How to fail better in public services – be more honest and avoid superficial solutions

“The government must stop reaching for superficial solutions when explaining the failure of public services, according to an Institute for Government report released today.

In Failing Well, the Institute of Government analyses why organisations fail and makes recommendations on how to minimise the impact if and when things go wrong.

The report points to a raft of high-profile public service failures, such as Rotherham child services and Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust.

Within these and other examples, the institute found that cultures of denial, weak accountability and dysfunctional mechanisms for identifying failure “inhibited an effective response”.

It concluded that warning signs are often missed and that politicians routinely use “stock responses” to explain failures instead of seeking the root cause of the problem. …

… it was shown that the turnaround in performance [in case studies] was thanks to more honest reporting cultures, strong peer involvement, reinvigorated leadership and a shared ownership of failure. The tendency to restructure or lay blame, which is a standard organisational response to failure, was avoided. …

… “Failure is an ever-present threat in our public services – and the risks are increasing. Yet there are good and bad ways of responding to failure. Politicians too often use a superficial set of tools – restructuring a service or parceling out blame.

“But this won’t solve the problem: leadership, collaboration and transparency will,” she added. “Those overseeing turnarounds also need to hold their nerve and accept that performance can dip further as recovery begins.”

One thought on “How to fail better in public services – be more honest and avoid superficial solutions

  1. Or even better, start to listen to the public and consult properly – reaching a consensus decision having had wide input and debate about the best approach is FAR more likely to result in a good outcome than if you try to force a poorly thought out government agenda on an unwilling populace.


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