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.

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4 Comments on “Is Cold Turkey the Answer?”

  1. LG Worker Says:

    Is there a question of accountability? Can residents know what we are doing if we don’t show some measurement? Though on the other hand, who would look (see the CAA website failure)?

  2. localgov Says:

    I think them saying that there will be no targets at all is just wishful thinking – people want to measure things so they have better info with which to criticise later on. However, the level and type of monitoring previously encouraged was a bit much, so a happy medium will hopefully evolve over time.

    Interestingly though the DCLG rep seriously believed everything they said, and truly felt that there would be no targets presented at any point. Either that or they were just a very good liar…

  3. localgovaswell Says:

    If politicians and officers are bold the DCLG rep is right… Elections will determine whether the activities have been a success… The problem is that when we are not being bold it is difficult for the population to see what is happening: In turn this makes it difficult to justify what is happening

    The key is to use targets and measures as they are meant to be used: As an internal way of measuring the success or otherwise of a policy, process or activity and as a way of bringing changes as they are needed.

    Then, it is the concept behind the thing that we are doing that has to stand on it’s own two feet and be open to electoral comment.

    This lets the people vote on the decision and not just on who will make the trains run on time and in turn might spur much needed innovation in local government


  4. [...] We once wrote about the fact that DCLG believed that the best way for councils to measure whether or not they were doing a good job was whether their politicians were elected next time around.  The theory obviously went that if things weren’t good enough the public would act with their votes and bring in change.  Doesn’t the same apply here?  If people are that unhappy with some staff not being asked to take massive wage cuts regardless of their performance or that of their services, isn’t it simply a matter of voting in people who will change this? [...]


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