Why we should radically change how we do change

We’ve just published a paper called The Radical How. Kindly commissioned by the UK innovation agency, NESTA, it makes a case for governments radically changing how they work.

People rarely behave in ways we can completely predict. And many of the interventions carried out by governments are directly concerned with people and their behaviour. Yet most governments’ ways of working typically demand civil servants and ministers accurately predict and design these interventions up-front. In complex environments, we think this expectation of accurate, up-front prediction is deluded, and increases the risk of expensive failure.

Rather than accept the risks of false certainty, the report suggests a radically different approach to how government goes about implementing change, notably:

1. Test and learn

The big idea in the Radical How is that it is wiser to apply a test and learn approach when attempting major changes at national scale. This means embracing incremental, feedback-driven iteration.

2. Be radical, not risky

We know the current way of doing things in government is extremely risky. And as the Post Office Horizon scandal shows - among a host of other stories - it can gamble with people's lives, not to mention vast sums of public money. We should stop or reset the worst examples of the old way as soon as possible.

3. How matters more than what

You can't predict as much as you’d wish. Success lies in teams learning how to keep the gap between ideas and reality small in order to deliver a clear outcome.

4. Making the exceptional the new normal

It can be done. It has been done. But only when the people or circumstances are extraordinary. To make it widespread, we need structural reforms too.

It might seem odd calling this 'the Radical How', Because these ideas will already be familiar to our friends and followers. But to many people inside the government bubble, let alone beyond it, a lot of this is both new and a bit scary.

What this report aims to do is persuade more people that it's not scary, and that how things operate right now is in fact far more troubling.

That said, the Radical How report is also optimistic. We don’t necessarily need to take big risks on unknown technologies, policies or methodologies. We just need to be more radical in applying what works.

You can read the full report here. We’d love your feedback.


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