The Sustainability of the Scottish Approach to Policy-Making

The Scottish Approach to Policy-Making involves a focus on: Improvement; Assets; and Co-production. This has been widely written about elsewhere (see here, herehere and here).

But how was this approach developed? And what does it mean for the implementation of policy (as opposed to policy-making itself)? In other words, is there an equivalent Scottish Approach to Public Administration? And how might this develop in the future?

In ongoing research I have interviewed ten key players in the development of the Scottish Approach. All are, or were, civil servants within the Scottish Government (previously Scottish Executive). Through this research it is clear that the development of a Scottish Approach to Policy Making was a deliberate move to create a more strategic form of government in Scotland. This involved 1) internal restructuring of the Scottish Government with the establishment of strategic Directors-General and cross-cutting directorates; 2) the development of the National Performance Framework, Scotland Performs; and 3) significant investment in leadership development with a particular focus on Adaptive Leadership and Public Value.

The rationale for much of this was based on a recognition that the managerial approach to public administration of the 1980’s and 1990’s had not led to a significant improvement in the tackling of ‘wicked issues’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality. Importantly, this was linked to a growing recognition that addressing these challenges would require partnership-working across the public sector and beyond. That Government could not solve these problems on it’s own but that they would require a whole-of-society approach.

Initiatives such as the strengthening of community councils, the community planning partnerships, and the Community Empowerment Act are all part of a shift towards enhancing the role of communities in the design, delivery and ownership of public services.

Interestingly, the development of the Scottish Approach has been characterised as, in part, a conscious effort to move away from the old approach which was characterised as based on top-down; paternalism; working in silos; acute focus on curing problems after they arise (Mitchell, 2015). Ten years on has anything changed? Is the Scottish Government more strategic? More collaborative? More prevention-focused?

As noted above a key part of the ‘Scottish Approach’ was a focus on Adaptive Leadership. This is a leadership style developed primarily by Heifetz (his key texts include ‘Leadership on the Line‘ and ‘The Practice of Adaptive Leadership‘). Put simply, Heifetz argues that leaders face technical problems and adaptive challenges. Technical problems have a clear solution whereas adaptive challenges may have multi-faceted causes and require a multi-agency approach. Hence the focus on collaboration and prevention (examples include the Early-Years Collaborative and Health and Social Care Integration). Clearly an adaptive approach has particular relevance in public services in the face of the above mentioned ‘wicked problems’ such as child poverty, climate change and health inequality.

But can adaptive leadership work in the public sector? My ongoing research is exploring some the challenges in adopting Adaptive Leadership in a public context. In doing so a number of important questions are being raised about the sustainability of the Scottish Approach itself. Undoubtedly there is a solid rationale behind the adoption of adaptive leadership in a public services context. The extent to which this can, or even should, be maintained over time will be uncovered through my research.

 

 

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I Tried to Bribe an Official

Earlier this year I tried to bribe an official. Actually, I didn’t really. But this was how it was construed. The experience made me think a lot about bureaucracy, process, control and leadership.

It all came about when I was asked to do a presentation at a conference. This was a commercial venture – for which speakers often receive a modest fee. I have never accepted a fee for this type of activity which I believe is part of my job in terms of public engagement. But at the same time I don’t believe I should give my labour for free. So in lieu of a ‘fee’ I received some complementary tickets which I then gave to our postgraduate students. Thereby enhancing their learning experience and indeed hopefully adding to the discussion at the conference itself. A classic win-win I would have thought.

Here’s where it all starts to unravel. Many of our students are employed by public bodies. One such student, from Anytown Council, mentioned to their boss that they had received a complementary ticket to a conference and would require the day away from the office to attend. At this point it’s important to remember that this was part of the student experience and would directly help the student in her studies – and in turn help in her job.

The response? The student was asked to complete a business case as to what the conference was about and exactly what the benefit would be for her job. So, instead, the student decided to take the day as annual leave.

At that point you might think that would be the end of it. Oh no. Next the student was told that this could be construed as a bribe. Yes, the student experience is no longer just about me trying to enhance the learning experience of the students – clearly I might be using this as part of some Machiavellian plot.

So, said student is sent the 50 page policy document on ‘gifts’ and asked to read carefully. Then, said student has to complete a form (there is always a form). It must be explained what the nature of the gift is, from whom it has been received and what potential conflicts of interest there might be. Meanwhile the public need better public service delivery. Clearly, this doesn’t help.

These policies and processes exist for good reason. But ultimately how they are interpreted and applied is key. Clearly there is a balance to be struck between following the letter of the policy in a literal and inflexible way vs following the principle of the policy in a proportionate way. Often this requires leadership – to say ‘is this really necessary?’.

What this story highlights for me is the importance of what we are doing at QMU. Our public services still need better leadership. There is still a long way to go. But I’m confident that through our MPA programme, research and CPD programmes we will help.

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Connecting with the Real World

I’ve written before about ‘Academics in the Real World‘ and it is an area that continues to attract much attention and debate.

I was reminded of this recently when discussing ‘student experience’ with the programme leader of our amazing MSc Gastronomy programme (see here for more information). It might seem at face value that this is a very different type of programme from our Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme. Yet the aims and objectives of these two different programmes are remarkably similar. Both have, in line with the Queen Margaret University mission, a core commitment to social justice. And both use practice-based learning to support students’ understanding of ‘the real world’.

The understanding of how policy and politics affect practice is key to understanding public administration. This is our version of ‘from farm to plate’. We need to understand the origins of policy, how it is interpreted by public service professionals, and the impact this has on individuals and communities.

Over this first year of the Edinburgh MPA we have been developing our approach to the student experience. A significant part of this is the Workplace Learning module which we have developed in association with ACOSVO to enable all our students to get ‘real world’ experience (see more here). We have also had guest speakers from the UK Civil Service Fast Track, we have attended a conference on Scotland’s Public Sector Workforce and we have visited the Scottish Parliament as shown in the following short film:

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For next year we are planning lots more activities to expose our students to the realities of public service delivery. In doing so it is important that we continue to reflect on both the political process and the impact subsequent policies have on communities.

In other words, we will always be committed to reflecting and challenging the nature of ‘the real world’.

If you would like to find out more please sign up for our Open Evening: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/bulletins/opendays.htm

Applications are now open for September 2017: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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The Stories We Tell

I’ve not been blogging much of late due to a number of other priorities around marking, teaching prep, research writing and conference attendance. In amongst all of that I’ve had three lovely weeks off at the start of August. For many people the summer holidays are a time to catch up with some reading. For me this largely involves Julia Donaldson books. But recently I discovered a new favourite – Yertle the Turtle by Dr Seuss. Here is why it should be required reading in every Business School.

Yertle the Turtle is a story about a King Turtle, called Yertle, who becomes increasingly power hungry. Not satisfied with his status as King of the pond he requires his subjects to work harder in order to extend his realm. As his status rises so the burden of those below him also increases to the point where they are in great pain and hunger. Yet as Yertle continues to rise high into the clouds his link with those below him becomes ever weaker and ultimately his hubris leads to his demise. It is a fantastic story (available to purchase here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0007173148).

This is a children’s book. Like other children’s books the focus is on fair play and the importance of sharing. We constantly tell our children to play nice, to respect others, to always say please and thank-you. When do we think this should stop?

At some point our childhood learning is dismissed and replaced by mechanisms of management and governance that both enable and actively encourage individualised efforts and game playing. Team-work and shared goals are shunned and often the vision of ‘great man’ leadership is espoused. Even within education group-work for students is often avoided, especially assessed group-work, due to the problems associated with perceived ‘free-riders’. In research sole-authored academic papers are (at least in social sciences) considered superior to co-authored works. In many organisations promotion and reward criteria are often based on individual efforts and evidence of individual impact. Across corporations, and increasingly the public and Third Sectors, this mantra is reflected in the rise of CEO pay packets whilst at the same time tax avoidance and pay restraint for other employees are seen as common and accepted business practice.

Should Yertle be seen as the villain of the piece or someone to admire – ambitious, assertive and driven? Do we lose something by failing to recognise the value of sharing and team-work in business and management? Or should we tell our children different – to look after number one, that greed is good, to be ruthless in their negotiations and never trust anyone? Would that help them face the realities of life or, dare I say, improve their employability?

Should we teach our children different – or is it us who could do with a lesson?

For another example of the stories we tell see this episode of Peppa Pig in relation to debates around Brexit:

 

 

 

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Something positive

I’m just back from the Social Policy Association conference in Belfast. It was a great conference with lots of very engaging speakers discussing their latest research. Topics included:

  • Economic and domestic violence
  • Food poverty
  • Young people, precarity and security
  • Pension inequality
  • Taxation and austerity

 

There was also a special session organised on ‘the consequences of Brexit’.

 

Some of the highlights for me included a plenary session by Kathryn Edin discussing her new book – ‘$2 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America‘ and a presentation by Lorenza Antonucci about her new book – ‘Student Lives in Crisis: Deepening inequality in times of austerity‘.

 

These are two great books that I would thoroughly recommend. I was going to write some more about both – but you can just buy the books. What’s more, I was trying to come up with something positive to write about following the conference. But, as you can probably guess from some of the topics listed above, this isn’t easy.

 

There is much to worry about. And I don’t want to diminish any of that in any way. Global recession, European disintegration, war, terrorism, rising inequality. Yes, it’s all there. But this is not the 1930’s. My dad was born in the 1930’s – and as I sit in a warm, well lit library drinking fresh Americano and type this blog on my notebook using the free Wi-Fi available I’m made all too aware of that. Yes, I do have a privileged position and others aren’t nearly so fortunate. But this still is not the 1930’s. There’s much to feel positive about despite all the worrying news.

 

And what can be done with worry anyway? I’m reminded of the Serenity Prayer. I’m not a religious person but I think there is an important message in this – especially in difficult times such as these:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

So let’s focus on the things we can change, embrace the opportunities that we have to make change happen, and celebrate the fact that we all can make a difference. Happy Monday!

 

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The Emotional Impact of Brexit

Change is an emotional process. Any change whether personal, organisational or indeed constitutional is likely to feed into our hopes, dreams, anxieties or fears. The extent to which change can be an emotional process is particularly apparent when we are not in control of the change process. So it is for over 48% of the UK population including 62% of the Scottish population after the vote to leave the EU last Thursday.

 

The nature of the emotional impact of change has been characterised by Kübler-Ross in her Grief Cycle which was originally established to reflect the nature of the grieving process. There have been many versions of the original Grief Cycle created since. One such version is listed below for reference:

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Source: https://www.pinterest.com/effard/grief-cycle-feedback-change-imposed/

 

Later research by many organisational behaviour and change management academics has linked this process to the emotional impact of organisational change. We can also see how, over the last few days, this Grief Cycle reflects many of the emotions that have been felt by the electorate and how this can help explain (admittedly to a small extent) the events that have happened since.

 

Denial:

This isn’t really happening. There can be another referendum (see here and here). Maybe Scotland can stop it from happening (see here). Maybe there should be another election which will stop it (see here).

 

Anger:

Why is this happening? It’s all the fault of old people. It’s all the fault of poor people. It’s all the fault of uneducated people. See here, here and here.

 

Bargaining:

Maybe I’ll emigrate to Canada / Australia / New Zealand / France. Maybe I’ll get an Irish passport (see here and here). Maybe we can delay it for two or three years (see here). If that’s what’s happening I’m going to resign (as with Prime Minister, Labour MP’s etc).

 

Depression:

There’s really nothing I can do.

 

Acceptance:

OK, it really is happening. There’s no point whining about it anymore – we’ve just got to get on with it.

 

Move on:

There may be opportunities here. Let’s work with others to make the most of things.

 

What next?

It is best not to make significant decisions immediately following and in response to any significant change event. Those who have remained fairly silent over the weekend have undoubtedly done the right thing in taking time to reflect and analyse the situation before making any major steps. It is important that the electorate and markets are given every possible reassurance and that they are supported through this emotional process. All the announcements so far from the UK Government have rightly been about stability and reassurance.

 

It is important to recognise that this is an emotional process. That’s not to say that all that has happened, and all that will happen, can be explained by the Grief Cycle. That would be far too simplistic. All I would argue is that it provides part of a wider picture of what is happening right now – and that it is an important part of the picture that should be recognised in moving forward.

 

What is needed now is strong but emotionally intelligent leadership. The transitions cannot be rushed. But the sooner that the electorate, and our elected representatives, accept the new reality and begin to move on the better.

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Why become a Fellow of the HEA?

One of the things that social science academics like to discuss is the value of theory. We instill in our students the importance of academic research and theory. We discuss how theory can be used to better understand practice. We also like talking a lot about the importance of reflection; critical reflection that is underpinned by theory. Yes, theory, theory, theory. Everywhere you look there is more of it, Marxist, post-structuralist, Keynesian, feminist, the list is endless.

But do we practice what we preach? If theory and reflection are all that important then presumably we all engage in theory and reflection to underpin our own practice? Do we?

Actually, in order to become a ‘teacher’ at a university (I started in 2001/02) all you need is, ideally, one degree higher than those you are ‘teaching’. Of course it isn’t really ‘teaching’ but that might warrant another post another time. But there is no requirement for formal teaching qualifications. Or at least there wasn’t when I started.

Increasingly universities are requiring staff to undertake some form of training in teaching and learning prior to taking up a lectureship or other academic post. This is often linked to accreditation with the Higher Education Academy and aligned with the UK Professional Standards Framework. But rather than suggest that you must become a Fellow (or Senior Fellow etc) I would argue that you should become a Fellow of the HEA.

I undertook the process of applying for recognition as Senior Fellow in 2015 (via the QMU CPD Scheme). Prior to that I had not really taken much time to reflect on my approach to teaching and learning. What I did was largely the result of the many great lecturers I experienced as an undergraduate at Glasgow Caledonian University – which had so many amazing lecturers at the time that it’s impossible to list them all in one blog post. I had never truly reflected on this and considered what it was about the approach of academics there which contrasted so much with my experiences of school education and how this had impacted on my position in the seminar room / lecture hall.

The process of going through the UK Professional Standards Framework and the HEA application process forced me, for the first time, to properly engage with pedagogy. I read Mezirow, Freire and many contemporary texts on teaching and learning (references provided below). Going through these texts, and thinking critically about my own professional practice, made me much more self-aware. It helped me understand why I do some of the things I do but also made me question some of my practice. This isn’t a one-off process but something that I will continue to do.

Since I gained recognition as a Senior Fellow of the HEA a number of colleagues, from a number of universities, have asked me to send them a copy of my application. I have discussed my application and have supported colleagues in developing their ideas. But I’ve stopped short of sharing my application for one very simple reason – it would be of very little value to anyone else. My application reflects my experience, values and practice. So should yours. Every application should be unique. Every application should, in my opinion, be personal.

My top tip for applying for recognition from the HEA? Make it personal. Start with why you have chosen this career. What is it that has motivated you to be someone who supports student learning? What is it that continues to drive and motivate you.

And one more thing, don’t ask students to engage in theory and reflection if you’re not prepared to do it yourself.

 

References:

 

Astin, A. (1984) “Student Involvement: A developmental theory for higher education”, Journal of College Student Development, 25, 297-308.
Ahmed, Y., Ry Neilson, J.C., Raine, J. and Synnott, M. (2013) ‘Special Issue on Developing the Reflexive Public Manager’, Teaching Public Administration. 31: 3 pp.3-5.
Allan, J. (2013) “Foucault and his acolytes”, in Murphy, M. (ed) (2013) Social Theory and Education Research, London: Routledge.
Alvesson, M. and Willmot, H. (1992) (eds) Critical Management Studies, Sage: London.
Apple, M.W. (1982) Education and Power, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
Ball, S.J. (ed) (2004) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University, SHRE and Open University Press.
Biggs, J and Tang C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill and Open University Press.
Bloom, B.S. (1979) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay.
Brookfield, S.D. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. (1987) “Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education”, American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, 39 (7): 3-7.
Demaine, J. (ed.) (2001) Sociology of Education Today, Hampshire: Palgrave.
Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, London: MacMillan.
Elias, D. (1997) It’s time to change our minds: An introduction to transformative learning. ReVision, 20(1).
Entwistle , N. (1988). Styles of Learning and Teaching, London: David Fulton.
Fairclough, N. (2001) Language and Power, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.
Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. (2009) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd Edition.
Joyce, P. and Coxhead, F. (2012) “Ideas and Issues in University Education for Public Services Leaders”, Teaching Public Administration, April: 1-12.
Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching, a framework for the effective use of educational technology, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.
Lees, H. (2013) ‘Silence as a pedagogical tool’, Times Higher Education, 22 August 2013.
Little, B., Locke, W., Scesa, A., and Williams, R.(2009) Report to HEFCE on student engagement. Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, The Open University February 2009, available online at: https://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/pubs/2009/rd0309/rd03_09.pdf
Lucas, U. and Milford, P. (2009) Key aspects of teaching and learning in accounting, business and management”, in Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd Edition, p382-404
Meighan, R. and Harber, C. (2007) A sociology of Educating, 5th Edition, London: Continuum International Publishing.
McKimm, J. (2009) Teaching Quality, Standards and Enhancement, in Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (eds) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 3rd Edition, London: Routledge, pp. 186-197.
Reay, D. (2004) “Finding or Losing Yourself? Working-class relationships to education”, in Ball, S.J. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Smyth, J. and Shacklock, G. (2004) “Teachers doing their ‘economic’ work” in Ball, S.J. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Synnott, M. (2013) “Reflection and double loop learning”, Teaching Public Administration, 31: 124-134.
Papert, S. (1993). The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer, New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, J. (1977) Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Quinn, B. (2013) “Reflexivity and education for public managers”, Teaching Public Administration, 31: 6-17.
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education, London: Routledge.
Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Werthman, C. (1963) “Delinquents in schools: a test for the legitimacy of authority’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 8: 39-60.
Zaretsky, R. (2013) ‘If silence is golden, we should invest in it during seminars’, Times Higher Education, 8 August 2013.

 

 

 

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Do league tables matter?

League tables are most commonly associated with football. Everyone knows that the team who wins the most games goes up the league table. The team who finishes top at the end of the season our the league champions. Having won the league the champions may secure promotion to a higher league or entry to other competitions such as the Champions League or Europa League. And everyone knows that Partick Thistle are, on that basis, not as ‘good’ a team as Celtic, Aberdeen or Hearts. Yet I still support the Jags and think they are better for lots of different reasons.

So, what about league tables in the context of Higher Education? One of the challenges here is knowing what counts as success? It’s not as simple as scoring goals – there is research output, student satisfaction, completion rates, student-staff ratios, employability. And how highly should each of these be ranked? Each league table rates these factors to differing degrees (see here for more comparison of league tables). As well as the most well known tables, such as The Guardian and Times Higher there are also a number of alternative league tables (see here for more). So the overall picture is incredibly complex, even confusing. Hardly surprising when we consider the complex nature of public services (as I’ve written about previously).

There are many question marks around the way figures are reported and potential gaming that takes place in order for universities to increase their performance. Issues like, for example, whether those universities that score well in research are doing so at the expense of their teaching and learning – and do research active staff also engage in teaching or is this primarily delivered by lowly paid staff on causal contracts or PhD students?

Another challenge is the way in which all institutions are compared on the same metrics and in the same table. It is rather like having Partick Thistle and Real Madrid in the same league and expecting them to be equally competitive. Consider, for example, that the University of Edinburgh was founded in 1583, has 6,422 academic staff, 6,458 non-academic staff, endowments of £14.4m  in 2008-09 and total income of £592m (see the Facts and Figure 2016). QMU gained full university status in 2007 (having been first established in 1875 – almost 300 years later than UoE), has a total of 251 academic staff (including researchers) and total income of £38m in 2014-15 (which is actually about half of what Cambridge University received in endowments alone in the same year) (more Facts and Figures 2016). So in terms of headcount alone University of Edinburgh has 26 times the resources that we have at QMU and yet we are expected to compete against the same metrics. To extend the football analogy it’s like playing a team of 286 players against a standard team of 11 players. In this context it might seem that university league tables are truly absurd and best ignored.

Alternatively we could consider the extent to which any one university moves in the rankings year on year. Recently QMU went down on The Guardian league table from 76th to 101st place (see the full table here). But does that mean we have got so much worse over the last twelve months? Again rather than looking at the league table as a whole it might be helpful to compare our closest competitors: Edinburgh Napier (down from 64th to 70th), Glasgow Caledonian (down from 89th to 99th) and Abertay University (up from 93rd to 85th). What this shows is that institutions do tend to move quite a lot year on year. It would seem that very small changes in some of the metrics can result in a very large shift in the league table position. So again, league tables don’t say very much.

Of course, if universities were compared on a per capita basis some of the stats might appear very different. One might ask what on earth do larger, more established universities do with £1bn of expenditure a year or with 26 times the number of staff of smaller institutions. I would argue that QMU generates a lot of benefit with a very small percentage of the income that more established universities enjoy every year. Actually, I think that we are an excellent university. I know that we punch well above our weight and that our staff are incredibly committed to the student experience. I know that we have improved significantly over the seven years that I have worked there. I know there are still things that could improve – but I know that everyone is committed to making that improvement happen.

As just one example of our commitment to the student experience our our recent staff away day focused entirely on our undergraduate provision – and three students were invited to join us for part of the day to discuss their experience. I’ve never known that to happen at any other academic staff away day. And the one common thread across the entire day was how can we improve the student experience and the employability of our graduates. Everyone believes it and everyone is committed to it.

If you want a great experience as a student I can’t promise that you’ll get it at QMU – but what I can promise is that we’ll do everything we can to make it a great experience. What’s more, I know that if you don’t have a positive experience we will ask for your feedback, we will listen AND we will take action.

But here’s the thing; if a student has a negative experience at university, or perhaps doesn’t get the degree they wanted to get, who is ultimately to blame? I actually think it’s misleading to consider the success of a university as being solely down to the performance of the staff. Actually, much of our ‘success’ as measured by league tables, is not within our control. A university is as much a collection of students as it is a group of academics, academic-related and other professional and support services staff. In this sense the analogy with football is clearly completely preposterous – with football the success is down the players on the pitch; with universities the success is as much down to the fans on the stands (the students) as it is down to the players on the pitch. And while it may be easy for football clubs to buy new players during the transfer season what can a university do if the students do not engage in the learning activities in the way that they should? Of course we can encourage students and create learning activities that students want to engage with. But failing that all we can do is award those students lower grades – which then affects our league table position.

So please tell me, what can Partick Thistle do to compete with Real Madrid. And what can WE do to compete with Cambridge?

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Leading Change in Public Services – Abstracts

In advance of the research colloquium on Friday 13 May I thought I would share the abstracts from our speakers. Further information on the event can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leading-change-in-public-services-tickets-24921644309

 

Dr Rory Shand and Frank Carr, “Plus ca Reform: Rapid change and rapid decay in Public Sector Management“.

Dr Bobby Mackie, “Talent Management in Scotland’s Public Services: Implications for Leadership Development“.

Dr Ian C Elliott, Helen Dawson & Prof Paul Joyce, “Leading Change in Public Services Through Redesigning Public Governance Institutions: The Role of Leadership“.

Prof Paul Cairney, “The Scottish Approach to Policy Making and Implications for Public Service Delivery“.

Peter Murphy, “A progress report on proposals for greater collaboration between the blue light emergency services and the involvement of Police and Crime Commissioners in the governance of Fire and Rescue Services in England“.

Prof Jari Stenvall, Dr Tony Kinder, Dr Ilpo Laitinen, & Dr Päivikki Kuoppakangas, “Dilemmas and unlearning – the case of big data“.

Prof William Webster, Prof Douglas Robertson & Charles Leleux, “SmartGov’ Smart Governance of Sustainable Cities: Citizen Engagement, ICTs and Sustainable Urban Development in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Brazil“.

Dr David McGuire, “Sexual Orientation in the Public Sector: Issues of Inclusion and Identity in the Workplace“.

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Leading Change is Full of Nonsense

There is nothing constant except change

Be the change you want to see in the world

Take a look at yourself and make the change

So much of leading change is full of management-speak, lazy slogans and corporate bull$¬!£. As if an oxymoron is the most effective use of the English language to sum up an entire field of study.

This is why I was keen to have Steve Toft speak at our colloquium on Leading Change in Public Services. Steve writes the very influential blog FlipChartFairyTales which has as it’s strapline “Business Bullshit, Corporate Crap and other stuff from the World of Work”. I’m also delighted that Dave Watson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland, will be speaking at our colloquium (his blog is here). Both are not shy when it comes to asking tough questions and both are adept in their use of evidence to support their analysis.

These two ‘industry-based’ speakers will be joined by a number of academic researchers who will be presenting their latest research on issues related to the topic of change in public services.

This critical academic debate is really needed. Sadly, I feel at times that analysis and evidence-based analysis are lacking when it comes to the subject of leading change. Just browse the titles of the many self-help management books that grace the shelves of every bland airport bookshop around the world. It would seem at times that there’s an entire industry of consultants and pracademics churning out clichés designed to inform ‘better’ management and self-actualisation. The titles could almost write themselves: 10 Easy Steps to Success; Think Positive; A Short Guide to Successful Change; How to Influence Change in 10 Seconds. If only it were that simple (NB: I made those titles up for illustrative purposes. Apologies to anyone who’s actually written a book with one of those titles).

The trouble is that organisational change requires people change. And people are complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered, cultural beings. So any organisational change will as a result also be complex, emotional, unpredictable, political, gendered and cultural. Unless we recognise that we are likely to fail – is it any wonder that, according to John Kotter, more than 70% of change efforts fail?

Add to that mix the nature of public services (see here and here). What do I mean? Well, public services are often inherently complex and targeted at some of the most vulnerable groups in society. So there is a great risk, sometimes life-threatening, if things go wrong. Also, it’s public money so everyone has an opinion, everyone has a stake, and everyone is just waiting for something to go wrong. And of course Politicians also have an important role to play in our public services. Yet even in the more robust academic texts on leading change the distinctive nature of public service change tends to be overlooked.

It appears that anyone wanting to offer advice is best served by offering a simple model with an equally simplistic, yet catchy, acronym. This, it would seem, is what sells. Not complexity, not more questions, and certainly not theory (as we know academics don’t exist in the real world).

That’s not to say that there are excellent books out there on the subject of leading change in public services – there are actually quite a few (which I won’t list here for fear of forgetting someone). Equally the ‘generic’ organisational change texts are of course hugely valuable – to anyone. But I think there is still an important place for continued critical debate around leading change in public services. This is why I have organised this one day research colloquium: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/leading-change-in-public-services-tickets-24921644309

 

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