Special issue: please lobby Cummings
Our new prime minister has what Josh Glancy, a journalist, describes as a consigliere (they’re usually advisors to baddies!). Dominic Cummings seeks to shake up Whitehall. Cummings wants experts in various fields as well as misfits and weirdos. He says as much in his appeal for help.
Subject: From a talented weirdo, misfit and iconoclast with an evidenced, profound contribution
“My life’s work has been to help leaders of service organisations design their services as systems. The results are astonishing. I attach a chapter from my recent book to illustrate. It concerns people-centred services. You will read how, by studying their services as systems, leaders learn counterintuitive truths, which, in turn, leads them to design services that help more people, more effectively and at much lower costs.
A theme throughout the book is how this change in management thinking occurs, and what barriers present. Explaining the truths (rational argument) creates dissonance amongst conventional thinkers, offending deeply-held beliefs, which is why I have been rejected by successive Whitehall administrations – even with ad hominem attacks. For example: studying reveals demand – original requests for help – is stable, the rise in transaction volumes (favoured by the current design) is, in fact, a rise in what I call failure demand – a signal of the ineffectiveness of services provided to people who need help. The notion that as we are getting older demand is rising is plausible but wrong; but is a narrative shared by politicians, journalists and commentators. The point is: leaders who cross this Rubicon do so by studying their organisations (a normative experience) and can’t go back.
Policy on public-sector reform has, since Thatcher, been based on the principles of specification and inspection. ‘Improvements’ as judged by inspection are a measure of conformance. As the chapter on people-centred services shows, conformance with bad ideas about the design and, in particular, controls. In an earlier book I argued for a system of policy and regulation that would encourage innovation over conformance, that increases transparency (in the current system it is easy to hide) and, above all, increases motivation by putting the responsibility for choices about how to do things where it should be. In short, it limits Whitehall’s role to statements of purpose and places the responsibility for choices about measures and methods with the leaders of the services. I’m sure you’ll guess how these proposals are received by politicians, happy to share the barriers it presents; I want to keep this brief.
In the book I also criticise the approach Whitehall has taken to productivity improvement. The evidence shows it will have no impact. The book also illustrates many case studies from both public and private-sector organisations where leaders have crossed the Rubicon. The evidence is incontrovertible.
I’d like to send you the book, it has a lot to say that I think would be of tremendous help to the cause. Please let me have an address where you’d like to receive it.”
If you already have a copy of Beyond Command and Control please read chapter 5. If you don’t have a copy you can read chapter 5 here.
I haven’t had a response. Maybe he thinks all consultants would say that. I rather suspect that despite him acknowledging that, by definition, he doesn’t really know what he’s looking for he has made his mind up in some respects. Maybe what I have doesn’t fit his narrative, his predilection, or the source of inspiration behind his call for help. So I looked to see who he rates. Cummings tells us we should all read Judea Pearl (The Book of Why). Pearl’s big thing is causality, why things happen; he argues artificial intelligence could be developed to have the ability to think, to have cause-and-effect reasoning. As Pearl puts it “how can we talk about policy recommendations without talking about cause and effect?”
The proof of knowledge is the ability to predict (cause and effect). Forgive any lack of humility but we can now predict the dysfunction created by the specify-and-comply public-sector policy regime in enormous detail. We can also predict the tremendous economic benefits of changing the way we think about the design and management of our organisations, again in enormous detail, for both private and public sectors.
Maybe Pearl’s wisdom will illuminate complex systems; who knows how long it will take in development? But we have an unequivocal cause-and-effect story to tell that is real, now, and capable of realising profound economic improvement.
Cummings says if you’re being ignored, persist. But I’m a consultant; please be my persist. I want you to write. His email is: email@example.com
Put aside however you feel about politics over recent years and the current government, we have an opportunity to speak truth to power. Say whatever you want to say to get his attention. Please.