Government is not a business

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Dave Snowden has a typically erudite post on why Government responsibilities can’t be treated in the same way as those of business. I’ve always felt uneasy at the assumption that businessmen especially big businessmen are somehow better able to manage the complexities of delivering public sector services. Dave lists four key reasons why it’s (often) different for government. The one that particularly struck me was this

as an entity it carries a burden of responsibility for failure, while industry is constructed on the basis of failure as a market mechanism

Dave points to the dangers of pursuing simplistic efficiency in truly complex environments. (An example being how cost-cutting on cleaning in our hospitals has contributed to the rise of superbugs.) He notes the need for

a requisite level of inefficiency in order to provide the system with adaptive capacity under conditions of uncertainty and context shift.

I also liked his point that if a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a measure. (Because, as I’d frame it, once a target is set, people inevitably start gaming the system.)

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