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, May 30, 2015

You have nothing to lose but your Chain.....-link Fences

The last few posts may have appeared to have had different themes but, I realise, were linked to the basic difficulty we seem these days in establishing common ground about the state of our societies/systems – or agreeing actionable programmes of change. 

I mentioned the failure of Ed Straw's book to mention – let alone begin to analyse – the important contributions which have come from other consultants/academics about the sad state of the machinery of British government. Everyone – left/right; Ministers/civil servants; Think Tanks/consultants/ economists/ sociologists/ political scientists – has their own narrative – and all talk past one another.....and the citizen…
Almost no one tries to establish a common denominator about this – let alone alliances. 

I appreciate that this is perhaps more of an Anglo-American thing than European – where there is broader acceptance of the need for negotiation and coalition.
But the academic specialisation which Scialabba was talking about – plus the niche marketing which the various experts (their institutions and publishers) are compelled to take part in in order to make any impact in the modern Tower of Babel we all now inhabit - has also affected the “consensual” aspect of European society….We are confused and cynical…..

A couple of books which were delivered just a few hours ago make the point - Governing Britain: Power, Politics and the Prime Minister  was published in 2013 by a well-known British academic (Patrick Diamond) and is the detailed story of how New Labour tried to modernise the machinery of government over its 13 years. Who Governs Britain? is a short book published this year by one of the doyens of British political science (Anthony King) and explores the question whether “our system of government is fit for purpose”.
Both books have copious indexes and bibliographies which I immediately checked for mention of the books of practical men such as Ed Straw or John Seddon. What do I find?
- No mention of these two – although Chris Foster (with an academic background) does rate 2 entries in Diamond’s book. 
- Michael Barber (Tony Blair’s Education guru and the inventor of “deliverology”) is the only significant change-agent to get real space in Diamond’s book. 
- The important Power Inquiry of 2005-2010 oddly gets no mention in King’s book and only 2 references in Diamond’s index.
- Democratic Audit’s satirical The Unspoken Constitution (2009) which gives us a very pointed critique of the concentration of irresponsible power of the British system is, of course, totally ignored.

The conclusion I draw from this is simple, Academics reference only one another (within their own narrow discipline) – and disdain to mention the outputs of mere practitioners (if they even bother to read them). And practitioners (civil servants/politicians) don’t have the temperament or patience to read and distill what the academics write. 
Consultants, journalists and Think-Tankers, however, are the sort of intermediaries who should be capable of selection and summary - but have their own interests, disdain most writing (Think-Tankers being an exception) and bring instead their particular brand of snake oil…….

One of the (few) heartening sections of Naughton’s book about the Internet is his chapter on the “media eco-system” in which he produces several case-studies of the upstaging of the mainstream media by bloggers who had more specialized knowledge than the journalists. 
There are an increasing number of (older) bloggers who have the time and inclination to challenge what the power elites are doing – but they have to network more – and sharpen their message.    

Perhaps my contribution is to try to identify those who are working in my field(s)….and try to get more of them working together and developing a higher profile???

Coincidentally, another book in the packet which arrived this afternoon offers an approach which might help pull ourselves out of our confusion – Ben Ramalingham’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos which applies systems theory to  a range of complex problems faced in most parts of the world.

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