Blog Post

Dave Snowden on the seven errors of government

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 19 June 2009



Dave Snowden on the seven errors of government
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 108
Posted DateFriday 19 June 2009 10:58 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://www.cognitive-edge.com/blogs/dave/2009/05/the_occult_ ... 

I have long heard Dave Snowden at KM conferences and workshops espouse his views on some of the serious mistakes that he feels governments make and I have always agreed. You only have to look at the disastrous consequences that measures have had on the National Health Service in the UK. The government 48-hour target of a few years ago which stated that patients should only have to wait 48 hours for an appointment to see their doctor was a prime example of one that back-fired.

And this is just one of many such targets. You will find another good example here: A&Es 15-minute ambulance target .

Well Dave has recently starteed to document some of these mistakes. Here are his seven errors of governemnt - each one is explained more fully in his blog post.
  1. You get what you measure, so if you set a target humans will achieve the target at all costs, ignoring context or the unstated goals that the outcome based target was attempting to achieve.

  2. Outcome based measurement can make people far too comfortable. It's all to easy to achieve an explicit target, especially if you can turn off an empathy (or at least suppress it).

  3. A mechanical approach is by its nature dehumanising in its effect on people and inhuman in its impact on society.

  4. You waste an awful amount of resource just managing the measurement system.

  5. We try and solve issues with idealistic fail-safe designs rather than allowing systems to evolve.

  6. Re-organisation is a disease and an excuse. It's the knee jerk reaction to any failure that ends up breaking your jaw with the recoil.

  7. Communication is all up and down the chain, ironically this mediates information to senior decision makers so they are immunised from the real data they need, and also from the consequences of their actions.
He also makes the point that this all comes back to one fundamental error, namely we are treating all the processes of government as if they were tasks for engineers rather than a complex problem of co-evolution at multiple levels (individuals, the community, the environment etc.).

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
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