Let me try to summarise the argument of the recent posts about public services reform……
Our view of the State (and what we could expect of it) changed dramatically in 1989 – and not just in Eastern Europe. Boring “public administration” gave way to New Public Management (NPM) – with its emphasis on the “consumer” (rather than citizen) and on “choice”…
A series of blogposts last autumn used 15 questions to explore its state almost 20 years on….
Anglo-saxon voices were loudest in what was essentially a technocratic debate, focussing on concepts such as “good Governance” and “public value”.
Last week I wrote that it was nothing short of scandalous that, in comparison with the thousands of books written on the subject by academics in the past 25 years, there seem to be only two written for the general public by journalists….Even if I add in those written by consultants (such as Barber, Seddon and Straw) the total comes to under a dozen….
A question which is surprisingly rarely explored in the vast literature on reform is one relating to the sources of change. We all too readily assume that effective change comes from politicians and their advisers…..The sad reality is that this is generally the kiss of death.
Of course this seems to fly in the face of the narrative about democratic authority and political legitimacy….
But that just shows how two-dimensional is the concept of democracy which prevails in anglo-saxon countries.
Effective change doesn’t come from the “ya-boo; yo-yo” system of adversarial power blocs of the UK and USA – it comes from sustained dialogue and coalitions of change.
And, often, it starts with an experiment – rather than a grand programme…Take, for example, what is now being called the Dutch model for neighbourhood care – started by Buurtzorg a few years back which is now inspiring people everywhere. That is a worker cooperative model… which, quite rightly, figures in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations
And when “mutualisation” was being explored by the UK Coalition government in 2010/11 (see reading list at end of this post) it was a bipartisan idea which had strong support from the social enterprise sector….
There was a time when people were interested in the process of organisational change…..it even spawned a literature on “managing change”, some of which still graces my library shelves (from the early 1990s). …The titles figure in this Annotated Bibliography for change agents which I did almost 20 years ago….
Most of the literature was paternalistic but a few writers understood that change could not be imposed (however subtly) and had to grow from a process of incremental adjustment….that was Peter Senge at his best….But the most inspiring book on the subject remains for me Robert Quinn’s Change the World (2000) – this article gives a sense of his argument. At a more technical level, Governance Reform under real world Conditions (2008) also offers an overview with a rarely catholic perspective.....
I don’t understand why we have lost interest in the process of change – and why leaders seem doomed to reinvent the broken wheel…..
Postscript; for the record, this post probably encapsulates some of the most important messages from this series about reform I have been writing in the past year