Is Cold Turkey the Answer?
Derren Brown once did a TV show where he got a poor young girl to electrocute a kitten in a box, just by telling her not to do it. Well, I say electrocute, of course it wasn’t real but she wasn’t to know this. All he did was strip back a few layers of personality from her and tell her not to press the button or the kitten would fry.
Well, recently I saw this in action local government style. I was sat in a meeting with people from all over London, listening to a presentation from DCLG on the Big Society. It was a very interesting talk, and showed a few glimpses of what the future may or may not hold for us over the next 18 months or so.
After listening for a bit we got to the questions and answers stage, which is where things got amusing. One of my colleagues asked about targets for the Big Society; how will we know if it is a success. They wanted to know what numbers they should be hitting, how the measurements should be done and what indicators might flag a successful or failing authority.
The response she received was simple: there will be no targets. No indicators, no percentage increases, no RAG reports – nothing. The only measure or not as to whether it succeeds will be whether the current government gets re-elected next time around.
This confused not just them but the rest of the room as well. Having worked for so long where they were measured to within an inch of their lives (excuse the pun) it had become the norm to do so. It had also become the bane of many people’s existence, with many colleagues spending more time moaning about being measured on their performance than actually performing.
However, as soon as they were told to stop measuring and start doing things they seemed not to know what to do. This sudden and total change in styles should theoretically free them to do wonderful things, but instead seems to be taking away a perceived safety net and exposing them to Cameron-knows what.
Many of them spent time after the meeting discussing what evidence they would collect anyway and what sorts of things they might start measuring, rather than the interesting or useful projects they were actually doing or planning.
Perhaps cold turkey wasn’t the answer here – maybe local government might have taken it better if they had been weaned slowly off targets and measurement rather than being cut entirely. I might just look into some methadone measurements, just to stop people around me getting too jittery.