Category Archives: Governance

How studying mitigates risk

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

The Auditor General for Wales encourages well managed risk taking at Good Practice Exchange events. Ahead of the Good Practice Exchange’s work on well managed risk, Simon Pickthall shares some information on Vanguard’s approach.

A photo of Simon Pickthall from Vanguard Consulting

Simon Pickthall from Vanguard Consulting

We are facing unprecedented financial pressures, coupled with the practical implications of working more closely with partners.

In this environment, it is difficult to imagine taking well-managed risks. The contradiction of funding pressures necessitating being radical in our thinking, while funding pressures making radical thinking seem extremely risky can pull us in different directions simultaneously.

However, being radical in our thinking is not a risky endeavour if undertaken with good method.

We often find ourselves in meetings, discussing radical service design and implementation. These meetings are organised around monthly updates, and quarterly reporting schedules. Working parties are dispatched to work out the logistics and build the plan. The plan is scrutinised by different leadership tiers in different organisations.

This process is intended to mitigate risk, and cover all the angles. It can also feel like a very long time until anything is started. When it is started, it can feel not quite as radical as our original ambitions, and existing system conditions (budgets, procedures, policies and authorisation limits) can remain. This is argued to be to ensure risk is covered, but it also severely restricts the radical nature of our service redesign.

However, there is an alternative method – study the system as it currently works. This is often seen as merely information gathering, and just a precursor to starting our radical service redesign on the ground. Studying is, in fact, essential and, when undertaken using good method, gets truly radical redesigns off the ground much quicker.

The method by which you undertake the study phase is crucial, to avoid recreating the problems in the new system that exist in the current system.

Change starts at Check; a structured method for understanding the ‘what and why’ of current performance as a system. This builds knowledge of where and how to act. The model for Check (below) outlines the key data to be collected.

A diagram of Vanguard's 'Check' Process, which shows learning begins with customers

Customer/citizen demands on services fall into two broad types:

  • Value Demand: this is demand we want, that is of value to customers/citizens;
  • Failure Demand: demand caused by a failure of the system to do something or do something right for the customer/citizen.

Capability is a measure of how well the organisation achieves its purpose. Prior to any decisions being taken about changes to the work, knowledge about current capability must be established. The study of Flow and System Conditions involves collecting data about how easy/difficult it is for the customer/citizen to get something done and how the system currently operates. The logic of the current management thinking is revealed and the impact of thinking on performance is clear. All of the data collected during Check is used to build a system picture to describe the ‘what and why’ of current performance.  Thus, uncertainty and risk are designed out of the change process.

The system picture developed in Check helps in the formulation of a plan to take action on the system in a way that will deliver predictable performance improvement. At this stage, leaders are in a position to make an informed choice about whether to move to the next stage – Plan.

This next stage involves a period of experimental redesign using systems principles: designing against demand and understanding the value work informs all decision-making. The objective is to drive out waste and establish perfect flow.

Using the Model for Check, therefore, we can not only understand crucial data, but also our existing system conditions and logics that constrain the current system. In addition, studying also provides the required information to make any radical service redesign less risky – studying reveals the obvious difficulties in the current system, and provides a set of principles to be used in the new system. The service redesign becomes, then, a test of a hypothesis, rather than a leap into the unknown. It is a leap of fact, not a leap of faith.

The time taken to understand this study phase can vary between systems, but a good overview can usually be obtained over a course of a few days. As such, when the leaders undertake this study phase, they experience the key issues that they will need to tackle and build a desire to change the system quickly.

Given this, rather than spend time in meetings discussing the plans for radical service redesign, as leaders you can get into the work and apply the model for Check. Very rapidly you will have understood your system, and built a plan for radical change in thinking and therefore service redesign. In addition, this will be a plan based on knowledge, not faith – a far less risky approach.

Change Thinking – Change Lives

Simon Pickthall worked in the public sector in Wales for many years before forming Vanguard Consulting Wales in 2007, working with the renowned management thinker, Professor John Seddon. Simon has been fortunate to have worked with many leaders to help them understand their organisations using the Vanguard Method –  and improve them as a consequence. Simon was privileged enough to work on the Munro Review of Child Protection, and is committed to helping the public, private and third sectors transform public services in Wales.

Simon.pickthall@vanguardwales.co.uk
07951 481878
www.vanguard-method.net

Being open by default

How might an audit office open up its systems so that information becomes open by default? Dyfrig Williams spoke with Tom Haslam about the approach of New Zealand’s Office of the Auditor-General.

The logo of the Office of the Auditor-General New Zealand

As part of the Wales Audit Office’s Cutting Edge Audit project, I am working on an Open Data prototype. During this work, colleagues told me that we could improve our approach to data. Not acquiring new data though – most colleagues said their biggest issue was better knowledge of, and access to, data that the office already held.

Our organisation has two specialist practices – financial audit and performance audit. This division facilitates specialism, so that we have colleagues with incredibly good knowledge in their fields of expertise. However, it also means that we have to work hard to break down organisational silos, sometimes reinforced by the systems we have in place.

Safeguarding data is an important feature of the way we have set up our information systems. Network folders are protected. Access is only available to specific teams and personnel, which means that the data within them is closed to others by default. Our SharePoint system is also set up in a similar way and the search functionality is not as good as it might be. All of this means that unless you know where the data is held, you’re unlikely to find it.

Learning from other audit offices

In my last post on the Queensland Audit Office’s work, I mentioned a well-travelled colleague called Tom Haslam. Tom has worked at the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) in Wellington, New Zealand. And while there, the OAG identified similar problems with how they organised and held their data.

To address this, the OAG implemented a new SharePoint-based information system and complemented this with some pilot cross-office groups known as ‘iShare’. These groups were based around cross-cutting functional topics (for example the Transport iShare) with the aim of helping to break down organisational silos and promote a one-team approach across the office.

Adopting a new information system gave the OAG an opportunity to debate the relative merits of information systems being open or closed by default. This was discussed across the office through various channels.

The previous information systems had encouraged a mainly ‘closed until open’ approach. But the general feeling was that closed data might prevent the office from making the most of the information that they held. The natural tendency of all auditors is to be cautious, so under a ‘closed unless open’ approach, setting information as ‘open’ might be viewed as a risk best avoided, even if this approach wasn’t justified. On a practical level, having information closed off requires various permissions and access rights to be set up. This alone can be a barrier to sharing data.

The OAG structured its new information system so that information was ‘open unless closed’ with metadata to help staff find what they wanted. This approach facilitated sharing, encouraging staff to think about how they could add value by joining up information. A default setting of ‘open until closed’ made staff think more carefully about why they should want to close off access, for example material with national security implications or identifiable personal information.

On a technical level, a cleaner configuration of the IT system without endless permissions and restrictions made the system run more reliably. The improved reliability of the new SharePoint system led to time savings, and increased staff confidence and satisfaction with IT. The iShare pilots encouraged group members to look actively for opportunities to work jointly and share information.

As these pilots progressed and reported their successes to the wider office, they encouraged a more open outlook across teams – ‘look we shared stuff and worked together and it hasn’t all turned to custard’ as our kiwi cousins might say.

Tom also thought there was a trust dimension. Handling sensitive client information is part of an auditor’s day job. Therefore, opening up data was a clear signal that the OAG was a high trust environment.

However, change is a journey and the OAG report that its experience is no different. It continues to encourage and aim for an environment where information is open until closed. But it hasn’t always been plain sailing since introducing the new information system. Some staff have embraced the opportunity to openly share information. Others have been more hesitant in sharing information more or are yet to change what they have always done to be more open. The OAG has had to periodically promote and reinforce the new approach. It recognises that a change of this magnitude won’t happen overnight or without a sustained effort. But the end – using collective knowledge to influence improvement and improve accountability – justifies the effort.

How this fits with the work of the Good Practice Exchange

Our Good Practice Exchange work on effective data sharing shows that this relies on the principle of adopting proportionate steps when safeguarding data.

In a previous blog post on whether data sharing was a barrier to public service improvement, I included a quote from the Information Commissioner, which said ‘People want their personal data to work for them. They expect organisations to share their personal data where it’s necessary to provide them with the services they want. They expect society to use its information resources to stop crime and fraud and to keep citizens safe and secure.’ It’s also well worth watching Anne Jones, the Assistant Information Commissioner for Wales, outlining how data can be shared effectively.

The upcoming General Data Protection Regulation will ramp up the safeguarding of data a few notches, but it’s also an opportunity to reconsider how we can share data effectively. Particularly, how we make sure that auditors are confident enough to make the most of data collection and sharing.

Previously I have blogged about our staff trust event, where we heard that trust is essential if public services are to take well-managed risks, innovate and deliver public services that are truly fit for the 21st century.

Tom is leading on a separate project within the Wales Audit Office to look at how we’re using our information systems including SharePoint. One option we’re considering is the use of SharePoint Online, which would make it easier for us to develop an area that could be accessed by external bodies and partners – a portal. Leigh Dodds ‘s post provides a good overview of what a portal might contain.

A portal would allow us to share data with audited bodies and partners more effectively. We’re testing this concept with a SharePoint based prototype portal for some of our health colleagues. Learning from this will feed back into Tom’s project. And if working on the Cutting Edge Audit project has taught me anything, it’s that joined up and collaborative approaches are the best way to ensure we add real value to the work that we’re doing.

How Gwynedd Council is using Systems Thinking

Gwynedd Council has been looking at how they can provide more effective services. Dyfrig Williams spoke with Dilwyn Williams, Chief Executive of the Council to see what we can learn from this work.

A Photo of Dilwyn Williams

Dilwyn Williams, Chief Executive of Gwynedd Council

Dilwyn Williams and Gwynedd Council first became aware of Systems Thinking at the Welsh Local Government Association conference a few years ago. The method is used to focus the organisational mind on what’s important for residents and how to get rid of systemic barriers that prevent staff (often consciously) from providing a better service. The approach also seeks to change the command and control mindset in order to equip the organisation with a better approach to how it designs and manages work. They decided to hold seminars on the method for members and officers, and this led to the council undertaking work on applying the method to its systems dealing with homelessness and buildings maintenance.

These seminars asked some really tough questions about the way that Gwynedd Council provides services:

  • Are the services really focused on the needs of citizens?
  • How can can we overcome some of the difficulties that stop the organisation from performing to the highest possible level, such as work arrangements and a historical overemphasis on risk and budgets?

Staff are asked to always consider ‘What’s important to the people of Gwynedd?’ and now the council’s performance is measured against this instead of traditional outcomes. In the past, when service users gave the Council’s services a score, the Council has used the average score of 7 to 8 as proof of good performance. Now the score is used as an indication of the relative level of performance. Everyone is asked to consider the reason why that score isn’t 10, and if there is something that they can do about that. This means that a change in culture and mindset is required, as performance management moves away from being a process of comparing numbers to be a system of looking for improvement opportunities. As Dilwyn said, ‘The why is important – why not 10? This is an opportunity to improve.’

Pilot projects

The maintenance project was successful, which has resulted in the council using different performance measures. It became clear from the preparatory work that the most important measures for service users were around the speed of the work and the satisfaction with how that work was done. The level of satisfaction gives a clear opportunity for improvement by asking ‘Why is it not 10?’

At the same time as improving the service, the Council also saved money as it stopped sending inspectors to identify the work that needed to be done. Now contractors are told to go and do the work on the basis of a relationship of trust, and if the contractors betray that trust, there are obviously consequences to that.

The homelessness project did not work as well, not because of the efforts of the teams involved, but because of a failure of leadership. But the Council learnt a lot more about what didn’t work through that and it highlighted the importance of good leadership.

How the learning was put into practice

The Ffordd Gwynedd (Gwynedd Way) Strategy grew out of the two pilot projects, taking what the Council has learnt from the Vanguard experience and implementing it in the context of the local culture. Ffordd Gwynedd is now on the monthly agenda of every Heads of Service meeting, since it’s vital that the Senior Leadership take ownership of the strategy. Now when interventions take place, the work starts with the Head of Service and a briefing session is held with the leader of the work.

The strategy requires that intensive work is undertaken with managers, as many of them have been working for the council for such a long time that they have been immersed in the organisation’s traditional culture and management techniques that have been derived from the production world. Some managers may have been working for 20 years with the same mentality, often on the basis of what was seen in traditional management books, but the world has moved on. A self-learning and discussion group was started to look at team characteristics for Ffordd Gwynedd. In the future the organisation intends to look at whether the teams demonstrate each characteristic and whether they’re clear about their purpose. The Vanguard Systems Thinking Mantra is used, which is purpose, measures and approach. It’s critical to measure what’s important, and the council is working through this at the moment to create a different culture.

The intention is to create an “expert” in the culture in each service, and each service is asked to put a manager forward for intense training to lead the challenge work. There is an element of continuity planning here, which gives people the opportunity to gain experience in order to lead the work in the future, as managers work three days a week on Ffordd Gwynedd and 2 days a week back in the service so that their experience feeds into the work.

Staff are asked to consider what they do to put people at the heart of services. Do they have an opportunity to discuss this in their team meetings? Some people may feel that it’s the manager’s role to improve services and that their role is to follow what the manager is saying. The Ffordd Gwynedd Strategy stresses that if a person knows about a barrier that is preventing the people of Gwynedd from receiving effective services, then they have a duty to everyone to do something about it. The Council is demonstrating to staff that it is challenging how services are delivered, and for this to be effective it is important that there is no culture of blame – people need to take the opportunity to change how they work and to put that culture into practice. Experimenting with new service arrangements can result in failure, but it’s only through experimenting that there is real innovation. Dilwyn also explained that learning from complaints goes hand in hand with this and that it can be used as a way to learn from failure.

Lessons learned

One of the learning points that Dilwyn shared was that if you start the work with a mentality of saving money, you’re not really able to put people first and redesign services effectively. The financial side cannot be ignored, but by considering how the council can meet people’s needs first and then looking at financial considerations, the service can very often meet those needs, and it’s often cheaper.

Dilwyn said that following a process can make staff feel safer, especially if something goes wrong, because they were following a process that was set by someone else. So it’s essential that staff are empowered so that they can make people central to their services.

Dilwyn also said that it’s important that the people at the top of the organisation think in terms of systems so that it is strategically consistent across the organisation. Some members are eager to move quickly because they see positive results from the work, but it is important to remember that the work is about trying to change the culture, and this does not happen overnight. Also the strategy must be kept simple – the simpler the strategy, the easier it is for staff to understand and the closer it can be to reality. The more complex the strategy, the more difficult it is to implement it in the way that you intended.

Gwynedd Council is now holding a series of events with staff to hear the views of staff about the difference the work has made. How does their work now compare to what they were doing a year and a half ago? We look forward to hearing more so we can share the learning.

Improving the wellbeing of future generations in a resource-rich cash-poor Wales

Prof Tony Bovaird is Director of Governance International, a nonprofit which works throughout Europe on outcome-based public policy and citizen co-production, and Emeritus Professor of Public Management and Governance at Birmingham University.  In his contribution to the The Future of Governance Seminars in July,  Tony shared his strong beliefs on the need for public bodies to get real about the weak state of collaboration in public service commissioning and delivery, the lack of commitment to clear outcomes and the highly variable performance in engagement citizens in co-commissioning, co-design, co-deliveyr and co-assessment – and how the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act could help on all these front. In this blog he picks up one aspect of co-production – how Wales can make better use of its hugely valuable resources, even in a period when budgets are severely constrained. 

A photo of Tony Bovaird of Governance InternationalThe Governance workshops in July, hosted by the Wales Audit Office and the Good Practice Exchange, provided an opportunity to reflect on the key issues which will determine how the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act can be implemented effectively in Wales. A key issue which was raised at different junctures during the discussions was how resources have become much scarcer in the aftermath of the sharp economic recession after 2008 and the continuing financial austerity budgets of the UK government since 2010.

People

However, I argued at the end of both workshops that this fixation on budgets is misplaced. Yes, cash is scarce in public services. However, this is not the whole of the story –  cash in our budgets represents only one resource.

In particular, Wales is not short of the key resources of capable people, valuable buildings and equipment, or state-of-the-art ICT. However, these are not being used to maximum effect.

Let’s look at the fantastic people resource in Wales. The most common headline statistic is the unemployment rate but the real resource waste is NOT commonly headlined each month – the number of fit, active and willing people who are not registered as being in the workforce.  In 2016, this amounts to just short of a million people in Wales, about half of whom are between 16 – 64 years of age, and the other half are 65+.

The most talked about group amongst these million adults in Wales who are not ‘economically active’ is the over-65 group. We do not, however, talk about the fact that they are the largest group of experienced, educated and, for the most part, fit and healthy people that Wales has ever had on tap, as a ‘reserve army of the under-appreciated’ to do socially and economically useful things to improve their own wellbeing and that of their fellow citizens. No, not at all – we tend rather to talk about them as one of the ‘jaws of doom’, threatening to swallow up all our public sector resources, as they grow older, unhealthier and more needy. Are we actively seeking to help them to maximize their quality of life outcomes, and the way they help others to improve their quality of life? After all, research shows that people who are active, whether seeking the improvement of their own wellbeing or that of others, tend to have far more positive quality of life outcomes. The lack of a co-ordinated approach to this challenge is perhaps the biggest waste of resources in our modern resource-rich, ideas-poor society.

Buildings

We don’t just underuse our resource of people. Our housing is one third under-occupied (and a high proportion of these homes have only one resident, often lonely and isolated, quite often depressed).

Over 20% of our shops are empty, the floors above shops are very often empty, and our public buildings are often only partly occupied. Our leisure centres are largely empty in the mornings, our community centres are often empty in the afternoons and most of our schools are empty in the evenings, at weekends and during the holiday weeks. Our cars tend to empty all day (parked at work) and our public transport is largely empty most evenings.

Isn’t this inevitable? Aren’t these assets generally owned by someone who sees no reason to make them available to those who would most benefit from using them? Well, let’s start with the public sector – is there really any excuse for under-use of public assets when others are desperately looking for venues for events, rooms for meetings, addresses out of which to run their voluntary organisations, facilities for small scale printing jobs, etc? Let’s shift our gaze to the third sector – is there any justification for giving public grants or contracts to an organization which isn’t prepared to share its underused facilities (and volunteers) with others who are doing similar activities? And in the private sector, why not give tax relief to firms which can show a record of sharing staff and facilities with public or third sector organisations?

Assets

However, such approaches are only the tip of the iceberg of what could be done. More important than this organizational sharing is the potential for matching of citizens’ capabilities to potential users in the community. This is the dream ‘app’. For the moment, we only record the ‘needs’ which citizens bring to the public sector – not the capabilities they have and the strengths and resources they are willing to share. This is the greatest challenge facing public bodies as they address the issue of improving wellbeing in Wales.  Of course, co-production with citizens needs co-ordination by public bodies – this will need some spending, but it promises to liberate hugely more resource that it uses up.

In summary, the Wellbeing of Future Generations in Wales depends critically on getting the most out of our existing resources, and ensuring their future development and expansion. A resource-rich country where most of the resources are underused and decent people are wasting huge amounts of time in scrambling over small (and declining) cash budgets and grants is a sign of wrong government priorities. A fundamental rethink of how to match our abundant resources to the needs of the citizens of Wales is an urgent priority.

How Swansea Council undertook a scrutiny inquiry into their culture

Logo of the future of governance: Effective decision making for current and future generations

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires organisations to go beyond tinkering at the edge of services into wider cultural change. Dyfrig Williams looks at what can we learn from the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny Inquiry into their corporate culture.

Culture is one of those intractable topics. When a problem is cultural, it means there’s no quick fix, no one process to tweak that will automatically help organisations to improve their work.

The good side of this is that it means that organisations tend to go beyond tick box solutions when they identify cultural issues in order to deliver real and lasting change. The bad side of it is that sometimes cultural change is seen as being so difficult that it doesn’t get done at all – the problem is too big to get to grips with.

So when I heard about the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny Inquiry into their Corporate Culture, I was immediately interested.

So why did they set up the inquiry?

Councillor Andrew Jones, the Convener of Corporate Culture Scrutiny Inquiry Panel said that:

‘The topic was chosen because, as a Council our corporate culture underpins everything we do, from how we engage with our citizens and provide services to how we treat our staff and grow and develop as an organisation. The challenges faced by the reductions to council budgets pose a threat to that notion of a shared culture. We therefore as Councillors, management and staff have a shared responsibility to respond to these challenges by developing a can do culture that ensures the citizens of Swansea continue to receive the best Council service possible.’

Getting things right at the start

So what can we learn from the pro-active steps that the council have taken to identify ways of improving their culture?

When I spoke to Michelle Roberts from the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny team, she emphasised the importance of getting the parameters of the inquiry right at the outset in order to focus on the right areas. The rationale of the review was to ensure that:

  • The council has the right corporate culture to tackle the challenges it faces
  • They create a can do culture to help turn the city around
  • Staff culture is focused on empowerment, personal responsibility, innovation and collaboration.

It’s great to see how the council have ensured that the inquiry has an ongoing legacy by linking it to the work of Leanne Cutts, who’s their Innovation Co-ordinator. As the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires, they’ve looked at their long term goals, whilst also identifying quick wins and medium term objectives.

There are some eye-catching proposals that focus on the organisation’s people. They cover the whole staff journey from corporate inductions, mainstreaming innovation into appraisals and developing personal skills to avoid buying in expertise.

Failure

We’ve done a fair bit of work around failure over the last couple of years through our Manager Chris Bolton. This work has underpinned a lot of our information sharing and our focus on improvement. So it’s great to see that the council are looking at how they can move away from a blame culture, whilst recognising the external issues that make it difficult (I’ve previously blogged on complex environments and failure). If we’re going to meet the expectations of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, we have to be able to take well managed risks and build upon the lessons from failure, as Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales, discusses in the video below.

Where to start?

If you want to examine the culture of your organisation, it’s well worth taking a look at this Culture Mapping Tool that’s been developed by Dave Gray, and which The Satori Lab have been using in their work. The stated and unstated levers of the tool are really useful in terms of thinking about what drives the behaviour of public service staff and organisations.

At the Wales Audit Office, we’re working on our approach to auditing the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. For us as an audit body and for public services generally, it means that we have to change. If organisations try to deliver the seven wellbeing goals through the five ways of working without changing what they do, they’re likely to fail.

The Act gives us the chance to do things a bit differently in Wales. In a time of austerity, we can’t deliver the aspirations of the act whilst tinkering around the edges and adapting what we currently do. For the people of Wales to get the public services that they deserve, we need wholesale cultural change.

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and Behaviour Change

A photo of a dog being pulled on a leadBehaviour Change of both the public and public services was a recurring theme in discussions at our event on The Future of Governance: Effective decision making for current and future generations. In this post, Chris Bolton looks at the challenges ahead and how we can get to grips with them.

“The real problem isn’t creating the vision for the future, it’s leaving where we are now…”

I’m not sure who said that, it might be a combination of several things I’ve read and heard over the last few months, in which case, I’m happy to claim it.

Key to the success (and the biggest problem) of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (WFG) Act are the very carefully thought Five Ways of Working (long term; integration; collaboration; involvement; and preventative). They all describe something that most people with a disposition towards a civilised society would find hard to disagree with. They are logical, sensible and most will agree with them. Possibly the best way to start a mass movement for change, find something that everyone can agree on.

The problematic part rests with human behaviour. As I see it there are broadly two things working against the Act; The System and People.

  • The public services ‘system’ is a complex beast that will respond in unpredictable ways to the behaviours of the people operating within it.
  • The changes in behaviour required by the Act are a seismic shift for many. The current behaviours have been developed over many years and are reinforced by organisational hierarchies and professional status.

It’s a huge challenge (and topic to discuss in a 1000 words) so I’ll try and illustrate my points under three headings:

  1. Correlation is not causation (it’s complicated and complex),
  2. It’s always been about behaviour, and
  3. We need to ‘Nudge not Yank’.

Correlation is not causation

If I could wish for one behaviour change around WFG Act it would be for decision makers to recognise that not all situations are straightforward with obvious answers. A few specific situations are, but many of the challenges we face around the WFG Act are complex (diabetes, multigenerational economic inactivity etc.).

Often the type of analysis used to supports decision making falls into the trap of mistaking correlation for causation when seeking ‘quick-wins’. For example, a successful economy will have a proportion of manufacturing businesses that typically operate out of industrial units. A fact.

It does not follow however that by creating lots of ‘industry ready’ buildings, manufacturing businesses will automatically appear in those buildings and create a successful economy. My colleague, Mark Jeffs, wrote an interesting article about ‘correlation not being causation’ which is sometimes called ‘cargo cult’.

The complex challenges of the WFG Act require decision making behaviours that; recognise complexity, accept uncertainty, the willingness to test different solutions, fail, learn the lessons from failure (out in the open), learn the lessons and move on. For decision makers who are ‘driven to deliver’ and ‘meet performance targets’ this can be a significant behavioural challenge.

It’s always been about behaviour

A phrase for you to ponder on, Hyperbolic Discounting (I can say what I like now, most people will have switched off).

Basically this is a human behaviour where people have a tendency to prefer more immediate payoffs rather than things that happen later on. This is to the extent that our future selves would probably have not made that decision, given the same information. This is also referred to as current moment bias or present bias.

This behaviour hasn’t just been invented to cause problems for the first of the WFG Act Five Ways of Working, Long Term Thinking. It’s been part of the human condition for thousands of years. If you are a prehistoric hunter gather with a lifespan of 30 years, long-term thinking probably isn’t high on your list of decision making behaviours / life skills.

There is frequently a tendency to ‘blame’ the political cycle of elections for short term thinking in public services. This might however be something deeper in human behaviour, a cognitive bias towards the short term. You can learn more about Hyperbolic Discounting in the 1997 paper by David Laibson in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

We need to ‘Nudge not Yank’

Thanks to Professor Dave Snowden from the Cynefin Centre in Bangor University for developing the thinking around this.

In essence, lots of Public Services have ‘done’ behaviour change to service users over many years. Things like programmes to reduce smoking, wearing seatbelts in cars or even 5p plastic bag charges are ‘done’ to people.

Whilst many of these behaviour change initiates have had huge success, there are a different set of issues around may of the WFG Act challenges, for example the growth in Type 2 Diabetes. The approaches need to be more subtle and based more upon understanding were people are ‘disposed to change’. If people aren’t ‘disposed to change’, any initiative to change behaviour can run into full resistance or things like malicious compliance with unintended consequences. (I’ve written about this previously).

I would argue that to achieve the sustainable behaviour changes required by the WFG Act it is better to facilitate and nudge people in areas where they are ‘disposed to change’, rather than ‘shove’ or ‘yank’ them in areas where they aren’t.

That also represents a behaviour change for many people who will be involved in the delivery of the WFG Act.

Are we doomed?

Probably not, but there are some significant behaviour changes required to successfully deliver the WFG Act and we shouldn’t underestimate what is required.

Here are my Top 3 Tips for anyone involved in decision making and governance associated with the WFG Act:

  1. Accept that lots of situations will be complex and will require a ‘probe, test, fail, learn’ type approach before deciding on a solution.
  2. Surround yourself with people who have a different point of view and different experiences, and listen to them. It might help overcome Hyperbolic Discounting and a number of other cognitive biases (have a look at my post on The Ladder of Inference) for more on this.
  3. When trying to influence behaviour change look for areas where there is a ‘disposition to change’ and nudge there rather than trying to ‘shove’ or ‘yank’ people in the direction you think is best for them.