February 21, 2010

Top down doesn't work

Stalinist top down diktat doesn't work. To take a simple example, some Manchester police have been recording snowball throwing as "serious violent crime". Their Chief Constable condemns their lack of common sense.

So why do they do it? The chairman of the police authority has a theory:
This constant measure of performance makes people nervous and indicates almost a lack of confidence, which says that what I will do, I'll report this and be safe. You know, it's disappointing that we're not using elements of common sense in this.
The Assistant Chief Constable adds that:
Due to the complexity of the Home Office Crime Categories, occasionally incidents could be classified as a serious violent crime when they are first reported but downgraded when an officer has visited the scene and established the actual circumstances.

We are working with officers to ensure they know how to properly code crimes so they are an accurate reflection of the situation.

There we have it. The top down control regime is stifling common sense on the ground. Make the police accountable to a chief elected by the local communities they are paid to serve, and these national measurements won't be required.

Way more serious is this account of how sheaves of top down diktats increase costs in the NHS, stamp on local initiative, and stop local problems being addressed. The peope who the organisation has to satisfy aren't the patients, but its masters in the NHS bureaucracy and Whitehall. Patients have no power until a lot of them die unnecessarily.

But politicians think they have the answers to problems which baffled their predecessors. The bureaucrats' jobs depend on the politicians' maintaining this illusion. So who is going to break into this cosy circle and tell the self-regarding would-be ministers just how limited their effect would still be, even if they had the ability and experience to do their jobs competently?

Thus we are doomed to repeat the top down mistake over and over again.

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