30 June 2010

New Scrutiny for a New Age

While the fiasco that was G20 policing only seems to be getting worse, and those who claim legitimated public authority, like Mayors, Premiers, and Chiefs of Police (not to name names or anything) are finding that unquestioning respect for their authority is diminishing among those who are most aware, astute, and thoughtful, AND the credibility of those who claim said authority is - how can I put this delicately? - in the dumper, perhaps it's time for a new approach to the entire problem.

The Royal Society for the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce - the RSA who is also responsible for the delightful and thought-provoking series of RSAnimates - has an interesting post from their Executive Director on Accountability and Public Scrutiny. Although Matthew Taylor is referring directly to the current situation of "hung Parliament" in the UK, some of his ideas apply equally well to a reconsidered analysis of how the G20 weekend in Toronto went horribly wrong (at least from the perspectives of preventing vandalism, enabling legitimate protest, and quelling some brutish police officers overstepping their legal authority). Taylor lists four elements of what he calls "post-bureaucratic" public scrutiny:
First, a much deeper and more imaginative commitment to public and user engagement in scrutiny. Like for example the award winning panel in Cheshire West and Chester which put huge efforts into engaging young people themselves in an assessment of services for ‘looked after children’.

Second, scrutiny has to offer a different order of evaluation – more rounded and in depth – than can come from other forms of performance assessment. Local government Secretary of State Eric Pickles has talked about ‘armchair auditors’ using new data sets like those now available on central and local public spending. Scrutiny has to show it can complement these forms of DIY accountability.

Third, scrutiny needs to spend less time on exploring whether policy solutions work and more on whether agencies are defining the problem adequately. A focus on problems inherently leads to a viewpoint which is both more ‘joined up’ and which sees the vital importance of public mobilisation.

Fourth, this focus on problems builds a bridge from scrutiny about the past to deliberation about the future. If scrutiny is going to be seen as relevant and worth funding it has to as much about getting policies right for the future as about reflecting on performance in the past.

I think the key for Canadian public policy - especially with respect to future engagements between the forces of authority and the forces of the public - lie in items three and four. ensure that the right questions are being asked, and deliberate about the future of policy rather than on defending or justifying past performance (which, one must emphasize, cannot be sloughed under the proverbial carpet). Very few of the right questions were being honestly asked by those in authority who held a primary focus on control (rather than enablement). Very few of the right questions were being honestly asked by those in the public who held a primary focus on speaking out (rather than being heard).

The result was clear: those who wanted to speak out were effectively, if brutally in many cases, controlled. No one was enabled to be heard. Sadly, the powers that be are not only unwilling to engage - in the attributed words of Police Chief Bill Blair, "I couldn't care less" - they are unable to engage. Equally sad, those who need to be heard have only learned to shout into the air; they too are unable to truly engage those with whom they disagree (largely because of their learned behaviours of confrontation and dialectical revolution, coming as they do from Marxist epistemology and ontology).

These are 20th century (and earlier) behaviours. It is long past time for all constituencies to come into the contemporary world and start to learn how to be effective today.

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Joanna F said...

Yes, Mark! I am struggling to figure out a way to be heard about the wholesale change needed in public education. Chaining oneself to railings or petitioning or peaceful protest simply won't cut it any more...but what will?

The government systems, including police, fire, medical, school etc. cannot change because their leaders (management and union) are products of a punishingly self-reinforcing system. Control is a contagious disease. It is the 1950s inside those organizations; women, minorities, and change are tolerated at best and simply ejected at worst. The amount of fear-based thinking is truly staggering.

It is impossible to get standing within one of these organizations without becoming the organization, meaning any change becomes a personal threat. I just don't know where to begin.

I'm rambling, but this is a deeply disturbing question. If we are not willing to storm the Bastille, how do we inspire organizations to consider real change? If you answer this in your thesis, please direct me!

Mark Federman said...

Joanna, one of the key things my research found is that organizational transformation is not a grassroots project. Those at the top must be vested in the change, be it from UCaPP to BAH (most common in start-ups and movements) or from BAH to UCaPP (more challenging and more in need of complete commitment from the top).

Organizations will not consider real change until they are ready to admit that the old way is no longer working, or worse, will lead inevitably to the organization's demise. There are several top leaders who realized that the old ways would kill them, and so they changed. Semco is a classic example, taught in OD courses. Unit 7 is another example - Loreen Babcock (Unit 7's CEO) had the same motivation as Richard Semler: without change, the organization, and their own sanity, would not survive.

For someone who is vested in a BAH mentality, admitting a true, systemic problem is (a) admitting the system hasn't been working; which is the same as (b) the leader has been/is incompetent and therefore unfit for the office they've been holding. Making that admission (i.e., the old system no longer works) is a vital, but dangerous and threatening first step. That's why I call one of my talks on the matter of organizational transformation, "Why everything you learned in Business School is WRONG!" It's a subversive talk, because the issue undermines 100 years of vesting.

Nonetheless, as soon as someone can reach a leadership position and say out loud, "THIS SYSTEM IS F*CKED AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE" there's a chance of true transformation.

This will occur on a large scale within approximately 134 years, since we're in year 166 of a 300 year (give or take a decade or two) transition period. The good news is, the farther we get through the transition, the more archaic and anachronistic the old BAH methods will seem.

I strongly suggest that everyone who agrees with the view of Valence Theory begin using its vocabulary: UCaPP, valence relationships, ba-form, and especially Effective Theory of action. As goes the language, so goes the thinking.