8 years, 6 months ago

How to make change happen in government

Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s one-time policy adviser currently on mid-term sabbatical in California, has given Stanford students some frank insights into the workings of Government.

  • The Prime Minister sometimes opposes the measures his own ministers put forward. He often finds out about these policies from the radio or newspapers.
  • Only 30 per cent of what the government is doing is actually delivering what we are supposed to be doing.
  • It’s a brilliant system for paper-shuffling people to be in control.  The bureaucracy masters the politicians.

I just wanted to make a few comments about collective intelligence and the role of the policy adviser.

Some Prime Ministers and Presidents have had an extraordinary ability to get through large quantities of paperwork and master the critical points. Cameron has many strengths as a leader, but this doesn’t seem to be one of them. As a consequence of this, he is effectively leaving journalists to perform a filtering function – thus he pays attention to an issue only when it is drawn to his attention by the media, and of course, this delayed attention may cause some irritation or embarrassment sometimes. Perhaps a more diligent policy adviser should have picked up some of these issues earlier?

In the system we may infer from Hilton’s description, journalists are not only performing a filtering function but also a sensemaking function. There is clearly a difference between the way a policy looks in some bundle of government papers and how it looks when it appears in the media. Again, we might have expected a diligent policy adviser to have anticipated how policies would appear to the public.

But it seems that the politicians and their advisers don’t control the volume of paperwork they are given to wade through. In his seminar, Hilton dramatically produced a pile of paper one foot high (representing four days committee output), prompting gasps from students. “The idea that a couple of political advisers read through all this and spot things that are bad, things that are contradictory, is just inconceivable”, pleads Hilton.

Of course it is, say members of the previous government including Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former political press secretary. Which is why the previous government had a greater number of political advisers, and a coordination process (known as the “grid”) allocating a manageable number of pages to each. McBride acknowledges that the grid sometimes resulted in leaks to journalists, and suggests that Hilton may have downgraded the grid in order to reduce these leaks, but argues that the grid was a key mechanism for effective government and that the problems Hilton complains about are an inevitable consequence of abandoning this mechanism.

It may also be a consequence of regarding the civil service as a malignant force, trying to pull the wool over the politicians’ eyes. (This was a great theme in the original “Yes Minister” series, but has turned into a tired joke in the 2013 series.) Edward Pearce stands up for the independence of the civil service, and complains that it is Hilton who is unrepresentative and unelected.

When Hilton talks about “delivering what we are supposed to be doing”, this presumably refers to some kind of top-down strategic plan, formulated before the election and presented in the manifesto. But this raises some important questions about the relationship between strategy and execution, and the possibility for strategies to emerge and evolve during execution.

Which in turn raises some questions about government as a learning system. Recent governments (including Blair’s New Labour) have had a focus on delivery, which emphasizes single-loop learning – getting better at achieving a fixed set of goals. However, this has to be balanced against double-loop learning – changing the goals to fit changing circumstances.

In an earlier analysis of New Labour and Delivery, two MORI analysts argued that delivery and achievement was at least partially subjective and rhetorical.

  • “Delivery” is not keeping your promises, it is convincing the public that you have kept your promises.
  • What matters is not what you promise, but what the public understands by those promises, and what expectations they arouse.

Hilton clearly agrees about the importance of external communication. He encourages his students to think about how policies can be “branded”, and suggests that policies often fail not because they weren’t very good policies in the first place but because they are poorly presented. That might be true, but it is also a common excuse: politicians genererally find it easier to admit to errors in presentation than to errors in policy.

Which part of this ecosytem has the longest memory?  Presumably the civil servants. And which part has the shortest memory? With some honourable exceptions, probably the media. According to one theory of change, when there are several subsystems operating on different timescales, it is the slowest system that controls the whole. And the Purpose Of the System Is What It Does.


Roger Mortimore and Mark Gill, New Labour and Delivery (IPSOS MORI May 2004)

PM’s aide exposes No 10’s lack of control (Sunday Times, 13 January 2013) (subscription)

John Harlow and Eric Kiefer, Shoes off, feet up, the dude lifts lid on No 10 (Sunday Times, 13 January 2013)

Patrick Hennessy, David Cameron finds out about policies from the newspapers, reveals Steve Hilton (The Telegraph 13 January 2013)

Damien McBride, Whither the Grid? (13 January 2013) Why did the Grid Wither? (14 January 2013)

Edward Pearce, The Unelected (LRB 25 January 2013)

James Tapsfield, Prime Minister often finds out about policies from the radio or newspapers, says former advisor Hilton (The Independent 13 January 2013)

Richard Veryard (ed), Fragile Strategy or Fragile Execution (Storify, December 2012)

Nicholas Watt, David Cameron’s ex-policy guru Steve Hilton criticised over policy remarks (Guardian, 13 January 2013)

updated 25 January 2013

8 years, 6 months ago

How to make change happen in government

Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s one-time policy adviser currently on mid-term sabbatical in California, has given Stanford students some frank insights into the workings of Government.

  • The Prime Minister sometimes opposes the measures his own ministers put forward. He often finds out about these policies from the radio or newspapers.
  • Only 30 per cent of what the government is doing is actually delivering what we are supposed to be doing.
  • It’s a brilliant system for paper-shuffling people to be in control.  The bureaucracy masters the politicians.

I just wanted to make a few comments about collective intelligence and the role of the policy adviser.

Some Prime Ministers and Presidents have had an extraordinary ability to get through large quantities of paperwork and master the critical points. Cameron has many strengths as a leader, but this doesn’t seem to be one of them. As a consequence of this, he is effectively leaving journalists to perform a filtering function – thus he pays attention to an issue only when it is drawn to his attention by the media, and of course, this delayed attention may cause some irritation or embarrassment sometimes. Perhaps a more diligent policy adviser should have picked up some of these issues earlier?

In the system we may infer from Hilton’s description, journalists are not only performing a filtering function but also a sensemaking function. There is clearly a difference between the way a policy looks in some bundle of government papers and how it looks when it appears in the media. Again, we might have expected a diligent policy adviser to have anticipated how policies would appear to the public.

But it seems that the politicians and their advisers don’t control the volume of paperwork they are given to wade through. In his seminar, Hilton dramatically produced a pile of paper one foot high (representing four days committee output), prompting gasps from students. “The idea that a couple of political advisers read through all this and spot things that are bad, things that are contradictory, is just inconceivable”, pleads Hilton.

Of course it is, say members of the previous government including Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former political press secretary. Which is why the previous government had a greater number of political advisers, and a coordination process (known as the “grid”) allocating a manageable number of pages to each. McBride acknowledges that the grid sometimes resulted in leaks to journalists, and suggests that Hilton may have downgraded the grid in order to reduce these leaks, but argues that the grid was a key mechanism for effective government and that the problems Hilton complains about are an inevitable consequence of abandoning this mechanism.

It may also be a consequence of regarding the civil service as a malignant force, trying to pull the wool over the politicians’ eyes. (This was a great theme in the original “Yes Minister” series, but has turned into a tired joke in the 2013 series.) Edward Pearce stands up for the independence of the civil service, and complains that it is Hilton who is unrepresentative and unelected.

When Hilton talks about “delivering what we are supposed to be doing”, this presumably refers to some kind of top-down strategic plan, formulated before the election and presented in the manifesto. But this raises some important questions about the relationship between strategy and execution, and the possibility for strategies to emerge and evolve during execution.

Which in turn raises some questions about government as a learning system. Recent governments (including Blair’s New Labour) have had a focus on delivery, which emphasizes single-loop learning – getting better at achieving a fixed set of goals. However, this has to be balanced against double-loop learning – changing the goals to fit changing circumstances.

In an earlier analysis of New Labour and Delivery, two MORI analysts argued that delivery and achievement was at least partially subjective and rhetorical.

  • “Delivery” is not keeping your promises, it is convincing the public that you have kept your promises.
  • What matters is not what you promise, but what the public understands by those promises, and what expectations they arouse.

Hilton clearly agrees about the importance of external communication. He encourages his students to think about how policies can be “branded”, and suggests that policies often fail not because they weren’t very good policies in the first place but because they are poorly presented. That might be true, but it is also a common excuse: politicians genererally find it easier to admit to errors in presentation than to errors in policy.

Which part of this ecosytem has the longest memory?  Presumably the civil servants. And which part has the shortest memory? With some honourable exceptions, probably the media. According to one theory of change, when there are several subsystems operating on different timescales, it is the slowest system that controls the whole. And the Purpose Of the System Is What It Does.


Roger Mortimore and Mark Gill, New Labour and Delivery (IPSOS MORI May 2004)

PM’s aide exposes No 10’s lack of control (Sunday Times, 13 January 2013) (subscription)

John Harlow and Eric Kiefer, Shoes off, feet up, the dude lifts lid on No 10 (Sunday Times, 13 January 2013)

Patrick Hennessy, David Cameron finds out about policies from the newspapers, reveals Steve Hilton (The Telegraph 13 January 2013)

Damien McBride, Whither the Grid? (13 January 2013) Why did the Grid Wither? (14 January 2013)

Edward Pearce, The Unelected (LRB 25 January 2013)

James Tapsfield, Prime Minister often finds out about policies from the radio or newspapers, says former advisor Hilton (The Independent 13 January 2013)

Richard Veryard (ed), Fragile Strategy or Fragile Execution (Storify, December 2012)

Nicholas Watt, David Cameron’s ex-policy guru Steve Hilton criticised over policy remarks (Guardian, 13 January 2013)

updated 25 January 2013

8 years, 9 months ago

Delusion and Diversity

@VenessaMiemis asks “If most people are self delusional, what’s the point of qualitative research?” @CoCreatr retorts “What if we are all self-delusional and need proof by qualitative research to become more accepting of it?”Of course organizations are…

8 years, 11 months ago

Using Cobit 5 Part 3 – The Policy Hierarchy

Many companies do not do governance well. A primary reason for this is a focus on governance “process” at the expense of policies. And, where policies are established, it is common to observe a surfeit of bad, inconsistent policies that are overlapping and generally ignored. As a result much governance is carried out by opinion; and governance decisions are not easily repeatable.

The Cobit 5 framework provides reference models for process and goals but, other than providing very general guidance, stops short of any detail at all relating to principles and policy. However in fairness Cobit 5 does recommend “a (hierarchical) structure into which all policies should fit and clearly make the link to the underlying principles”.

So what does a policy hierarchy look like? Does each organization need to invent its own unique structure and content?  Actually we need more than just a policy hierarchy, we need a model that helps us establish a consistent approach to policy search and description. And whilst every organization will have unique needs, much of the hierarchy and policy content will be reusable. What will usually be highly customized are the contexts and their relationships with policy assertions.
 
In the diagram:
policy type – classifies the policy. It can be hierarchic.
policy subject – identifies the focus of the policy the class of object being governed.
policy – a strategy or directive defined independently from how it is carried out
policy assertion  – is an atomic policy requirement, expressed as a statement that must be true or false
policy context  – an entity that limits the reach of a Policy.
policy effect – an intended and/or an actual outcome of a Business Policy. This can be the Principle(s), Goal(s) or Outcome(s), which of course map neatly to Cobit 5.
Let’s look at an example:

Meta Class Example
Policy TypeArchitecture        
Policy SubjectApplication Architecture
PolicyInterfacing
Policy AssertionAll new Application Interfaces must be loose coupled.
Policy ContextGlobal applicability
Policy EffectPrinciple: Interoperable; IT Goal: Agility

Now to put this more broadly into the Cobit 5 context, here’s a fragment of a policy hierarchy, mapped to Policy Subect and Cobit 5 IT Goals.

The policy hierarchy shown above is not rocket science. However it facilitates consistency and communication to all the various stakeholders. You could at a stretch manage policies in a spreadsheet, but in practice it would be advisable to use something like Sharepoint or an equivalent, that allows you to manage the life cycle, status and so on. In a further elaborations of this little series of blog posts I will explore policy relationships with guidance and standards, policy assertion and context development plus the broader policy management model.

Reference: 
Using Cobit 5 – Part 1: Principles
Using Cobit 5 – Part 2: Policy Nomenclature

Next Step: Talk to David about how to apply effective, policy based governance.  

9 years ago

Using Cobit 5 – Part 2: Policy Nomenclature

As discussed in Part 1, for me the primary value in Cobit 5 is the formalization of policy as a concept that has a life cycle and management process. In CBDI-SAE we have focused very strongly on defining the policy hierarchy and instances as the mechanism by which consistency is delivered and governed. Consequently over the years I have been critical of Cobit 4.1 because it was essentially promoting process based governance – if you are executing this process, with some nodding in the direction of general outcomes, then everything’s OK.

So I am very pleased to see policy introduced in a more coherent manner in Cobit 5. The 4.1 definition of policy was: “Generally, a document that records a high-level principle or course of action that has been decided upon. A policy’s intended purpose is to influence and guide both present and future decision making to be in line with the philosophy, objectives and strategic plans established by the enterprise’s management teams.”

In Cobit 5 the definition changes to: “Overall intention and direction as formally expressed by management.” This is better, but still not quite there. Contrast it with the CBDI-SAE definition: “A strategy or directive defined independently from how it is carried out.” I could ask what does management mean? If it was really necessary to include, then a reference to Governance Board, Design Authority or equivalent might have been helpful.

However, minor irritations aside, what Cobit 5 does is lay down a clear requirement for policy “to be part of an overall governance and management framework providing a (hierarchical) structure into which all policies should fit and clearly make the link to the underlying principles”. Further Cobit 5 separates Policy from Principle – a very important step. Also very sensibly Cobit 5 does not attempt to define policy instances, nor indeed the hierarchy and this allows specialists (such as ourselves) to map and or align our pre-existing hierarchy to the Cobit framework. I will return to and expand upon the hierarchy in the next part of this series. But first I want to consider policy nomenclature and structure in a little more depth.

Cobit 5 says “Policies provide more detailed guidance on how to put principles into practice . . .” This is potentially misleading. Yes policies are practical strategies and directives that support and realize principles, but to suggest they must be detailed is incorrect. Good policies should be formed as assertions that are true or false and should not be detailed with “how” they are achieved. The best policies are those that are mandatory – providing unequivocal direction to architects and service delivery teams. The detail is best left to Guidelines – or recommendations that indicate use of patterns and practices.

This simple error in Cobit 5 is actually a fundamental flaw that I would like to see fixed. Time and time again I come across confusion over the nomenclature being used by our clients to support governance. Confusion in this area leads to poor  implementation and inconsistent governance. The terms policy, standard and guideline are very commonly used, but frequently mean very different things.

In this context, the good news is Cobit 5 has at least defined policy as the overall intention and direction. I will certainly be using this to advise my clients to standardize on this terminology. Guidelines should then be regarded as practice recommendations. These are not policies with a lower level of mandatory status. At some stage they may evolve to become policies, but not necessarily.

Standards are perhaps a little easier. The CBDI-SAE definition is “A collection of rules or practices which are relevant in Service Architecture or Engineering.” And for good measure the meta type Protocol is a subtype of Standard. Standards therefore are clearly defining the mandatory requirement to comply with specific protocols and practices in given contexts.

To summarize, Cobit 5 is a major step forward. It encourages a policy framework and nomenclature standardization on “policy” for the major directives and strategy assertions and doesn’t preclude complementary Guidelines and Standards under a common management process. In addition Cobit 5 provides the outline framework for development of a policy hierarchy and policy instances, which I will cover in some detail in the next part of this series of blogs.

References: Using Cobit 5 – Part 1 – Principles
                   Using Cobit 5 – Part 3 – The Policy Hierarchy