The not so innovative Think Tank

Enthused by a flyer pointing out that targets were not working in the public sector, I went along to a Demos meeting. The aim of Demos is to find radical solutions for improving public services. What I heard was not that radical – the panel argued, as ministers do, that targets don’t work so we should have fewer of them.

Unable to contain myself I pointed out the logical flaw in this argument and went on to describe the measures we need. In short, I said the criterion for a good measure is that it helps us understand and improve performance; targets, standards, service-level agreements – all things the government promotes don’t pass that test but capability measures do. I explained, briefly, why and how.

The reaction of the panel was exactly the reaction managers have when they first hear these ideas. My contribution was described as ‘soft’ and one derided what he thought I had said. Of course if they had understood they would have known this was ‘harder’ than they propose and of greater value. Walking through the streets of London to the train station I reflected on the fact that I should have predicted this reaction for the issues around measurement can only be appreciated from a prior understanding of the systems philosophy. If you hear this stuff from a ‘traditional’ point of view you just don’t get it.

I had gone to the meeting hoping to meet people who would be interested in exploring evidence – and I now have loads of it – of the better way. Maybe later.

Targets damage policing

An attendee at our June 6th Public Sector event sent me this:

‘John, a summary of a recent report on policing in London (more information on which includes the following amongst its conclusions: · The falls in public satisfaction and confidence can be attributed, at least in part, to reductions in the capacity of uniformed officers to respond to everyday demands on the police and falls in staff morale. Rising public expectations may also be a factor. · The failure of the service to be more responsive to local need and the fall in staff morale can both be traced in part to performance management regimes that emphasise quantified performance targets and as a result ignore the complexities of police work. · The police service needs to be able to develop ways of managing performance that place greater emphasis of achieving professional standards and less emphasis on hitting numerical targets. The current emphasis on quantitative measures is distorting performance and reducing the quality of service.

These are elaborated on in an article in the stakeholder magazine ( where the author (Professor Mike Hough, Director of the Criminal Policy Research Unit, South Bank University) states: ‘The drive to secure greater accountability and better performance has led politicians, civil servants and senior managers to suspend their disbelief in the value of performance indicators to measure complex institutions… Take targets relating to burglary. At present, our understanding of burglary trends is rudimentary…we have little idea of the relative effects of each type of factor…yet across the country, police managers and their partners in local authorities regularly set themselves targets for the percentage reduction that they will achieve in burglaries over the coming three years. They all know that the target is a shot in the dark..’

Having recognised the adverse impact of targets on performance, however, it doesn’t go on to suggest any credible alternatives…

Keep up the good work.’

I’m doing my best 😉

The alternative in this case is to design policing against demand. We have gone a long way with this concept in a variety of circumstances with police forces despite the government-imposed measurement regime. To design against demand you need measures of demand – the type and frequency of demands placed on the policing system – and measures of capability (how well the system responds in respect of purpose) against each of the major types. If Blunkett just asked police forces to do this we would have a massive improvement in performance for these measures expose the waste created by the current measurement regime.

If you have not read my review of the Blunkett white paper, you can find it on the web site.

CRM in the Public Sector

I have just finished reading what is claimed to be a ‘research report’ on CRM in the public sector. It is probably the most unworthy piece of work I have read for some time – but maybe I keep a good reading list. While claiming to be research it offers no evidence for the value of CRM at all, merely the opinion of the authors. Of course the authors and sponsors have a pecuniary interest in the IT and other services required to implement CRM.

The report maintains the IT advocates tradition of claiming IT ‘features’ (functionality) as benefits and encourages the reader to believe if they are not ‘doing’ CRM they will miss the boat. In any other discipline you couldn’t get away with this kind of sloppy work, why do we put up with it in management?

I have yet to see a successful implementation of CRM in either the private or public sector. In local authorities we find expensive IT systems being used to be able to say who called with a service problem. In Vanguard speak this is ‘failure demand’ – a form of waste. When you see the much-vaunted ‘beacon’ examples – places where government has tipped in money for electronic access and call centres – from this point of view, you see how much money is being wasted following a minister’s whim. Of course the IT providers love it.

We don’t need a database of people who, for example, didn’t get their bin collected. We should spend our money on fixing the service. Furthermore while the CRM vendors are telling us we should have a ‘joined up’ view of the citizen, the citizen couldn’t care less but cares very much whenever he or she makes demands for services that don’t work.

If you have any observations of mindless waste associated with CRM in practice, particularly in the public sector, please pass then on. The same goes for evidence of CRM’s effectiveness – but I bet I won’t get any examples of that for the concept is fundamentally flawed (as I described a couple of years ago in ‘From push to pull – changing the paradigm for CRM’ – you can find this in the articles section of the web site).

The Deputy Prime Minister reviews housing targets

John Prescott, the bruiser of British politics has regained control of social housing. Like other ministers he has announced a review of the ‘Best Value Performance Indicators’. And like others he asks: ‘what are the right targets?’ and ‘how many should we have?’. Wrong questions.

I wrote to the Deputy PM’s review team offering to introduce them to local authorities and housing associations that can show them significant performance improvements – and I mean significant – in housing repairs, voids and applications. These improvements have been gained by taking a systems approach, using capability measures – helping people focus on and change method. This is, of course, what the government says it wants, improvement. Do you think they’ll take up my offer? I’m not holding my

Frameworks for EGAN compliance

Social Housing organisations are obliged to be EGAN compliant by 2003. We already have a solution for Housing Repairs (see above). We are working on a framework for Housing Development.

As I pointed out in my last newsletter, the EGAN ‘guidance’ provides no method and instead contains a checklist that is driving the wrong behaviour. At least government is consistent.

If you work in Social Housing and you want to know more about the solution we have and the one we are developing, let me know.

Using measures for performance improvement

In the desire to get a better debate about the value of measures in our public services I have offered a cost-only price copy of The Vanguard Guide to Using Measures for Performance Improvement to our list of public sector e-mail contacts. The offer is extended to readers of this newsletter. Instead of the usual price (£150) it is yours for only £50, printed and shipped anywhere in the world. To take advantage of this offer e-mail Anna at: and give her your credit card number.