This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Community Safety for All

35 years ago, the UN World Health Organisation held a conference in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan and declared that there should be Health For All by the year 2000. It has not happened yet but the idea of ensuring that every person should have access to primary health care is a burning ambition still. (You can read more here and here)

I was reminded of this by this tweet from Chief Superindendent Gavin Stephens who is currently attending the Senior Command Course with the College of Policing:

The video he is referring to can be found at this link. It is 12 minutes and well worth your time. In it, psychiatrist Vikram Patel explains how local people can be empowered to become barefoot mental health workers with some quite dramatic results. He sums what he is proposing by the acronym SUNDER which is Hindi for 'attractive':

Simplify the message
UNpack the treatment
Deliver it where people are
Affordable and available human resources
Reallocation of specialists to train and supervise

When Gavin posed the question, I tweeted back that I have been talking about empowering and enabling citizens to become more able at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour for a while. You can read one of my early posts on this idea here

As the psychiatrist recognises, there are probably never going to be enough mental health professionals to go around to achieve mental health for all. However, there could be enough empowered and enabled citizens around to achieve it instead.

And I think that Gavin might agree with me when I say that there will be never enough police officers and staff to go around to achieve community safety for all. But maybe if more attention was paid to engaging local people in active partnerships to tackle and prevent crime / ASB (using the SUNDAR model for example), we could have Community Safety for All?

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dear Police & Crime Commissioner

Thanks to TonyOX3 for this link which I had not spotted. Below are some extracts from the letter written by the Chair of the Thames Valley Police & Crime Panel to the PCC. You can read the full letter here. The letter relates to the draft Police and Crime plan which I have commented upon previously (here and elsewhere).
However, the Panel would like to see longer consultation periods employed at appropriate stages in the Plan’s development. Engagement should be as wide-ranging as possible, allowing the full spectrum of agencies and the community to contribute to the development of the Plan.
The Commissioner has a large and complicated set of partnerships and agencies to work with. The Plan provides a good opportunity for the Commissioner to give an early indication of the governance structure that he hopes to develop in order to draw these together to fulfil his objectives. Developing and finalising the structure obviously requires much consultation and discussion with partners, but a rough indication within the Plan could at least start the conversation.
There is a need for more clarity within the Plan on how the Commissioner intends to work with victims of crime to learn from their experiences and to provide support.
The targets section of the Plan (Annex A) contains relatively few, rather un-ambitious targets.
Remember, the PCP is largely made up the PCC's political allies...

Monday, February 25, 2013

The value of ritual

I have already blogged today about the challenge facing Police & Crime Commissioners to get themselves known by more than 10% of the population. It is a significant challenge.

And then I came across (thanks to my brother) this video of the ritual associated with closing the border between India and Pakistan which happens every evening. It is a delightful spectacle which is evidently enjoyed by thousands of people every year, I would imagine, given the crowds being shown in the clip below.

(There is a shorter and better quality film here as well)

So this got me wondering, would it help if the PCCs began to invent some new rituals to get themselves better known? I know I have blogged humorously about this before, suggesting that my 'Secret PCC' would be very focused on getting a chain of office, but... I wonder?

I am not suggesting some huge pompous (and costly) ceremony, but maybe a ritual or two to raise their profiles a bit? What do you think?

90% of voters admit they have no idea who local commissioner is

Do you remember the main reason why PCCs were introduced? Go on, do you? You know, it was that idea that Police Authorities were unknown to the public and were the faceless governance of the police service. A single elected figurehead would change all that!

And then the Home Office was given the task of managing the election, something that it almost never does (usually organisation of elections goes to the Department of Communities and Local Government or the Cabinet Office, I believe). And a disaster unfurls.

As I said on many occasions during the election of PCCs, I was surprised that this flagship policy did not get more resources to help people understand it. I cannot blame PCCs of course who valiantly tried to get their names known and provide information about the role to the public. I did my little bit to help as well. Nonetheless, the election was a near disaster and still most people do not have a clue who their PCC is.

I would love to know whether the Populus poll mentioned by the Electoral Reform Society, has any differential results across the police areas. Which PCCs are better known than others and why is this? Some of this may be down to geography, but I have a hunch that the Northamptonshire PCC is better known than the Warwickshire one. Bob Jones in West Midlands has yet to have a summit of summits (or has he?) but he has been consistently reaching out across a very large region to a wide number of people. The Thames Valley PCC, on the other hand... you know what, I cannot even be bothered to finish that sentence...

But we are where we are and frankly I find the statement from the Home Office along the lines of "It will be slightly better next time so please stop talking about last November! I had a headache, OK!" to be worryingly complacent. If we are to make the role of PCC work (as I think we should because the police and crime agencies need good governance now and not just in the future when the model will, almost certainly, be revised...), the question is what needs to be done?

Evidently, PCCs have been rather busy of late sorting budgets and consulting on Police & Crime Plan (well... most have been busy). Come the end of March, that intense work will be over for the time being. I would suggest that efforts are then focused on developing communication and engagement strategies that reach out to all corners of their areas. I will write more about this in a future blog but for the moment I will say that they need to have some clear messages and communication objectives as a starting point for these strategies.

So if you are a PCC (or deputy, CEO etc) reading this: 
  • By this time next year, what do you want the electorate of your area to know that they do not currently know? 
  • Are there some groups who need to know more: which groups and what more?
  • How will you measure your communication activities... how will you know whether things are working or not so that you can adjust what you are doing?
  • And how good are you at listening... really listening?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Community safety helps create wealth

I am engaged in an ongoing debate on twitter about UK debt/deficit and whose 'fault' it is. (It was Moody's downgrade of the UK to AA1 that prompted this, naturally.) Of course in the end it is nobody's fault as such and I am not so partisan as to say that everything would be rosy if Labour were in power. Equally I hope (apart from the ConDem party mouthpieces) most people would understand that the economic difficulties arise from a world recession and were not made in the UK.

But, to put all that to one side, this tweet from one the debaters intrigued me:

I profoundly disagree with this notion that public sector are merely a costly drain on resources which are all created by private industry. I tweeted back:

For me it is blindingly obvious that for any nation's economy to thrive, public services and private sector industry are required. Policing (for example) is not just a necessary public expense, good policing adds to the economy by helping people be and feel safe. The police tackle crime and fraud which surely not even the most extreme pro-market capitalist would want: crime and fraud are bad for business! Community safety helps business to grow in conditions of low crime and high public confidence. Similarly education equips people to start and grow businesses. (And so on)

So please can we move beyond this stale argument about public sector costing private sector growth?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The solution is simple...

@NathanConstable who writes a rather good blog published a recent blog post entitled "The Theory of Assumed Incompetence" in which he describes the consequences of "an executive culture where financial consideration [take] precedence over all else and meeting targets became the raison d’être". As he points out, we have all been observing the responses to the Francis report into the Mid Staffordshire Hospital circumstances which led to many avoidable deaths.

This is a subject that I have blogged on lots before as well. (Most recently here.) In Nathan's blog he outlines a simple course of action when it comes to finding improvements in delivering services:
  • Use the data.
  • Probe more deeply.
  • Ask more questions.
  • Don’t stop UNTIL you have identified a problem AND it’s causes.
  • Don’t demand “improvement” until the causes are fully understood.
  • THEN target the messages and improvement to the people or areas where it is needed
I commend that method to you. It is the essence of root cause analysis and there are many good tools to help people to do this. In my practice, I observe many instances of what I call 'solushing' - the rush to solutions without a detailed analysis of the causes and a creative exploration of all the possible ways to tackle those causes.

But perhaps people will answer me this conundrum:

If Francis has correctly identified that one of the main causes of the problems at Mid Staffs was an over concentration on targets to the detriment of a focus on what was in the patients' and public's best interest... how will large scale outsourcing in the NHS (or indeed in the criminal justice system) make things better? How will (for example) payment by results not lead to exactly the same cultural problems that Francis is recommending a move away from?! 

If you out outsource, you install contract culture. And in contract culture, how do you hold contractors to account? Through an elaborate system of performance management and (wait for it) targets! 

It is behoving upon the advocates of 'market solutions' to explain (with evidential support) how outsourcing will not lead to an even greater obsession with short term targets that what we saw in Mid Staffordshire hopsital.

PS if you are into 'Assumed Incompetence' you will be also interested in 'Assumed Competence' too.... see my other blog post here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tackling harm inequalities: gathering data

The fact that some crimes are more serious than others is enshrined in our justice system: more serious offences carry more serious sentences. The Sentencing Council (formerly the Sentencing Guidelines Council) states:
Each guideline also requires a court to start the sentencing process by assessing the harm caused to the victim. (link here)
My concern is that policing resources may not be deployed proportionately and appropriately to where there is most harm / risk of harm. I have written about this before on several occasions (most recently here). I do not know this to be case, but I have a suspicion that it could be. I have yet to track down any research that would indicate one way or the other. (But if you know of such research - do please say. Thanks.)

Just as there is a growing body of research and policy on tackling health inequalities, there does not seem to be a comparable body of good practice, inquiry or evidence concerning the tackling of 'harm inequalities'. (Unless you know otherwise....)

One of the indivisible principles of our justice system is that every person, no matter who they are, is of equal worth. Therefore if it can be shown that policing and wider criminal justice resources are deployed in such a way as to maintain or increase harm inequalities, this cannot be a just system. We therefore need to know whether there is any unfair deployment of scarce resources and take action accordingly.

I am not yet sure how to do this. I do know that we have had the Black and Acheson reports which exposed health inequalities and offered ways forward on how to tackle them. I would like to call for a similar inquiry into harm inequalities. Addressing this issue has always been important. When resources are more limited, it is far more so.

And so, my plan is to write to every PCC and ask each one (using FoI) a series of questions. This is where I have got to so far in my thinking - but I am very happy for these questions to be refined and added to. (Please add your comments below.)

  • Is harm / risk of harm (from criminal acts or anti social behaviour) a specific factor in how policing resources are shared out across your area? (If yes, how is harm factored into the resource deployment formula?)
  • Is harm / risk of harm specifically mentioned in your new policing and crime plan? (If yes, how and where?)
  • Has there been any research in your police and crime area to identify whether and where overall levels of harm have changed in recent years? (If yes, what conclusions were drawn and what action was taken?)

I am very aware that I have not defined 'harm' as such. For me it is the degree to which a person's (a victim's) capability to feel secure, confident and live an 'ordinary' life has been damaged by a criminal act / anti social behaviour. The more damage and the longer it goes on - the more harm. This definition includes being damaged directly and indirectly (for example where a violent crime happens in a nearby place, then a whole community can be harmed).

Again, I am happy to debate this definition and if there are better definitions out there, I am keen to hear about them.

The theme that underpins all of this is contained in the title of my blog. I want to do all that I can to create a just future - fair for all. This cannot be done without addressing harm inequalities.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Kind hearts?

So it would seem that the Deputy PCC of Herts has been forced to resign following her tweet about socialists. You can read the news story here.

Obviously I would not comment on what happened there since I do not know the full details. However, it does seem that sometimes people lose a degree of discretion and circumspection on some social media sites. That might even be an understatement!

We now have a growing list of people who by dint of trying to be funny, or who get caught up with a troll, or whose fingers work more quickly that the parts of their brains that govern etiquette, or whatever... end up 'saying' things they later come to regret. (And, by the way, I think we can all have these moments of 'madness', if we are not too careful.)

I have been hugely saddened but not surprised to read the 'humour' surrounding the incident involving Oscar Pistorius this morning which ranges from the misogynist to alluding to his amputated legs. The fact is that a woman has died in unexplained circumstances and a police investigation is under way. None of this is funny. For me (as an old romantic), the fact that this happened on Valentine's Day makes it all the more sad if we are to believe reports that the woman killed was the athlete's girlfriend.

Will those people making up the 'jokes' or retweeting them come to regret their actions? I wonder.

There has been already much written about social media and whether people should be trusted to use it 'officially' when incidents of indiscretion seem bound to occur. I think there are far more benefits to the use of social media than down sides. (As a blogger how could I not.) On this basis, may the growth of social media continue.

But it all comes back to ethics, discretion, circumspection and plain ordinary courtesy and respect. We just need to be mindful of those aspects when 'bleeting' on blogs and twitter.

OK, pompous rant over. Meanwhile back to the horse and bull....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

From Popper to Poundland

A few days ago, I blogged about the Society for Evidence Based Policing. In response, another blogger (TonyOX3) wrote to me highlighting this report that came out a while back (June 2012):
Test, Learn, Adapt:Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials(by Laura Haynes, Owain Service, Ben Goldacre & David Torgerson)
It is a good report and I commend it to you. As the introduction to this report states:
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are the best way of determining whether a policy is working. They are now used extensively in international development, medicine, and business to identify which policy, drug or sales method is most effective. They are also at the heart of the Behavioural Insights Teamʼs methodology. However, RCTs are not routinely used to test the effectiveness of public policy interventions in the UK. We think that they should be.
I think they should be too. I did a degree in psychology and as many people know, a huge focus of this degree is on scientific method. So when I arrived in my first 'proper' job in a local housing department, I was genuinely shocked that there seemed (to me) to be an almost complete absence of established methods or knowledge of best practice from around the country and beyond. I still have those concerns.

I have always been puzzled as to why politicians and senior public servants seem so reticent at using science to determine whether a new policy works or not? At a cynical level, I wonder if it is about ego, pomposity, fear of being found to be less than effective, worry about how the media will see such an experiment or even a knowledge that while the scientific understanding of many (most?) politicians is very low, it is even lower amongst most journalists... I don't know and I am cautious about speculating without some proper research. It is also the case that there are many academics in the social science field who are very uncomfortable with applying the rigour of RCTs to many socio-political interventions. I respect their positions, but I would hope that a middle ground can be found that means we get just a little bit more 'hard' science into the policies devised by politicians and senior public servants.

Which brings me round to highlighting the decision yesterday that nobody can be compelled (under current regulations) to participate in working 'for free' for companies while they are on benefits. The story can be understood here. For me the most telling comment came from one the people involved who said that her placement in Poundland was a "complete waste of time" and "the experience did not help" her get a job. From my limited knowledge of the case, it would seem that the regulations were designed in such a way that meant the court had no option but to award the case in favour of people who had been forced to take on a placement or face losing their benefits.

So here is an example of where an RCT could easily have been used to test and refine those regulations. If the intention by DWP was to assist participants in gaining new skills and confidence whereby they were more able to get a job (rather than merely massaging unemployment figures or punishing those on benefits or pandering to the Daily Mail etc..) then this could easily have been done through a randomised controlled trial. Had that been done, I would put money on there being no such court case decisions like the one from yesterday.

Meanwhile plans to roll out Payment by Results and privatisation of the probation services continues apace even when the pilots (by no means RCTs but an attempt to validate the policy) have been abandoned.

May I remind this Government that one of the people that Margaret Thatcher admired greatly was Karl Popper who was a strong advocate of good scientific method. To quote Wikipedia, Karl Popper was "known for his attempt to repudiate the classical observationalist / inductivist form of scientific method in favour of empirical falsification". Mrs Thatcher herself was a chemist and understood the importance of science.

So please can we have a little less populist policy making from this government and a bit more use of good science to determine whether various policies actually work or not!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gold thefts

Theft of gold from Asian families is a growing problem it would appear. I do not have access to sufficient data to say just how big a problem this kind of crime is becoming, but all you have to search on the subject and a whole raft of news stories come up. This recent piece on the BBC news site says
"Asian families in parts of Berkshire and Hampshire are being warned to secure their gold against theft. Police say there has been an increase burglaries in which Asian gold was targeted due to its high value..."
In my police area, I am led understand there have been spates of these crimes in Aylesbury, Slough & Reading. These crimes are not limited to the South of course. This website in Leicester has this helpful advice:
Local residents are advised to take simple steps to safeguard your gold jewellery:
  • Photograph all items of jewellery individually and keep the photos safe
  • Register your jewellery for free at
  • Buy a small safe for use at home and fix it to a secure surface
  • Where possible use a bank or safety deposit box
  • Lock all windows and doors when asleep, and when out of the house
  • Ensure your insurance reflects the up-to-date value of your gold jewellery
  • If you have a burglar alarm, please remember to use it
  • If you see anything suspicious, please ring 101 or in an emergency ring 999. 
This makes it all the more curious that the draft plan for the Thames Valley Police does not even mention gold:

Here is another example of where the draft plan prepared by the PCC is simply out of touch with the key issues in Thames Valley. Let us hope that the final plan is a good deal better...

Friday, February 8, 2013

I know Thames Valley is big...

Had I been elected PCC for Thames Valley, I would have spent my first few weeks talking with as many people and organisations as possible, seeking their ideas, their concerns and their priorities. I suspect I would not have got much sleep in last couple of months.

So when I had a look through the draft Thames Valley Police and Crime plan, I had a hunch that our elected PCC, Anthony Stansfeld may not have talked with that many people about the ideas that went into the draft. So a few days ago, I asked the question (via twitter):
FoI request: Pls can I have the list of orgs/ppl who were consulted during the drafting of P&C plan. Tx.
I received my reply today (and I am grateful for the speed of reply):
The answer to your question - the Police and Crime Commissioner in preparing the Police and Crime Plan has:
    • Consulted the Chief Constable-
    • Had due regard to the Strategic Policing Requirement
    • Had due regard to the priorities of Local Authorities and Community Safety Partnerships
    • Had due regard to the views of victims and witnesses of crime
    • Had due regard to the views of the Criminal Justice Partners
    • Obtaining the views of the people living in the Force area
    • Sought the views of ratepayers’ representatives

Frankly, my flabber has never been so ghasted. Indeed I am appalled that this list appears to indicate an extremely paltry engagement with anyone beyond a select few. What is this 'due regard to' stuff all about? It certainly does not sound like any actual conversations were had.

Now I may be wrong and perhaps the PCC is being (unnecessarily) vague or legalistic. Perhaps he really has been listening far and wide to a great many people and organisatons around the counties of Thames Valley. But why not say? Or is it really possible that he has had just one or two titular meetings and that is about it?

I would be happy to publish more details if these are forthcoming. I do still really hope that he is not ensconcing himself in his office and is, in fact, getting out there to meet his 'people'. I am open to being impressed, despite what he think. (Although one of the few stories that has come my way was of a meeting in Reading where he left after ten minutes as I was told he had to zoom off back to Newbury for a council meeting... Yes, he is still a councillor...) 

What is going on? Do the Thames Valley people and communities have the PCC they deserve?

The clue is in the name (PbR)

Today at midday the Guardian Public Leaders Network is hosting a live chat entitled probation service in peril? (You will be glad to know that I am not on the panel although this has not prevented me, of course, from already posting a couple of comments.)

Among the questions it poses is "Is a payment-by-results model the most effective way of delivering services?"

You will not need reminding, I am sure, this is in the week of the Francis Report into the scandalous treatment of people at Mid Staffordshire Hospital. Here is an extract from one of The Independent's pieces (with an added highlighting from me):
Francis describes the leadership of Stafford Hospital as being characterised by a lack of experience, great self-confidence, and an obsession with meeting Government-imposed targets without worrying about the consequences. There was a pervasive culture where poor practice was tolerated as long as it remained hidden. Even when high mortality figures and patient complaints were brought to their attention senior managers denied their significance. Instead all they cared about was balancing the books so they could achieve cherished ‘foundation trust’ status. Francis said: “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that there was an unacceptable delay in addressing the issue of shortage of skilled nursing staff. There is no evidence of any sense of urgency about this problem”.
And so we turn to Payment by Results, which is being touted by Policy Exchange and Government ministers as the next best thing since sliced bread. The notion that this policy could well to lead to creating just the same sort of conditions / culture that led to the 'results' at Mid Staffs, is simply not countenanced by its advocates.

But the clue is in the name: payment by results. In other words it is about creating a financially based transactional contract whereby results trigger money. It is a bonus scheme in other words. It might even be called 'piece work'. Or even 'performance related pay'. What all these schemes have in common is the idea that 'more for less' will be achieved because people's hunger for money will drive improvements in efficiency, effectiveness and innovation.

There are some people for whom this is true and they will go to any lengths to satisfy their hunger for more money. These are the sorts of people who pushed the world banking system to the edge back in 2008 because their bonuses were rewarding them to do so. These are also the people who fixed the LIBOR rates so that (again) their bonuses were increased while borrowers has to dig deeper into their pockets. And there are people who will spend hours and hours each day, patiently devising ways to write to people with announcements about fake lottery wins, family inheritances and muggings in order to gain money. The drive is there in many people to accrue money no matter what the consequences.

And there are other people who go to work and expect to earn a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. These are the same people who delight in fixing a tap, helping to build a car, providing advice to customers in need and are happy with the pay that comes from that. These are the people who are not just motivated by money but actually (and strangely to some of the people in the earlier paragraph) just want to do a good job and make a customer / user / client happy.

And still more people give their time for free (or at well below the market rate) to a million voluntary and charitable institutions. And people do this because they care, because it matters to them. It matters to them that people are healthy. It matters to them that children get the best start in life. And it matters to them that offenders are helped to stop reoffending for the sake of society and for the offenders themselves.
  • Payment by results cheapens all that.
  • Payment by results starts from the ethical position that money is (and should be) the principal motivator for people and organisations doing this work
  • Payment by results has no evidential base (or though if you can point me towards a controlled study, I would be happy to read it)
  • And payment by results will not work (as I have blogged before)
Some people reading this will probably say "here another crusty old hippy who cannot quite bring himself into the 21st century" and will go on to say "of course PbR will work, how could it not? Money, not love, makes the world go around! All great achievements in human endeavour have come from a desire to earn money... PbR simply taps into that fact"

OK. Then perhaps answer me these questions:

If PbR is so good, why not apply it to the judiciary. Let's pay judges on the basis of their results. Supreme court judges will get a special bonus payment for making decisions that the Government wants...

If PbR is so good, why not apply it to midwives, those well known slackers who just don't work quickly enough. A well designed PbR scheme will up productivity in labour wards and babies will be born more efficiently and effectively...

If PbR is so good, why not apply it to the police? Police officers (and their private sector employers naturally) will be able to earn mega bucks by arresting lots of people, redefining crimes to trigger more payments and generally being speedier, slicker and slimmer...

Where else might PbR be applied with interesting consequences? Should MPs be on PbR contracts, for example? 

Back to the serious point of this blogpost: PbR is highly likely to yield unforeseen consequences that will set back the cause of creating a just future, fair for all.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Targets, whistleblowing and the culture of service improvement

I have been challenging the idea that top down imposed targets improve performance for many years. This comes from a professional grounding in Total Quality methods and especially the work of W. Edwards Deming. Back in 2003 I wrote an article which I published online myself as the place where I worked refused to have anything to do with such heretical ideas. I unearthed and refreshed this article back in July 2009 on my other blog. I have reprinted that blog here again - see below.

Why am I doing this today? The Francis Enquiry into the scandalous treatment of patients at Mid Staffordshire Hospital is being published today. It is likely that 'target chasing' will come up for particular condemnation. The view is that the efforts taken to meet certain targets trump good professional care. If you read my article below, you will see that I (along with many more illustrious people than me) were saying the same 10 and more years ago.

But let us be very clear: target chasing happens across the public sector. It is not an invention of the last Labour Government (although those administrations took it to a high art form): this centralist managerialism based policy was already well established under the Major government. The idea that performance can improve through top down imposed management by objectives is still deeply held by many, if not most, politicians and senior managers across the public services. And there is an epidemic of fear across the public and commercial services where people dare not whistleblow because they risk losing their jobs.

This has got to change. The worry I have now is whether this Government has the wit and capability to respond constructively to the Francis Report. (Hint: inspections are not the answer)

Anyway - here are the articles I published 4 and 10 years ago:

It seems that, suddenly, it is becoming possible - perhaps even fashionable - to challenge the whole culture and edifice of target setting in the public services. I can only say 'hooray'! For far too long, the public services have been slaves to aiming at the 'shadows on the wall' rather than doing what they should and want to be doing which is achieving robust social outcomes for the people they serve.

An excellent article by John Seddon appeared in the Guardian 2 days ago: and it is well worth a read. The comments too are worth reading as well - especially one by Redshrink who makes a connection to the commercialisation and commodification of public services. (That is next battle ground in my opinion.)

STOP PRESSAnother great article today (15 July 2009): New Labour's great mistake is to think we are all automatons - by Jenni Russell. The party's robotic calculus ignored the fact that public services are about people's real, social and emotional needs...

STOP PRESS (2): And the debate continues...
I have also added below an article I wrote six years ago. I have done this to evidence that all these arguments about targets are not new. But (as with electoral reform: its time might finally have come!

(Note the irony of the quote below from James Strachan - then Chair of the Audit Commission - the people that John Seddon is challenging in his article)

STOP PRESS (3): And the debate continues from the LGA with a report announced today - as described on the BBC website: Needless bureaucracy is costing councils in England £4.5bn a year - money that could be spent on vital local services, according to a report

STOP PRESS (4): And so it goes on with the results today of the investigation into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust: The independent inquiry claimed the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust had become driven by targets and cost-cutting.... Hospital patients were left "sobbing and humiliated" by uncaring staff, an investigation into one of the worst NHS scandals in history has found. Full BBC Story - click here. When is this going to stop...

21st Century Target Setting


Many public service leaders and commentators are expressing increasing disquiet about the current approach to target setting for the public services.

David Batty writing in the Guardian (26/4/02) about the Victoria Climbié Enquiry entitled his piece ‘Performance targets compromise child protection’. Onora O’Neill speaking in the BBC Reith Lectures last year said ‘our revolution in accountability has not reduced attitudes of mistrust, but rather reinforced a culture of suspicion… we are galloping towards central planning by performance indicators reinforced by obsessions with blame and compensation’. A Telegraph headline of 19 December 2001 said ‘NHS patients were duped in waiting list fiddle’. Simon Caulkin in the Observer (5/8/01) declared that management ‘being tied to set goals is so often meaningless’ and can ‘lead to disaster’.

Dr Ian Bogle, retiring from five years as Chair of the BMA in June 2003 said 'I am absolutely appalled by the cheating going on and by the Government having put human beings in such a position that they feel that to preserve their jobs [they must do it]. The pressures are obscene and the Government should be ashamed of itself for the consequences.'[1]

And recently (and strikingly) James Strachan the new Chairman of the Audit Commission went on record to say to MPs: "The problem we have faced time and time again is the slavish devotion to targets, many of which have not been set very intelligently. It's a surefire way of not getting improvement in public services. People see targets set by government, monitored by them, and with responsibility for their validation. There is a real danger that people will not believe them," [2]

It seems therefore that people are becoming increasingly aware that the current performance management regime is not delivering the hoped for improvements in outcomes desired by the Government, the staff and managers who work in the public services and, indeed, the public themselves. This article is about another way – a way whereby the various levels of Government can still hold the public services to account for delivering results – as they most surely should – whilst tackling some of the difficulties with the current approach. As the voices for change become louder – it is vitally important that we do not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and reject target setting in all its forms. What we need is an evolution of thinking & practice – although that is not to say that some of the new ideas necessary should not be radical in their own right.

Targets and performance management are now so pervasive and influence at a very deep level how we conceptualise achievement in the public services – it is difficult to remember – what was the problem that performance management was meant to be solution for? This article will begin with an overview of the arguments against target setting and performance management in its current form. Further into the article, the way forward to a 21st Century form of target setting is outlined.

It is hoped that this article will not only add to the clamour for a change in performance management practice but also offer some practical ideas for what is now required.

The key arguments

To summarise briefly the key arguments against target setting and performance management in its current form:
  • Targets are rarely set with anything other than a nod toward a statistical analysis of trends in performance of the system or service in question and there is little awareness of natural and special causes of variation in performance day-to-day, month-to-month, year on year. This can lead to reacting to changes that are merely part of an ordinary variation and sometimes not reacting when one is called for. Also a lack of dynamic statistical analyses can generate unrealistic targets.
  • Outcomes are difficult to measure – by their very nature – so instead performance indicators (PI’s) are defined and targets set accordingly. These PI’s then become the objects for achievement rather than the outcomes themselves.
  • Partly because targets are usually imposed (rather than developed in collaboration with the service providers and users) and partly by their very nature, targets can unfortunately foster ignoble or perverse attempts to hit the targets by whatever means are required (as past news stories around hospital waiting lists would appear to illustrate).
  • Target setting and performance management only works when the system that is (or is not) delivering to target performance is understandable and understood such that interventions can be made that will change performance in the right direction. Without such understanding – requirements to improve performance can degenerate into ineffective exhortations to work harder, faster or better etc.
  • Target setting and performance management introduces a level of fear into work – a fear which can damage service delivery. Sometimes target setting is perceived as a form of bullying. When targets are not met – it is unfortunately too often the case that individuals are held culpable when in most cases it is the system itself, which has failed (in usually many places). Targets tend to foster ‘quick fixes’ rather than system (or ‘stay’) fixes.
  • By focussing public servants and services upon targets and inspecting or appraising them against those targets – the targets become hugely important. When the targets do not reflect the local needs and wants of the public – target setting can distract people from giving the levels of service that they wish to give and the public want.
  • Target setting and performance management can become a substitute for visionary and inspirational leadership. Management can too easily descend into ‘bean counting’ the PI’s and ‘double thinking’ leadership that pretends that all the targets really do matter – when in truth only a few key ones are of critical importance.
  • Inspecting services against targets is too late, expensive and ineffective – it is in effect allowing services to deliver ineffective services rather than encouraging them to create systems for continuous improvement. Targets can foster ‘downstream’ measures of quality whereas it is much more effective to focus ‘upstream’ and assess where in the chain of actions things go right or wrong.
  • Targets are by their very nature time focussed – often on a very short timescale. Most of the systems and issues wrestled with by the public services take years – if not decades – to come about. Improvement needs to work on that same timescale. In other words it’s a bit like having a speedometer that tells you what speed you were doing half an hour ago.
  • The resources that go into setting targets and then responding to being held to account for the achievement of those targets are all resources that could be spent on delivering services and achieving outcomes. Balancing quite how many resources should go into setting and assessing against targets is a very hard task.
  • Target setting and performance management often pitch one organisation against another, one individual against another when partnership and collaboration would be a much more effective strategy. Many local partnerships – endeavouring to make ‘joined up government’ work on the ground – find that the targets set by different parts of Whitehall make their task harder rather than easier.
  • People – the public, the public service professionals, the politicians - know all these flaws above and as a consequence – because of the overarching importance attached to targets in their current form – become dissociated from their work and often lose their inherent ability to be passionate, creative and committed to their work and what they are trying to achieve.
A way forward

This article is not just be about what is wrong –set out below are some practical proposals about what needs to happen to deliver sustainable social results, continuous improvement in those results, value for money and accountability. These proposals have been assembled into a 20 point plan for change:
  1. There must a more widespread use of statistical process control[3] and general statistical methods to really understand how public service systems operate. (At the very least – matrices of performance data with more than nine cells should be banned in favour of performance data being presented graphically.)
  2. The aim in monitoring performance should be to understand and seek to control variation in performance – as far as is possible in the complex systems that contribute to social outcomes. It is vital to avoid responding to variations which trend analysis shows are merely ‘ordinary’ variation and to ensure there is a response to ‘special’ causes of variation.
  3. When considering what may be causing the variations in social results, practices need to be boosted that affirm the need to search truly creatively and rigorously – without (moral, historical, political etc) assumptions. Coupled to this is must be stressed that aiming for ‘what works’ is not a utilitarian recipe for focussing only on ends and forgetting the means to get there – often the public remember the means far more than the ends!
  4. There needs to be far more education for the practitioners, managers, politicians and media in understanding variation and system improvement.
  5. Government and management at all levels need to involve practitioners, users and other key stakeholders far more, in the search for PI’s that come closer to assessing progress towards desired for outcomes
  6. We need processes / events / conferences / meetings / written communication / website bulletin boards to achieve much greater understanding and commitment to the outcomes being sought
  7. Key leaders need to assert every opportunity to emphasise that PI’s are indicators – nothing more nothing less!
  8. The balance between ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ target setting needs to shift more towards trusting and allowing the front line organisations – who are delivering the outcomes – to set their own targets. They must then be held to account for meeting their own targets and being committed to continuous improvement, contributing to outcomes and putting in place leadership and systems that deliver ever better results for their users and other stakeholders.
  9. More research is needed to help each system to understand itself – informed by statistical understanding of variations in performance, the wit & experience of all those involved in providing the service and comparisons to other organisations. Under the title of evidence based practice – more is needed to find out just what are the actual mechanisms or interventions that actually deliver results. What are the differences in practice that really deliver different (and better) results?
  10. When anyone – as a politician, manager or practitioner – intervenes in system, it is vital to understand what are the aims and evaluate the result against this. Knowing whether the result was achieved or not is also not enough – one has to understand why it was or was not achieved – reflective practice must be the order of the day. This is as much a proposal for government ministers as it is for doctors as it is for waste recycling managers as it is for crown court judges. Everyone needs to know (and have measures to validate self knowledge) – ‘is what I am doing working and indeed – am I doing it better than last year’?
  11. It must never be forgotten that probably most of the systems that deliver social results are extraordinarily complex and it is rarely the case that one individual (the senior manager or director or middle manager) has all the knowledge required to make the best possible decision. The ‘manager’s right to manage’ should be interpreted as the manager’s right to ensure the system is well managed – by all those involved. In our increasingly complex world, participative management is not a ‘nice to do’ but a ‘need to do’. Whole system approaches need to be more widely used.
  12. To repeat and emphasise one of Deming’s (see the acknowledgements below for a reference) fourteen points – drive out fear! In a workplace – fear can lead towards unforeseen and negative consequences.
  13. Everyone knows that quick fixes do not work – just as it is widely known a rush DIY job will eventually (if not sooner than that) come round to haunt the DIYer. Leaders must do all that they can to encourage the use intelligence, resources and skills and so engender a culture of practice that is increasingly and robustly working towards stay fix approaches to improvement being the usual approach.
  14. There needs to be more recognition that often positive social outcomes cannot be measured in only quantitative ways – a person, a community, a town or country might just feel or look different. At a subjective level – it might be recognised – but at an objective level it cannot be bottled or counted. Simply people saying – ‘its better round here now’ – might be the most profound result that could have been achieved. In other words our indicators of performance and achievement must be a balance of the qualitative and quantitative.
  15. We need far more hands on inspirational leadership from every echelon of the public service – leadership that co-creates a vision of the results we need and the commitment to achieve these – working together across the divides between national and local government, different agencies, the statutory and voluntary sectors and (most importantly) between the public themselves and the public service practitioners and managers.
  16. Often far too many resources are put into making small improvements in existing service delivery systems where what is required a radical overhaul and replacement – where quality and a profound commitment is built in from the start – rather than bolted on at the end. We need more courage to stop investing in ‘tweaking’ and inspecting existing organisations and more investing in designing new and imaginative forms of service delivery – co-designed with the public, underpinned by electronic means of service delivery and run on the energy of public service commitment.
  17. While the argument about whether targets work or not will rage on well past this article, it is now well established that short term targets do not work very well at all. The society that we have now is the product of generations and historical trends – there are no short term methods for the sustainable reduction in gun crime (for example). Obviously Governments are driven to improve matters – and are held to account for delivering those improvements – but the promises made need to be visionary and improvements in crime, education, health, the environment etc – all take time. The media in particular needs to understand this.
  18. Whatever efforts we put into system and service improvement, we must measure the benefits of those efforts. The resources consumed by preparing for and responding to inspections need to be measured. The time it takes to measure progress against targets needs to be measured. The amount of resources used to analyse the system and deliver stay fix improvements also needs to be audited. But above all – public service organisations need to have far more robust systems for assessing the costs of not investing in improvement – as these costs are often overlooked and skew the appraisal of whether it is worth investing in a new form of service delivery or system improvement.
  19. Problems ensue when different parts of Whitehall impose targets that do not add up on the ground. As many frontline practitioners know – delivering genuinely joined up services on the ground is seriously hampered by the apparent lack of coordination at the most senior levels of Government. Efforts are being made (the Social Exclusion Unit stands proud in this respect as mentioned above) – but efforts need to be redoubled again and again.
  20. Finally there needs to be ways to move beyond ‘bean counting’ and beyond the presumption that targets can whip the public services into shape. All dimensions of the public services need to pursuemeasurement that helps services to improve - demonstrably
  • leadership that inspires such improvement
  • an end to parochialism
  • supporting the public services – with all the energy and commitment of those who work in them
  • really, really listening to the public and acting on what their informed judgments are telling us about what they want improved and how to go about it

This piece has not been written as an academic exploration of the pros and cons of target setting and its associated performance management protocols, referenced to books and journals. It has been written in somewhat polemic terms to carry on and ignite more the debate about targets and their value to the public.
Old fashioned accountability around annual reports was never enough. Target setting of the kinds we are appear to be suffering from now are not working. We now need a third way – as outlined in the 20 point plan above.

Jon Harvey (30 June 2003)


Much of this analysis above is not new and can be traced to the work of W. Edwards Deming. Deming was one the key progenitors of the modern quality movement and remains hugely influential to this day. An internet search on his name will yield numerous websites dedicated to communicating his philosophy as set out in his is famous ’14 Points’ (see Out of the Crisis, 1986).

[3] See ‘SPC in the Office’ by Mal Owen & John Morgan. (June 2000) Greenfield Publishing; ISBN: 0952332841) for an accessible explanation of SPC and how to apply it to performance.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The power of word counts

When I have an idle moment, I sometimes do word counts or even create wordles to find out subtle messages embedded in documents.

This afternoon, I happened across the information pack that was given to delegates (PCCs and their teams mostly) who attended the meeting on 23/1/13 that I have blogged about before. You will recall that this was a key strategic meeting convened by the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners and attended by senior Government figures and so forth. You can read more about the agenda and who attended at this link here. It makes for illuminating reading, I expect you will agree.

I thought it might be illuminating to see how often certain words were mentioned in the information pack. Here is a selection of some words that I selected:
  • Public 38
  • Funding 28
  • Community 24
  • KPMG 20
  • Partnership 16
  • Safety 11
  • Private 10
  • Victim/victims 8
  • Capita 7
  • Citizens 6
  • Consultation 5
  • Anti-social behaviour 5
  • Engagement 1
  • Innovation 0
  • Harm 0
  • Cooperation 0
  • Communication 0
What do you read into this (brief) analysis?

I have also done a wordle too which you can see in the public gallery here in large scale. But here also is a pic of the wordle too:

The APCC did a wordle of the of PCCs most-cited concerns (from their manifestos) which is published here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Police and Crime Plan for Thames Valley

It is difficult to know where to start with critiquing the draft plan published (see update below) by the PCC Anthony Stansfeld. I could go through it line by line, highlighting statements that:
  • bear no relation to reality or research evidence, or
  • other statements that seem to exist in total isolation from the rest of the document, or
  • the contradictions between some parts of the draft plan and other parts, or 
  • the almost total disconnect between this plan and his campaign promises, or
  • the fact that this plan pales when compared to the imaginative, well-constructed and insightful plans we see emerging from (say) West Midlands or Gloucestershire, or
  • the absence of any innovation, or
  • the absence of any real substantive focus on victims or crime prevention, or
  • even the daft (and frankly insulting to the people of Thames Valley) typographic errors that should never have seen the light of day! I am thinking of this statement by the way:

(My added highlighting, naturally. I assume he meant 'legalisation'... or did he???)

But I won’t. I do have a life and would rather spend my time on other more productive matters. If the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner had given any palpable indication whatsoever that he is prepared to listen to other people’s ideas, I might have given it a whirl. However, I also know that he regards me as merely a (troublesome?) activist whose ideas are, therefore, not worth much. 

But (and there is always a but…) I would draw your attention to one detail of this plan. It is the absence of detail in Annex A. Have a look for yourself. Please observe the amount of white space in the sections titled “Actions and Targets”. Now I know this is a draft plan… but I would have expected more here. Wouldn’t you?

What does this tell us about Thames Valley’s PCC? We can only speculate. Many PCCs are evidencing drive, grip, listening, good partnership with their Chief Constable and a general ability to grasp the complexities of planning a multimillion pound enterprise.

On the basis of this published draft plan, what is Anthony Stansfeld evidencing, do you think?

UPDATE: the draft plan has now been removed from the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner's website in favour of the final version, naturally. I have uploaded a copy of the original draft with some commentary to my Google drive if you wish to see it. I have also just compared the two forewords. The blog post is here. (130613)