1995 his influential notion of Public Value which influenced those working with British civil servants such as John Stewart and John Benington.

Moore and Bryson can be seen as the inspiration for European academics such as Paul t’Hart, de Jong and Mariana Mazzucato who have, more recently, all emphasised the importance of strategic governing. Other trainers such as Matt Andrews have also managed to make the notion of strategic governing acceptable even in places such as The World Bank.

So, for those leaders who genuinely want to know how to go about making their governments more strategic, here are some texts to consider – starting with Bryson and Crosby in 1992. I was, frankly, astounded to find there were so many!!




Leadership for the Common Good – tackling public problems in a shared power world J Bryson and B Crosby (1992)

Exhaustive exploration of the issues involved in any attempt to bring people together to confront major problems they face as a society or group

Creating Public Value; Mark Moore (1995)


What was originally a series of inspiring profiles has morphed into a confusing academic industry which is well assessed in the link in the title

The capacity to govern Y Dror (2001).


A masterclass from someone who advised governments throughout the world

The Art of Public Strategy – mobilising power and knowledge for the common good; Geoff Mulgan (2008)

The ex-Head of the UK Cabinet Office wrote this a few years after he finished his service with Tony Bliar

Future Search – getting the whole system in the room for vision,  commitment, action; M Wesibord and S Janoff (2010)

The third edition of a detailed manual – full of examples from around the world

Understanding policy success – rethinking public policy; Alan McConnell (2010)

Most academics focus on how things went wrong. This was a rare book which tried to identify the lessons of success

Agents of Change – strategy and tactics for social innovation ; S Cels, Jorrit de Jong and F Nauta   (2012)

A Dutch group inspired by Mark Moore

Recognising Public Value Mark Moore (2013)

An update of his 1995 book

The Entrepreneurial State; Mariana Mazzucato (2013)

The first of a trilogy of books from this Italian-British economist who strongly argues the interventionist case

Dealing with Dysfunction – problem solving in the public sector; Jarrit de Jong (2014)

Not the most inspiring of titles for what is a great read from someone who ran a group entitled “The Kafka Brigade”

How to Run a Government so that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers don’t go Crazy ; Michael Barber (2015).

A clearly written and useful book about the approach taken by Tony Bliar’s favourite consultant


Creating Public Value in Practice – advancing the common good in a ….noone in charge world J Bryson and Crosby (2015)

The update of their 1992 book

The 21st Century Manager”; Z van der Wal (2017)

An interesting-looking book written by another Dutch academic and consultant who has spent the past  7 years as a Prof at the University of Singapore

Radical Help – how we can remake the relationship between us and revolutionise the Welfare State Hilary Cottam (2018)


an inspiring example of experimental work


Great Policy Successes” Paul t’Hart (2019)


presents 15 in-depth case studies of policy successes from around the world - each containing a detailed narrative of the policy processes and assessing the extent to which the policies pursued can be regarded as successful. 

Successful Policy Lessons from Australia and NZ; ed J Luentjens, M Mintrom and P t’Hart (2019)

The “successful public governance” website at Utrecht University is now running a series of case studies “pour encourager les autres”

"Strategies for Governing - reinventing public administration for a dangerous century"  Al Roberts (2019)

Ideal for politicians – not just because it’s short (140 pages) but because it covers the central issues so clearly

The Good Ancestor – a radical prescription for long-term thinking; Ronan Krznaric (2020)

I’ve included this highly original book – even although its focus is the individual – rather than government

Mission economy – a moonshot guide to changing capitalism”; Mariana Mazzucato (2021)

Mazzucatto’s latest

Guardians of Public Value – how public organization become and remain institutions (2021) ed A Boi, L Harty and P t’Hart

Another series of case-studies from the Utrecht unit of excellent public organisations and the secrets of their success

Public Value Management – governance and reform in Britain ; John Connolly et al (2021)

Rather too academic. Exclusive focus on UK – no references to Netherlands eg de Jong

First, a confession….I certainly haven’t read them all. Indeed I can claim close familiarity only with Barber, Bryson, Cottam, Moore and Roberts. Each is very different – some being voyeuristic case-studies – others reflecting intense personal experience (Dror and Mulgan) or passionate commitment (Cottam and Mazzucato). But all are worth looking at….