Peter Drucker Forum 2013: “Public Policy Effectiveness and Complexity” panel discussion

Panel discussion cover

At the Peter Drucker Forum 2013, Adrian Wooldridge, Management Editor of The Economist, led the panel discussion concerning issues of Effectiveness and Complexity in Public Policy. The five panel speakers were, Yves Doz, Professor of Technological Innovation at INSEAD,  John Elvidge, Chairman of Edinburgh Airport and former permanent secretary to the Scottish Government, Michael Hallsworth, Senior Policy advisor at Cabinet Office UK, Mikko Kosonen, President of The Finnish Innovation Fund, and Ben Ramalingam, Independent Consultant of Overseas Development Institute.


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According to Adrian Wooldridge, complexity can be seen as being more difficult to manage in the public sector than anywhere else. Reasons for this can be seen in the fact that the public sector can fire people, people are often hostile to what they are doing, the public sector can arrest and fine people, government departments and in the end the losers in this process are the least empowered people.

Keeping this in mind, it becomes obvious that there are more prevalent and serious problems in this area, than in the private sector.

However, in the public sector, actors have a certain degree of room to maneuver, that would not be possible within the private sector. An example of this is the Mayor of Toronto stating « I may have smoked cocaine, but I was drunk. » Such a statement would never be accepted in the private sector. What is happening?

Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minster in the 1930s was once asked about governmental organizations.   He said that it started simple and then became more complex.  After pausing for a moment, he added:

“Or is it the other way around?”

Adrian Wooldridge states that there is too much government and they try to do too much. What we need from them is simplicity and reliability.

Adrian: What is one thing to make government simple?

John ElvidgeMikko: Government needs to work as a team with a balanced scorecard

Ben: We need more mechanisms that are in government but not of government. We need to identify the core competences in government

Michael: What is simple for citizen is not simple for the government

John: We need to learn to identify where a simple solution will work and where it will not and allow people to move freely between departments.

Yves: Proximity is the key. Governments need to look to the question of their responsibility.

Adrian: Governments should also try to do a lot less.

Question from the audience:  What is the role of democracy in a complex society and how were the changes in Scotland brought into place. How do we improve public policy makers?

Yves: We need more coalition building in governments.

John: We should allow governments to do what they are best at doing and try to see the moment of opportunity coming. We should prepare for the moment of opportunity by recruiting people with an appetite for change. You should also aim to concentrate more on the people who are coming with you and avoid using energy on those who do not want to accept change. You also have to ensure durability, because if you cannot hand it over, you have not done it.

Adrian: How is the civil service adapting to the networked world?

Michael: The government has been adapting to this, for example health ministers are required to spend a week in a hospital.

Ben: There is a tendency to promote away from operations. It is easy to imagine one simple world from London or Washington. The military promotes towards the front line and requires battle experience.

Mikko: There is a need for a longer road map and alternatives to decision making. We are too short sighted. Singapore is an excellent example of good government where they mix private and public sector jobs in a rotation policy. In this model leadership achievement is an emphasis not just expertise.


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One response to “Peter Drucker Forum 2013: “Public Policy Effectiveness and Complexity” panel discussion

  1. Pingback: Transformational change in government | economics and public policy

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