Take me to your (normative) leader

November 23, 2012 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Uncategorized 

I am grateful – not for the first time – to Keith Grint for alerting me to a distinction made by Amitai Etzioni in 1964 in his book ‘Modern Organisations’:

Etzioni distinguished between Coercive, Calculative and Normative Compliance. Coercive or physical power was related to total institutions, such as prisons or armies; Calculative Compliance was related to ‘rational’ institutions, such as companies; and Normative Compliance was related to institutions or organizations based on shared values, such as clubs and professional societies. This compliance typology fits well with the typology of problems: Critical Problems are often associated with Coercive Compliance; Tame Problems are associated with Calculative Compliance and Wicked Problems are associated with Normative Compliance. 

As regular readers of this blog (lovely to see you the other night, mum) will know, I think that more and more policy problems are ‘wicked’ by which I mean they are complex, intractable in the sense that they can be managed but probably not solved, contested both in terms of diagnosis and prescription, and – crucially – solutions involve changes not just in policy and processes but changes in social expectations, norms and behaviours.  The latter point links wickedness to the ‘social aspiration gap’ (which I have argued separates our collective hopes for the future from the trajectory upon which current modes of thought and action set us) and to ‘social productivity’ the idea at the heart of our 2020 Public Services Commission report that public services should be judged by their capacity to help people meet their own needs.

I have decided to try to delve deeper into this question of normative leadership; why do we need it, what exactly is it, what are the best examples of it in practice, what are the factors which build it and inhibit it?

Last week, following a tip-off from Caroline Haynes at KPMG, I gave the example of transformative normative leadership provided by the fat-busting Mayor of Oklahoma – if you didn’t follow this link you really should, it’s a great story. My thinking is at an early stage but the working definition of successful normative leadership is ‘the achievement by those in authority of enduring and benign change in social norms, which may involve, but does not primary rely upon, regulatory compulsion or financial inducement’.

Keith Grint differentiates this type of leadership through three dichotomies: questions not answers, relationships not structures, reflection not reaction. This is a good starting point but I want to suggest other dimensions such as a focus on substantive mission not procedural means, a willingness to accept the risk of public failure, leadership y through exemplary action not mere exhortation.

My weekend request to readers is for more examples of normative leadership. It need not be mayors, or even politicians. It could be a head teacher, a social entrepreneur or a community organiser. But it is someone who successfully took it upon themselves to persuade people voluntarily to change their habits for the good of society.

This is the leadership we need right now. It is not the kind being offered by conventional leaders but rather than blame them, I am looking through this project to inspire them to believe it is worth trying to be braver and more ambitious.

And as it’s Friday, here is an old joke from the Soviet era to exemplify the failure of normative leadership:

Worried about the stirrings of revolt in the Gdansk shipyards, Soviet Premier Andropov takes Polish Premier General Jaruzelski on a walk in Moscow. He stops a young boy and asks:

‘Tell me, young comrade, who is your mother?

‘My mother is this great Communist nation, mother to all Soviet children’ replied the boy.

‘And who is your father?’ asks Andropov.

‘Why, that is Comrade Andropov the elder and father to the nation’.

‘And’ says Andropov ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’

‘My ambition is to be a cosmonaut’ says the boy.

‘You see’ says Andropov to a chastened Jaruzelski, ‘this is the ideological rigour you must instil’.

Back in Poland,  Jaruzelski goes on a great propaganda drive in school, on the media and through every organ of the Party.

A few months later comes the return visit and the two leaders are out walking in Warsaw.  General Jaruzelski stops a child.

‘Tell me, young comrade, who is your mother?’

‘My mother’ replied the boy ‘is the Communist state, mother to all Polish youth.’

‘And tell me,’ says Jaruzelski ‘who is your father?’

‘Why my father is General Jaruzelski,  father to all Poland’.

‘And finally’, says Jaruzelski, turning to Andropov with a complacent smile ‘what would you like to be when you grow up?’

‘Oh’ says the boy ‘that’s easy – an orphan’.


Co-production, what’s that?

July 14, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Public policy 

Think tanks tend to over-claim influence in high places. But sometimes you just have to admit no one in Whitehall is listening. So it is with this week’s Coalition White Paper on public service reform and the RSA 2020 Commission on the future of Public Services.

At the heart of the analysis of the 2020 Commission was the idea of social productivity: public services should be judged on their ability to enable people to meet their own needs individually and collectively. In essence, this means redefining the production mode of public services so that value (social outcome) is seen as the result of a process of co-production rather than one of delivery to consumers.

This idea features centrally in the core recommendations of the recent Christie Commission on public services which reported to the Scottish Executive.

Here are Christie’s top recommendations:

  • Recognising that effective services must be designed with and for people and communities – not delivered ‘top down’ for administrative convenience
  • Maximising scarce resources by utilising all available resources from the public, private and third sectors, individuals, groups and communities
  • Working closely with individuals and communities to understand their needs, maximise talents and resources, support self-reliance, and build resilience
  • Concentrating the efforts of all services on delivering integrated services that deliver results
  • Prioritising preventative measures to reduce demand and lessen inequalities

Coalition Ministers might argue that there is nothing here which contradicts the thrust of the White Paper but that would be disingenuous.

Christie (and the 2020 Commission) emphasise two things which get pretty short shrift in the White Paper. The first is the idea of better service integration. The White Paper gives some nods in this direction including a brief mention of community level commissioning. Also, the allocation of new responsibilities to local government such as public health and, possibly, skills might help join-up some areas of policy, but there is more on the negative side of the ledger.

The Coalition has removed the clunky but well-meaning measures the last Government put in place to encourage better integration, such as Local Area Agreements and local strategic partnerships. Schools are being encouraged to be entirely independent institutions with no encouragement to form links with other local schools let alone other services. There will be new, separate, lines of accountability for police and commissioning for health services. In many places – like Conservative-led Peterborough where the RSA is doing its Citizen Power project – local leaders will continue to work together on collaborative strategies but this will be in spite of, not because of, Government policy.

But more striking even than the limited enthusiasm for integration is the absence of any interest in the idea of co-production. As I said yesterday, the favoured forms of citizen engagement are through consumer choice and citizen control. But the notion that public services and institutions should involve creating shared social value through shared social responsibility is almost entirely absent from the White Paper. Children’s learning should not be something that schools do to pupils but should engage parents, pupils, communities and schools in a jointly designed and delivered endeavour. But such an idea seems completely alien to the current Education Department. This kind or re-imagining is also of no apparent interest to other major policy departments.

This speaks to one of the core weaknesses of the Big Society (which is still, I believe, an important concept): it largely relies on citizens spontaneously choosing to step forward (or doing this because they feel let down) rather than exploring how the services people use day to day could be redesigned to put user and citizen engagement at their heart. Perhaps it is not surprising then that the Big Society does not receive a single mention in the White Paper (apart from a reference to the Big Society Bank).

I can see how the White Paper aims to shift power from the centre to the citizen and the community. And it many areas – such as greater citizen access to information – the Government really is opening up services. But neither shifting power, nor even sharing information, in itself creates value. And – as today’s report today from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility vividly demonstrates – we face an ever growing gap between public expectations and what the state can provide using existing methods.

If the Big Society concept is to regain credibility or to have any chance of success it needs to involve a fundamental value re-engineering of public services, one which citizens themselves would help to design and implement. Maybe I am being too pessimistic but as far as I can see the White Paper shows no awareness of, let alone enthusiasm for, such an approach.


A wonderful evening – marred by my gender bending

January 25, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: The RSA 

I attended a great event last night jointly hosted by the RSA North East and the School of Design at Northumbria University. There is an exciting vision of a cultural partnership between the two organisations and over 150 Fellows and non Fellows turned up to hear what we had to say.

Apart from the great people and the stunning venue in the University’s still new campus, the best thing about the event was the focus on action. Several members of the design school issued calls to action asking RSA Fellows to support their research or work with students. Then, in return, during networking, several Fellows spoke to the academics describing problems which they thought designers could help solve.

Much of the discussion in the event focussed on service design and particularly on public services. I found myself repeating an argument I made several years ago when helping to set up the ultimately unsuccessful ippr commission on public service productivity: the North East economy is very dependent on public service spending but – given that health, education, crime prevention etc are growing global markets – the region could turn this to its advantage if only its leaders and creatives committed themselves to innovation.

Building from the 2020 Public Services Commission report, I also talked about social productivity and the need for public services which are better able to help individuals and communities meet their own needs as individuals. How can services be designed to tap into the hidden wealth of people’s commitment to improving their lives and places and to looking after themselves and each other. Also, thanks to my former RSA colleague, Laura Billngs, I was able to cite this fantastic example of innovation – making something wonderful happen by giving one group something they need while the givers find fulfilment in giving. ‘We need more people with the commitment and creativity of Professor Mitra’ I exclaimed ‘she shows what the Big Society could mean in action’.

So it was all a great triumph until, that is, someone from Newcastle University approached me as I wolfed down a bowl of dry roasted peanuts. ‘I’m sure Professor Mitra would be delighted that you praised the project’, the lady kindly  said, ‘but ‘she’ might be slightly less enthusiastic that you changed his gender.’ 

I guess this is reverse sexism – believing only a woman could have such a warm and brilliant idea. But as I have an incredibly low embarrassment threshold, I fear this might end up being the strongest memory I have of the whole event!     

PS:  My Animate has passed 400,000 views – if you have watched it thanks. If you haven’t, please help me make half a million by March.


The CSR is a big test for the Big Society

October 19, 2010 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Credit crunch, Politics, Public policy, The RSA 

Today many people – public service workers, users and welfare beneficiaries – will start to learn their fate. Soon after, I suspect, we will find out whether the deficit plan and the fear it is bound to instil in so many people will knock a vulnerable economy back into stagnation.

Fewer people will care, but it will also be a big day for the Big Society. It was widely noted that George Osborne’s June budget statement and supporting documents did not mention David Cameron’s big idea. It is important to its credibility that there is some reference to the idea tomorrow.

On the one hand, there needs to be evidence that the concept has helped shape the decisions being made. I understand there will be a strong localist theme in the statement and plan. The basic deal is that local authorities get less money but more freedom over how they spend it. This is the right strategy and it is credible to link it to a Big Society approach.

On the other hand, advocates of the Big Society need to emphasise its relevance in the context of austerity. The point here is not, as it is often characterised. that communities will be expected to provide voluntarily that which was previously funded (although there will no doubt be some of that). Even if Labour had won the last election and cut less deeply, less quickly there would still have been a gap between social aspirations and what the state could guarantee. Big Society champions have to show how their perspective can help close this gap.

One way of thinking of this is through the liberation of three types of hidden or dormant assets:

At the level of the individual we know that people accept that they should engage more and give more back to society. While three quarters of respondents regularly tell pollsters that local people should have more influence over local decision-making, fewer than a quarter say they are prepared to participate in community activity themselves. The Big Society is about releasing this asset by making it easier, more enjoyable and more powerful for people to engage.

At the level of the community, we know that even deprived neighbourhoods have many human assets. For example, there are often strong social networks but these are hidden from policy makers and service providers, different networks don’t always join up and many people who could join in are isolated (these are all findings from the RSA Connected Communities project in New Cross). The Big Society is about a deeper understanding of community assets and how to foster and mobilise them.     

At the level of organisations a huge amount of benign social potential is wasted. The reasons are many ranging from unclear mission, lack of ambition and an overload of external demands and targets to a failure to engage and innovate or the deadening impact of organisational culture. The Big Society approach challenges organisations in the public, private and voluntary sector to maximise the social multiplier effect of their actions (this is what the RSA 2020 Public Service Commission meant by ‘social productivity’).

In the face of a lot of bad news tomorrow, people who think (for reasons good and bad) the Big Society is vacuous or a scam will have an easy script from which to read. The rest of us, with a more positive inclination, need to sharpen our argument and deepen our evidence that whatever the immediate context our country cannot flourish in the long term unless we get better at mobilising social assets.


One (or maybe two) good things to listen to …

September 16, 2010 by · 11 Comments
Filed under: Uncategorized 

I’m just rushing off to give a talk on the Big Society / public services / the world so just have time for a quick mini-post (I realise, by the way, this implies a deluded belief that thousands of you are waiting at your computers for my latest missive to appear!).

Here are two Radio 4 items that I thought people might enjoy.  The first – and most important – is a recent item from the Today programme and is a fantastic example of what the 2020 Public Services Commission refers to as ‘ social productivity’: the idea that the ultimate measure of public services should be the degree to which people gain greater control over their own lives and become more engaged , resourceful and pro-social.  But forget the theory, just listen – the idea is crystal clear (thanks to Nigel Kippax for pointing me to it).

The second is my own little essay about the 1960s, which went out last night.  I’ve listened to it again and there are a lot of tweaks I would have made if I could do it again, but it would be good to get some more feedback than I’ve had so far.  Both my mum and Barbara have been very nice about it – but then they would be, wouldn’t they …


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