Sunday, May 20, 2007

Juries, boards and diversity

While recently traveling on crawling Russian trains and decrepit ex-Aeroflot planes I have been able to read some books. My holiday reading included the book by James Surowiecki on The Wisdom of Crowds. It is an interesting set of essays on the effectiveness of collective wisdom - collective wisdom even trumping individual experts. (He does explore when and how groups don't work as in stock market bubbles.)

I would recommend that you read the book if you haven't already. (Its been out a couple of years.)

I was particularly interested in the chapter on Committees, Juries, and Teams. Many of Surowiecki's comments have a bearing on governance and management.

Surowiecki argues that juries are either verdict-based (starting with the verdict and working back) or evidence-based. He also points to the influence on group decisions of the status and talkativeness of individual group members.

In making small groups work better Surowiecki stresses the importance of diversity of group members. This militates against "groupthink" and improves the chances of a "devil's advocate" emerging who can challenge and test the evidence and recommendations being put forward.

I see Surowieck's arguments supporting the case that boards and governing bodies should have a real social, gender, ethnic and skill mix. This isn't "political correctness" or just "tokenism" (although it can be, if done badly) - it is a vital contribution to making decision-making more effective.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Police, performance indicators and customer service

The claims from the Police Federation that Performance Indicators are distorting police work is hardly surprising.

The stress on PIs seen throughout public services is perhaps accentuated in the case of the police due to its peculiarities.

When I last visited my local police station (a minor motoring offence, I hasten to add), it wasn't open at the advertised hours and the bell/link to another local station that was (also) meant to be open just rang and rang. When I phoned to complain later, I discovered that the local constabulary had no mechanism for complaints unless it was about bent coppers. (Perhaps I was misinformed - if I was, thats not too impressive either.)

What other public service would consider normal or reasonable the absence of a feedback loop in the form of assessing and addressing complaints? Housing associations aren't only expected to have complaints processes - but they are meant to have one that does feed into performance improvement through organisational learning.

Surely there needs to be a focus on building a culture of customer service rather than just focussing (and perhaps manipulating) a set of PI "metrics".