No contact

September 21, 2010

Purely by chance, when checking a reference in my dissertation, I thought I’d look up what was happening with the Contact Council, one of a number of committees set up by the Cabinet Office during the previous regime. However, what I did find was that it is no more. It has been disbanded.

It was revealed in the 2009 Channel Strategy Guidance that its aim was to build a “comprehensive channels performance data ‘dashboard’ to aid departments and other public sector organizations to create and implement effective channel strategies”.

I presume another budget-saving cut. However, in the absence of NI14 and the Audit Commission, what would be the point of it remaining? It did come out with some good practice, some time after those practices had been promoted here and elsewhere but I’m not sure that without some drive from higher up the Whitehall food-chain it would have embedded that across government.

We could still do with a champion of service delivery good practice. Any volunteers?

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Adios CAA

June 2, 2010

Anybody reflecting upon the demise of the like of the Comprehensive Area Agreement (CAA) or some of those quantitative metrics instituted by the Audit Commission would do well to read a paper from the Canadian journal Studies in Political Economy by Donna Baines (Volume 77, Spring 2006).

The paper is one of many attacks I’ve read in the last few years on New Public Management, which despite it now being seriously derided by the academic class who once supported it, is still part of the toolkit of those managers trained in its halcyon days, who tend to be senior managers in 2010!

With the paper’s focus on social services, its more than relevant in the current climate of attacks upon the performance of public employees in the caring professions. I would like to repeat some key words from the end of the conclusion on p.207/8:

“Instead of saving costs, increasing accountability, or enhancing performance, the introduction of NPM and other quantitatively oriented performance management schemes meets ideological goals. They make it clear that public and non-profit services are no longer operating on non-market logics of social caring or meeting human needs. Instead, social services are run on narrow, market-compatible management schemes, even if those schemes contradict the ostensible market goals of efficiency and productivity.”

I hope the new government in its challenge to the target culture and command & control behaviour of the Audit Commission takes heed from Canada, where they are obviously learning lessons.


London calling! Revisiting NI14…

November 3, 2008

I travelled to an event today (3rd November 2008) hosted near the Tower of London all about National Indicator 14 for some further discussion of it. On the journey I was reviewing the literature about gaps and concluded that life was to short to cope with detailed gap analysis, so I’m hypothesising that citizen engagement feedback can be used to handle them, but hopefully that will all come out at the EiP conference in a week’s time!

Rather than a verbatim report, thought I’d pick up on the highlights or useful points that came out at the conference…

One of the introductions was by Sarah Fogden, reported to be inventor of NI14 and arch-nemesis of John Seddon, originator of the concept of demand failure, which Sarah highlighted by stating that she didn’t mind what the indicator was called but one was needed to satisfy the process-driven people at Whitehall, when I’d always thought they were target-driven and thought that all our problems would be solved if they were lead by process or system! She also tied the words ‘holistic’ and ‘transformation’ together – I wonder what Jan Smuts the South African statesman would think were he still around eighty years on? (Smuts’ definition – “The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution”.

She did say to focus upon the key priorities of the organisation, use the CRM system to assist; that there is no right way to do it and that the overall figure for NI14 is meaningless…

Tom Wraith of the Audit Commission had little new to say but was still interesting when he stated that NI14 was:

  • the most frequently queried indicator
  • unlike most indicators
  • had far less prescription
  • moved on from BV157
  • a tool for self-improvement
  • AC won’t be directly comparing but they had a duty to make it public
  • what’s included is up to you!
  • The CLG edict that there was a need to ‘justify methodology’ was a little harsher than AC would have desired
  • It would be used as part of the conversation/dialogue with authorities about managing resources
  • Needed to be triangulated with the evidence

He was asked by Tony Hinkley who has been working for ESD-Toolkit on NI14 whether it was their intention to make it compulsory to use the Local Government Service List (LGSL) which I believe he confirmed?

Kate Batty from Tameside said that NI14 was not the whole answer but that ESD-Toolkit, Mosaic, customer journey mapping and customer service training were all part. Here words were that the order should be: people, process, then technology! One her snappy phrases was ‘lets stop worrying about measuring apples and pears and measure fruit’, which in NI14’s case was highly appropriate…

A fascinating presentation was made by Tom Benford upon the ‘call reduction strategy’ used at the DVLR. He stated that 60% of their customer wanted to use the ‘phone for service, despite frequently having got the number off the web site! In order to reduce avoidable contact and the number of telephone calls they’d looked at the end-to-end customer experience and the process times. As a result they’d made a number of changes:

  • revised the direct.gov content
  • put their the actual questions being asked on the web
  • made their URL’s friendly
  • put a link from the online directory enquiries to the web site
  • adopted plain English
  • redesigned customer-facing documents especially the highly used ones
  • cross-referenced material with online content
  • moved away from using form numbers
  • agreed customer-meaningful turnaround times for metrics
  • revised telephone book entries – put web site address first but also numbers which may not be their services but which the public think they do

One question revealed that despite not being NI14, the resultant transformation was possibly more effective than NI14

It was also stated that no local authority had included NI14 within their quota of targets for LAA…

NI14 had shifted to being outcome focused

Blackpool had realised that their ‘Customer First’ wasn’t working so they listened to customer demand for six weeks, wrote everything down and from this extracted 4000 demands, 121 of true value under seven  broad themes. With their turnover of residents they found change of address to be the most frequent demand and focused upon that initially. Their motto was “in a perfect world, how would we serve the customer?”

A lesson from Halton to their staff when training was: “to think of it from the customer’s view!”

I hope the Cabinet Office don’t mind me publicising the fact that the presentations should be available on their web site.


History repeating itself…

April 24, 2008

As well as preparing the dissertation and doing the research, a researcher is expected to contribute a few academic papers and attend conferences. I’ve had a paper accepted for ETHICOMP 2008 in Italy in September which is a summary of the early work I’ve done, here’s the abstract.

All I need to do now is to get someone to pay the expenses for me to go…

It’s been a busy week, this one. Tuesday I had a day off everything to take the Phythian youth up Whernside (biggest ‘ill in Yorkshire) probably more alarming was the fact that in November 2006 I was hospitalised with level 4 heart failure following severe ideopathic dilated cardimyopathy – just proves the wonders of modern science. Not long ago I’d have been in the queue for a new heart or dead! Wednesday, very brave considering Tuesday, I’d got John Seddon locally promoting his new book and a very interesting and forthright one he did too. As one local councillor put it – “good salesman”. I think John sold a few books, too or at least I hope he did!

One of my colleagues brought an elderly (ex libris) volume with him and asked John if he’d read it. I didn’t catch the answer but borrowed it for a quick read, it was entitled “How organisations measure success: the use of performance indicators in government” published in 1992 and written by Carter, Klein and Day.  Voltaire once quoted Marie-Antoinette as saying “There’s no such thing as a new hat”, in other words, nothing new under the sun. This book and the arguments around NI14 etc just emphasise this, to quote from the penultimate paragraph: “Performance indicators have been seen as technical instruments at best and propaganda at worst, and in any case incomprehensible or misleading. There has been no real attempt to use them as instruments of parliamentary accountability: to ask the questions of how the performance of government should be measured and what indicators are needed. Yet this, surely, is what parliamentary accountability is all about – in theory, at least.”

The book has a number of juicy sentences just like that. I’ll have to look at that Audit Commission anniversary volume to see if they’ve quoted any.