The richness of the web is sometimes too much. This morning I wanted to write something about complexity, social interventions and policy tools – on the basis of Matthew Taylor’s blog today (you can get the website in links on the right hand side). He had been reading a couple of draft pamphlets which will appear shortly on the Royal Society of Arts website about different approaches to government interventions. Between the 1970s and 1990s I had the opportunity to experiment with different approaches to policy-making – at both the local and regional levels. The Tavistock Institute invited me to join a project in the 1970s which was beginning to think about the network approach to policy-making. And I felt that one of the best things I ever did was to bring together and support over a 2 year period something we called a network of urban change agents officials, councillors from both Districts and the Region, academics and NGO reps who were invited to attend on the basis of their commitment to deal with the conditions of social injustice.
Since then I have read various key authors such as Mary Douglas, Margeret Wheatley, James Scott and Paul Ormerod who recognise the limitations of crude managerialism. In a way the argument goes back to the writings of such 20th century anarchists as Ivan Illich and Paulo Freiere.
Talyor says simply that Traditional policy interventions – particularly in relation to social problems – have these characteristics:
• They are large scale and expensive.
• They aim for relatively marginal improvement in outcomes e.g. a few percent lower unemployment or higher pupil attainment.
• They seek to minimise risk through systems of regulation, audit, and accountability.
But these design features do not fit the characteristics of social networks interventions, which are:
• They will usually fail.
• Occasionally small interventions will have major impact through contagion effects.
• Sometimes interventions will have an impact very different to those planned (sometimes good, sometimes not).
An emphasis on social networks changes not just the focus and design of public policy, but the whole way we think about success and failure.
From this blog, I was led on to the various papers on this theme on the RSA website and suddenly found myself on the Scribd. Site – which allows me not only to download a whole variety of material but also to upload my own papers! Needeless to say I spent half an hour exploring, inserting a profile and uploading a paper - Searching for the Holy Grail in which I try to set out what I feel I have learned from my 40 years' experience of trying to help different government systems operate more in the public interest. All very interesting - but basically it diverted me from the writing which is the only way to make sense of the stuff founf on the internet!
Let me, at any rate, share a couple of the papers I came across on subjects close to my heart - one a book which had just appeared on Reforming the worst government in the world -
The other is a useful paper on the Azerbaijan government system -