#TheReset Podcast: “Why can’t government do things (anymore)”?

Ed Straw has been in and around government and state led projects for a large part of his later working life. He has also been involved with the UK Labour Party using his trained engineer’s eye to look at how things work. His new book throws new light on the problem of poor “government agency”.

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In it we cover:

  • Governments are hooked on a systematic approach which assumes society remains as simple as it once was. This results in what Ed calls an end-state fallacy: ie, the assumption that government does not suffer a long decay between conception and deployment. Feedback is rarely sought.
  • Ed says we need a systemic approach, which requires a more relaxed approach to problem-solving in which you wider the boundaries of the thing you’re trying to fix and the framework in order to the greater context in which it sits. It can start by asking whether there is even a problem at all?
  • Finding wider and more resilient solutions fit for a future that is fast in both arrival and departure means bringing the electorate into the deal between major electoral events. It also means employing a disciplined pluralism to see what works and doesn’t before scaling up.

It’s a rich conversation which I think goes to the heart of the causes of the world wide epidemic of populism which is part of the wider governance problem, some of which I highlighted in this UCD webinar last week has been buregeoning over the last ten years or so:

Knowing why you want to do something is a good basis for asking whether you should do it, or find some better way of doing something. You don’t have far to go in Northern Ireland to see a whole litany of projects that were lobbied for, then planned for and then dropped when the political will ran dry.

Northern Ireland has been beset with wicked problems which no one seems to have been able to approach never mind solve. A new and more systems based evolutionary approach might get us a lot further with sticky issues like how we develop an economy fit for the rich culture of Derry and the NW.

There is no one way to do that, and no magic formula for getting there. Infrastructure will get you some of the way, but there are other sticky problems for places like Foyle and West Belfast where big local employers are rare to non existent and a legacy of the Hume era (see our Willie McCarter podcast).

We have seen that end stage fallacy phenomenon which often assumes the promise is the delivery, and in which the flash of the announcement is rarely followed up by an accompanying bang of  delivery. But don’t take my word for it, do give Ed listen and then let us know what you think?

#TheReset project with Ulster Bank is slowly coming to a close. If you want take part before we close, email me at [email protected] with an idea for inclusion in the next week.

In the meantime, you can catch up on Cargo of Bricks and In Conversation and subscribe on Apple Podcasts | Google PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your quality podcasts.