Total Place – total denial

I was in the middle of writing an article on Total Place (the latest last-ditch attempt to do something that works in public-sector reform), entitled ‘Total Place is total boll***s’, when I re-read the stuff sent out to local authorities. In it local authorities were told they could access consulting support to the value of £250K to do their counting work (the first step in the Total Place method being: add up the total costs of public service provision in a geographic area; a pretty dumb idea). It occurred to me that DCLG might want to consider funding an alternative method (i.e. the Vanguard Method) which is tried and tested and would achieve the aims of Total Place. So I gave them a call.

I spoke to John Connell at DCLG, who confirmed he worked on the Total Place project; he listened to what I had to say and asked me to send in a proposal. So I altered the paper to make it a proposal for a better method and sent it in. Having heard nothing after about two weeks, I phoned John Connell. He told me he had been moved to another section, and that I should talk to Emily Arch, who had responsibility. I tried and tried to contact Emily. My researcher made contact while I was away. Emily told him DCLG was not telling local authorities what to do with Total Place.I got told the same by John Atkinson from the Leadership Centre (a quango from where the trained facilitators are provided). Further, when I met with Sir Michael Bichard recently, he also insisted local authorities were not being prescribed a method for Total Place.

Yet, when I read all the documentation associated with Total Place and, in particular, the documents being used by the local authority ‘pilots’, I see unequivocal directives for the Total Place method being counting costs and clear statements that DCLG are funding the pilots with £250K of consulting support.

Not wanting my work to go to waste and ever-hopeful that people are looking for a better method for the improvement of multi-agency services, I have published my proposal for Total Place at: https://www.vanguard-method.com/v1_lib.php?current=921 The proposal contains my criticisms of the Total Place method; you just have to read between the lines!

And Emily Arch has yet to return my calls.

More frightening bureaucratic denial

I have just read ‘Brussels Laid Bare’, an account of what happened to Marta Andreason, the EU’s chief accountant, who was sacked for refusing to sign off the EU’s accounts because she could see that they contained a deliberate fraud of 200m Euros. In the book I found echoes of my own experiences with bureaucrats (behaving in denial, not engaging with reality, defending the status-quo). But this jaw-dropping account of systemic fraud makes the UK bureaucrats’ ideological meddling with the public sector look marginal by comparison.

I strongly recommend this book. But be prepared to be alarmed. You can get it from www.stedwardspress.co.uk

Driving up alienation

I was discussing my proposal for Total Place with a senior policeman. The Vanguard Method places emphasis on studying demand and I said that if we studied demand into a geographic area we might find demand for which there are no services and services for which there is no demand.

Without hesitation he offered an example of the latter. In his force policemen are tasked to ‘investigate’ in-coming travellers of ‘obvious’ Muslim persuasion. Of course these people experience British policing as harassment; but the point he wanted to make was that everything he has learned about terrorism is that it is rooted in disaffection and alienation – the very consequences of these arbitrary ‘investigations’.

Anti-social behaviour policies do the same

In our first study of anti-social behaviour (ASB) we were alarmed to discover that following the regime’s guidance and tick-boxes on how to manage ASB drives up community disengagement, yes it creates more problems rather than solving them. The people who are the first to take a systems approach to ASB have re-designed their service and the consequence is more harmony in communities and less anti-social behaviour.

You can learn more at: https://www.vanguard-method.com/v1_lib.php?current=857

Doing less of the wrong thing

A reader wrote:

‘I had dinner with a guy who is high up in DCLG. He said that targets are no longer mentioned anymore and there is a general acceptance that they failed totally.’

The same reader noticed that the Audit Commission has removed a document on targets from their website. Entitled ‘Targets in the Public Sector’, it was a briefing paper responding to the negative publicity around targets, arguing they are here to stay and they are OK if you do them right.

The opposition parties are promising us a bonfire of the targets if they get elected and the current regime is backing off. But no-one shows any real understanding of WHY targets make performance worse. And, more importantly, the big prize in public-sector reform will be the removal of the whole specifications industry – people with no knowledge coercing the public sector to comply with their dumb ideas. I have been talking to producers of a Radio 4 programme about these failures; I hope the programme they are planning will improve the quality of this debate.

Putting patients last

The think-tank Civitas has published a book (‘Putting patients last’) that is a scathing account of the deleterious impact of central directives from the Department of Health on NHS services. Compliance in the NHS leads hospitals to be ‘isolated and risk-averse’ and senior managers have been hamstrung by ‘a plethora of incoherent initiatives and policy reviews’, which have detracted from the ability of NHS leaders to have a positive effect upon service delivery.

The authors advocate a ‘cultural revolution’ requiring NHS organisations ‘to start backing people rather than processes’ and for the Government to ‘put faith in the power of front-line organisations to drive quality’.

Ok, but what we need is method. As I left a hospital recently, I thought to myself ‘I have just seen mortgage processing’. One way dumb banks attempt to drive up mortgage sales is by incentivising front-line workers to send ‘leads’ to the mortgage back-offices. They earn their rewards by sending any old junk. The consequence is you have lots of people who want mortgages, and would be good customers, swamped out by people who you will never get to buy one.

And so it is with cancer. General Practitioners are incentivised to refer people suspected of having cancer. So if a television programme highlights the risks of, for example, skin cancer, everyone with a mole pops in to be re-assured. Being risk-averse and because they get paid to do so, the patients are referred. Downstream we create the same problem as is created in the dumb banks, exacerbated by the two-week target.

Features over benefits in choice-based lettings

Regular readers will know of the weaknesses in the regime’s choice-based-lettings specifications for housing organisations (a whole chapter in the public-sector book devoted to explaining how dumb it is). A reader wrote to tell me this monster is growing horns. A new feature is being introduced: ‘auto bidding’. Applicants can elect to automatically bid for every property that becomes available in the categories and areas they have registered for. It will only create yet more waste (loads more applications to vet and reject). As the reader notes: ‘I’m not sure whose interests this development serves’. The IT providers, of course; certainly not the people who need to be housed. It is a classic example of an all-too-common
phenomenon: just because IT can do it (features) doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do (benefit).

Lots of good news in housing

Despite the folly of the regime many housing organisations are adopting Systems Thinking and achieving massive savings while designing better services. Even suppliers are getting on board, with maintenance contractors (small organisations) achieving between £.5m and £1.5m savings each. These contractors are hard-headed types but they come around to the view that Systems Thinking teaches them things they never knew.

John Little, Vanguard’s lead on Housing, is putting on a one-day event where you can see the evidence for yourself (1st October in Buckingham).

And hoorah! The new regulator for Housing is meeting with systems thinkers to discuss future regulations. All the systems thinkers want is the scope to do the right things and not be burdened by wasteful specifications. Let’s hope they have a constructive meeting.

Don’t share – redesign

Regular readers will know my antipathy to sharing services and the idea that this leads to economies of scale. Plausible rubbish, for which there is no evidence – indeed the evidence points the other way. Recent work in Stockport Council – re-designing IT and HR services – illustrates the big improvements that can be achieved by re-design rather than sharing; economies are in flow, not scale. You can get more on this story in this book:

This, like other examples, shows hard evidence. We can only expect it to be ignored by the regime, for the regime prefers policy-based evidence over evidence-based policy.

Bundred blunders on

Despite the mountain of evidence that targets make performance worse and the general political moves away from targets, Mr. Bundred, the chief executive of the Audit Commission, has announced a new web site where we will be able to access summaries of the performance of local public services against targets. For those sad enough to want more, there will be links to more detailed reports from inspectors. Dressing up this initiative with meaningless spin, he tells us Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) will now be known as ‘oneplace’.

What planet is he on? How many of us will be motivated to spend time on this web site? I guess only those who are completely fed-up with services that don’t work or those with a grievance or axe to grind.

People want services that work. When the services work, people have no interest in ‘getting involved’ or ‘being empowered’ – indeed when the services do work we find that people engage more responsibly with their communities.

Why don’t services work? Because they are designed and managed for the achievement of targets. And Bundred now intends to institutionalize this madness in a dysfunctional, irrelevant, misleading and costly white elephant.

Launching his initiative Bundred said: ‘The success and value of CAA will increase relative to how many people it reaches. Our aim is for oneplace to become the first-choice site for anyone seeking independent information on what is, and isn’t, being achieved by local public services in their part of England.’

No, Mr. Bundred. People judge services from the transactions they have with them. Often citizens and politicians are perplexed by the fact that Bundred’s people rate the services highly while their experience of the services is dire.

It is time for Bundred and his people to go.

Public sector inefficiency costing £58.4bn

Working from data published by the Office for National Statistics, one think-tank estimates the costs of public-sector inefficiency to be £58.4bn. Such analyses have the same weakness as Total Place – you might know what but you don’t know why. It is at least indicative of the savings that will be made when we remove the Audit Commission and all other specifiers who rain down nonsense on the hapless managers who are coerced to comply. See the report at: http://www.lgcplus.com/finance-and-partnership/latest-finance-and-partnership-news/public-sector-inefficiency-costing-584bn/5005516.article

Re-educating the tool heads

I was asked by the people who run one of the biggest ‘tools’ sites in the US to do a pod-cast on systems thinking. I set out to explain how Taiichi Ohno’s emphasis was always on studying (understanding), so that you know your problems. When you know your problems – and they will be different from the problems you think you have – only then do you get a tool or make one.

You can access the pod-cast at: http://www.sixsigmaiq.com/podcenter.cfm?externalID=235

Many readers have sent me Jim Womack’s latest newsletter, where he says that the tools they developed to help managers engage with ‘lean’ – trying to move from what he called the ‘tool-age’ to the ‘management age’ – have failed because they are treated as tools. Makes my case perfectly. It wasn’t and isn’t a tools problem. But Jim doesn’t get that.

Vanguard events coming soon

Vanguard Network Members Day – Buckingham, Thursday 17th September 2009. For network members only.

Process Mapping & Analysis – Buckingham, Tuesday 6th October 2009. Our most popular one-day event.

Systems Thinking – An Introduction – Buckingham, Thursday 15th October 2009. Yours truly gives an overview of Systems Thinking.

Systems Thinking in the Public Sector: dealing with the current challenges – Buckingham, Wednesday 21st October 2009. Vanguard’s public-sector experts show case studies of amazing performance improvement and discuss how to deal with the current challenges – budget cuts, dumb inspection, (false) economies of scale and so on.

For bookings mail: info@vanguardconsult.co.uk