The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
by Peter

One of the issues Boyle deals with in Authenticity (see below) is the proliferation of targets. Boyle really doesn´t like these. He is rather strangely attracted to the idea of Management by Walking Around, but hates the idea of Management by Objectives. At one stage (page 210 to 211) he quotes Peter Drucker with approval for his condemnation of Taylorism, with out acknowledging that Drucker is - to a large extent - responsible for all this target-setting.

He's very down on counting

That's the great fear: that in the end those who think reality lies in the numbers willrecreate the world as if nothing else matters...if we only measrure success by Gross Domestic Product or the single bottom line of money moving through the economy then we also drive out all those things that can´t be measured.

Boyle equates the proliferation of targets with the recruitment of large numbers of accountants intot he public sector. There probably is a link - but he might be wiser to concentrate on the politicians. As far as GDP is concerned, it is pretty key to politicians: it tells them how much they can hope to raise in taxes. This matters enormously to them (it might well be good if it mattered less). At local level you used to see this with the fascination of local councils with initiatives that would raise the rateable value of their area (especially when the residents of the new developments would use the servies of a neighbouring authority)

He does quote Keith Joseph, though:

Sir Keith Joseph famously described his impatience to get his hands on the levers of power in the early 1960s 'only to find they weren't connected to anything'.

Michael Heseltine was - I believe - the piioneer in terms of organising management information systems into governemnt, seeking to follow the ideas of Drucker, and to make the civil service bureacracy more responsive to the wishes of Ministers. I find it hard to argue with this wish.

Certainly there is an issue with the number of targets around the public service now. This seems to me a sympton of the absence of proper accountancy/management consultancy advice at the appropriate level. The ideas in good currency in the accountancy profession these days would probably start with the conviction that you should not have too many targets. And I doubt if anyone has qualified as an accountant in the last fifiteen years without absorbing the ideas of Kaplan, summarised in the Balanced Scorecard. This puts some emphasis on "soft" issues such as Learning

The BSC / Learning and Growth perspective includes employee training and corporate cultural attitudes related to both individual and corporate self-improvement. In a knowledge-worker organization, people are the main resource. In the current climate of rapid technological change, it is becoming necessary for knowledge workers to be in a continuous learning mode. Government agencies often find themselves unable to hire new technical workers and at the same time is showing a decline in training of existing employees. Kaplan and Norton emphasize that 'learning' is more than 'training'; it also includes things like mentors and tutors within the organization, as well as that ease of communication among workers that allows them to readily get help on a problem when it is needed.

There is certainly a case for much more selective use of targets in government, and for health warnings on league tables (as we have mentioned here some time ago). But there is a baby somewhere in all that bathwater...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 6:27 pm  
  • At 29 December, 2005 17:00, Blogger TheStarFromAfar said…

    Completely off-topic but,

    I suggest you check out Tim Ireland's latest post - very interesting info on the Government's knowledge of torture abroad and "extraordinary rendition", with e-mails from Craig Murray to the Foreign Office.

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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


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