Outputs and Measurables: The Obvious Reality in 7 points


This post is not going to be one of the funnier ones. Try this one instead. Instead this post is going to state the obvious. I’ve worked with monitoring systems: outcomes, targets, outputs, measurables, Key Performance Indicators in the public sector. I’ve met dozens of people who have worked with them across the public and NGO sectors. Very few people had anything good to say about them and yet everyone works to them anyway. The management say they have to because of the funding imperatives or the political imperatives. Some managers put a brave face on it and say ‘We can get something good from this’. Others will admit it is nonsense but tell us that’s the way to get funding these days. And it is, which brings us to the first of seven very obvious points:

1. People structure their work to produce outputs, meaning projects are changed – some might say corrupted – by the funding they get, which means the people with the money get to decide or at least change the course of most projects.

2. Everyone uses targets and outputs these days. That means there is only one way to run an organisation. In all the world. Perhaps this should bother us. I mean, really? Only one way?

4. Far from making organisations efficient, it creates a new layer of bureacracy. Think about those application forms that take several weeks to fill out. Think how much time is lost to inventing the measurables, justifying them, monitoring compliance, reporting on deviations from expectations.

3. Everyone lies about what they’ve achieved. That’s not a statement of moral condemnation. You have to do it to make the system work. But having spent all this time and money on the bureacratic machinery to make it work, what it usually turns out is nonsense.

5. It is promoted by management and funders because they want control. This is why some managers adopt it even when the funding doesn’t require them to. It is way to reproduce strict top-down hierarchies that a lot of organisations claimed to have got rid of with flatter structures and informal ways of working.

6. Output measurement is done in mimicry of the private sector working to a bottom line. One of the reasons this is ‘efficient’ in the private sector is that it creates a huge amount of collateral damage that the company never has to pay for. People, resources, environment, political systems: all are ignored for the bottom line. Very efficient.

7. Most of the things that matter in life can’t be measured. And in obsessively measuring certain things, it is easy to push out the things that make life worth living. Measuring outputs is sucking the life out of us.

These points, though mostly very obvious indeed, might make some people ask ‘How else can we achieve our goals?’ But it’s a funny question, because this is a relatively new fashion. Presumably good things happened before the fashion hit us and I’m pretty sure we’ll find ways to make good things happen again. But we should also ask, how else can we achieve what goals? The goals in your mission statement? That’s a fiction anyway. What does your organisation really do I wonder?

But finally, if you want a serious answer: if your organisation is based on values, staffed by committed people who believe in those values, and embed those values in your work, and if your organisation is structured so that these committed people collectively control their work, then I don’t think you’ll need to worry about whether you are going to achieve things. Of course if your organisation is actually a bunch of hollow people doing hollow tasks for hollow reasons in a sneakily hierarchical dance then maybe you’re right: you should keep an eye on your progress with measurable outputs. It will be the only way to get anything done.

Me and the rioters: what we might have in common

In memoriam: because there are links

The premise of this post will seem silly to some people. It seems slightly silly even to me. But it is a response to a lot of crap written about rioters from both left and right. This post is about what I and the participants in the recent riots have in common. The point is not to obsess about myself. I want to do it because so many people have been talking about ‘them’, as though they are fundamentally different from ‘us’, whoever the hell ‘us’ is (I know I have more in common with an ocelot than I do with David Starkey and I barely even know what an ocelot is).

A lot of the speakers and writers have sounded very sure of themselves too, especially when demonstrating their moral superiority to rioters, whether referring to them as animals or as lumpenproletariat. It is a politician’s job to sound sure of themselves so that we don’t guess they wank over their work colleagues and aren’t sure what life is about and wake up in the night with the horrors just like we do. There’s far less justification for those outside the Parliament of Performing Seals to sound so sure of themselves.

While thinking about what I could be sure of I realised that I was more sure about what I had in common with the various rioters than what separates us. What separates us on the surface seems very obvious: I have a good and expensive education, largely paid for by the state – I was almost the last intake with LEA grants. Most of the people on the street probably don’t have that and will probably never get the chance. But then, maybe there were more people of my ‘demographic’ out there but their sense of self-preservation was stronger – perhaps they looked over the shoulder for the police more because they had more to lose. We have no idea whether the arrests reflect the people out on the streets looting.

I’m a bit older than your average rioter, but then, some of the rioters (Or people, as they are also known) arrested were around my age, so let’s not generalise. Because I look a bit more middle class and white than most of them, I suspect I get less harrassment from the police. Police harrassment was a huge factor in the riots in some areas, and those on the street attacked the police because that was what they most wanted to do. Let’s not generalise though: in some areas the focus was more on looting than on fighting the police.

Another difference between me and most of the rioters is that I have a job. That’s not true of all of the looters: the employed were there too, though no one took a straw poll of what their jobs are and whether they are better or worse than mine. Because I have a job and most of them don’t, I have more money than most of the people out on the street. I am able to buy what I need with some left over and on balance the work I do is not bad.

There is a difference between me and a few of the rioters: I have the empathy and impulse control not to take out my anger and frustration through violence against people. I would not burn down shops with homes above them. Nor, of course, would most of the rioters (people, remember?). I would want to check a retail park thoroughly for human occupants before setting light to it. I would assume that a combination of their family and peer environments has created most of the difference. But this too is a guess, and I am sure that some of the respectable middle class people who expressed such disgust at the rioting would look on rioting very differently if other respectable middle class people were doing it too. Something most people share is a shit ability to resist peer pressure.

I’m not crazily sure about a lot of the above differences. There’s a lot of guesswork in there, and different people are…different. You know? As the above issue of mob behaviour hints at, we should be very careful about assuming that what is going on in the minds of rioters and looters we haven’t met is really that different from what is going on in our minds. Middle class people can also do horrible things because everyone around them is doing it too, and they do it from their position of comfort, not from a collective outburst of pent-up frustration.

But now onto things I have in common with the people who were out on the streets last week.  There may be things I share that I can’t know since I didn’t ask people: taste in music, hatred of Michael McIntyre, a dislike of complacency, a caffeine addiction. Who knows on these counts? But it is obvious I would share some of these things and not others. To me at least it is obvious: I’m not sure it is to the baying mob calling for their blood. I suspect they see most of the ‘rioters’ as fundamentally alien to them. Who knows what horrible vices lurk in their dark, immoral hearts etc etc.

But on to the more general commonalities,  and a few of these I can feel more sure about – while remembering that all the rioters were different.  Despite a ‘middle class’ upbringing my family had neither money nor power. I have no contacts in high places. I have no powerful friends. I can’t call a journalist up and ask them to defend me. By dint of my education I may be able to phrase myself in a way more acceptable to mainstream discourse (See, I used the word discourse! Clever old me!) and yet despite this I feel that the difference in powerlessness between me and those other people on the streets is actually quite marginal. They are not ‘important’ and nor am I.

This leads to us sharing certain things whether we want to or not. The politicians do not give a fuck about us. The big media organisations do not give a fuck about us. Any campaigning organisations that attempt to ‘represent’ us get sucked up into a state machinery that removes them from us and undoes their work. As for parliament representing me, the idea just strikes me as fucking absurd. I don’t think it would help if I voted either, and I don’t think it would help the rioters. That is not the problem. The problem is that ‘representation’ is a con. It always was. It doesn’t work. I feel it and so do plenty of others.

There is something fundamental we also share in our relationships to companies and corporations. Those companies and corporations make things for me when I have the money or will to pay, but as soon as I don’t they are not interested in me. That seems obvious of course – but is it so obvious that our main economic organising units, as legally created by the state, should be founded upon pure selfishness? Whether or not you think it reasonable, you’ve got to agree that once you are not suckling at their tits any more, the relationship between us and the corporations is over. They don’t feel they owe us anything – despite occupying the physical and mental space all around us and controlling most of our resources – so we don’t feel we owe them anything. Why should we? There is nothing between us. Except the advertising we can’t escape. We owe them nothing.

This leads on to my dislike of the police. I hate the Met for being racist. I hate them for their role in keeping a lid on ‘social disorder’ that usually appears in response to organised theft from above. I hate them because I have witnessed them mobilise large numbers in defence of corporate property and not care who they had to hurt to defend what is only stuff. I hate them because their role is to freeze power relations where they are. And I don’t have any. We don’t have any.

There is something that most of us in Britain share at the moment. While I do have a job, I would like to move jobs but I can’t. There aren’t any jobs to move to. Boohoo, you say. But it stings because a few years ago it would have been easy. Someone else fucked up my economy (it was never mine, it turns out) and as a result the horizons of my present have contracted. Having got myself into a good position just before the Credit Theft (as we should rightly call it) I have not yet had my present crushed into a small box on a benefits application form, but I am aware of the loss of opportunity and aware it might get worse yet. I am aware too that the price of food and fuel and transport is going up while my income stays the same. We are all getting poorer by the day. This hasn’t reduced my standard of living yet but some people will already have reduced their food expenditure because of it. They won’t have had a choice.

One thing we share looms largest of all. I might phrase this a little differently from a lot of the people on the street last week, but we are still aware of the process we are undergoing. A particular form of governing has arisen in which the balance of powers and the triumph of certain rhetoric within public debate actively facilitates the removal of wealth from us so that it can be handed to those who already have most of it. This is an ongoing project, currently undergoing considerable intensification, with us as the target. We have lost free education, we are in the process of losing welfare, and the NHS is being sold off, one billion pounds at a time. Housing policy is deliberately tilted towards those who own much of the property already. I do not expect to have universal healthcare when I am older. I do not expect to own a home that will fund my retirement. I do not expect to have a welfare safety net worthy of the name. I do not expect to have a pension that will feed and house me decently. Nor did anyone on the streets last week. Perhaps they’re not fucking idiots after all. Not nearly as idiot as the people who think the government is saving them from the evil deficit and who blithely assume that their lives are going to stay as comfortable as they have been for the last fifty years.

My future is diminishing as my present is contracting. And I have no idea how to fight it yet.

Our future is diminishing as our present is contracting. And we have no idea how to fight it yet.

The last thing we share is this: I need a new computer. One from PC World would do just fine.

A brief summary of the political and media reaction to rioting and looting

The GOOD citizens cleaning up their community

This nation has witnessed, in shock and disbelief, the most horrible crimes upon its streets, but we are not going to talk about racist police harassment because that is not the point here; what we are going to talk about it, and we are going to talk about it good and hard, is the UNSPEAKABLE BEHAVIOUR of young people on our streets, rioting and looting before our eyes with no sense of RESPONSIBILITY. Never before have we been presented with such a FAILURE OF MORALS, obviously a consequence of FAILURES IN PARENTING – or at least, not since the Iraq War and the expenses scandal, and they all had GOOD parents so it WASN’T THE SAME.

These feral beasts, these rats in human form, have perpetrated upon UPSTANDING MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY atrocious outrages. These people have no morals at all, not even the white ones. They are like savages, even the white ones (see, no racism here!). They have no notion of responsibility to their communities – and it is NOT THE POINT that they have no communities. They have no notion of working hard – and it is NOT THE POINT that there are no jobs. The POINT is that they have been raised in a culture of entitlement, corrupted by benefits culture and probably rap music – even the white ones – and now they expect everything to be handed to them on a platter even though it is only Cameron and Osborne who are actually used to that. They have no politics, no morals, no desires except to TAKE TAKE TAKE, and if that sounds like what we have promoted for forty years then you are stupid to think we were ever talking to THEM.

What we need now is to crack down as hard as we can and give these kids the DISCIPLINE they have always lacked – and if they lacked love or respect that’s just tough because DISCIPLINE is what they will get now. We will teach them to RESPECT OUR AUTHORITAH! It would be absurd, insulting even, to expect US to respect THEM, dangerous little savages that they are, so we must make them respect us – it’s going to have to go one way at least if we are to DEFEND OUR CIVILISATION. And if that means calling in the army then so be it, these crazed THUGS must understand that they CANNOT GET AWAY WITH VIOLENCE and if that means bringing in plastic bullets, water cannons and the stocks to deal with these monstrous children then that is what we must do. We must find the final solution to this menace of immorality within!

This is what you get from years or socialism and liberalism and you may have looked at the people with power in media and politics and thought we are neither socialist nor liberal, and you may have noticed that riots follow in the footsteps of poverty not the footsteps of liberals, but THAT DOESN’T MEAN THE SOCIALISTS AND LIBERALS AREN’T TO BLAME. We must strip these people of benefits and homes and that will definitely stop them stealing and roaming the streets acting all threatening towards TRUE CITIZENS. And if you still see them roaming the streets, REPORT THEM TO THE POLICE, because there is NO REASON for them to be on the streets at all when they could be getting jobs that don’t exist and it is good to see the courts working on making it an OFFENCE to be in the WRONG PLACE.

Let it never be said again in Britain, this GREAT country of ours, that THUGS took what they wanted just BECAUSE THEY COULD. That is the job of the politicians stealing the NHS from you just BECAUSE THEY CAN. We must be absolutely clear that there are consequences to crime, at least if you are POOR. Certain people must TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for what they have done – not us of course. These kids show that our SOCIETY IS SICK and if there are obvious people to blame for our SICK SOCIETY it is fourteen-year-old kids who play no part in our society and aren’t we all glad we didn’t let them now? We therefore call upon the police, our fine, upstanding police, to take a FIRMER HAND with these teenage monsters who KNOW NO RESPECT. We demand that the police use ALL NECESSARY FORCE to keep them away from us and protect us from their MINDLESS BESTIALITY.

Not every being with a human face is human

– Carl Schmitt, President of the Union of National-Socialist Jurists, 1933

Solutions for a selfish, irresponsible, poorly-parented generation of thugs

If rubber bullets and water canon are good enough for all rioters, they're good enough for the looters-in-chief. All I ask is consistency in the application of solutions.

They hang the man and flog the woman,

Who steals the goose from off the common,

Yet let the greater villain loose,

That steals the common from the goose.

— Seventeenth-century English protest rhyme

Heartwarming Tales: The story of a Fundamentally Decent Nation

Or: A foreign imposter in Malaya

It is not often I quote Richard Littlejohn, but today it will help kick off the story of how Britain became a Fundamentally Decent Nation. That sensitive and gentle man wrote this in a column in response to the earthquake in Japan:

Anyone who has visited or worked in Japan will tell you it is like landing on another planet. Beyond the baseball caps and Western clothes, the Japanese people have a distinct culture of their own, which is entirely alien to our own values. They are militantly racist and in the past have been capable of great cruelty.

This makes a couple of important points about our Fundamental Decentness as Brits. Firstly, it very often involves going to other countries and treating the inhabitants of those lands as an alien species. It’s a habit we acquired some time ago and, like crack cocaine and electing Old Etonians, we’ve found it to be moreish and difficult to kick.

The second important point I think we can glean from this Littlejohn gem is that Britain has never been militant, racist or capable of cruelty. These are the habits of foreigners. This is enlightening and will help clear up some of the problems that historians have had to face when reconciling the Fundamental Decentness of the British Character with facts.

Since it was not us who invented concentration camps in the Boer War, it must have been the result of infiltration by foreign types. No doubt all those involved in planning and executing the use of concentration camps were merely masquerading as Brits. I believe the slaughter thousands of men at Omdurman using far superior weaponry must also have been due to foreign infiltration. No doubt the bombing of the French navy at the beginning of WWII was not ordered by Churchill at all but by some foreign imposter looking like him. Likewise I’m sure it wasn’t really him who couldn’t be bothered to spare a few planes to destroy Nazi gas chambers.

The British people have remained Fundamentally Decent through all these trials, even as for decades and through multiple changes of government the British state expended its full resources to fight and defeat the powerless inhabitants of a small island. This just goes to show how deeply embedded the foreign menace is in the British establishment. And yet we, the British people, heroically shrug it off. That is not us. We beat the Nazis. That’s us.

But I am sorry to say that the foreign infiltrators are still among us, working away in our ranks, doing things that no Fundamentally Decent people like us could possibly contemplate. The British government, suffering from this pernicious foreign influence, recently arbitrarily capped the number of refugees the country would take. This means that foreign agents in our midst are right now sending people back to countries – such as Iraq – where it is known that the people forcibly returned will be tortured. Will this vile foreign sabotage never end? But at least it is not Brits putting the refugees onto the planes. It is impossible to imagine people so Fundamentally Decent doing such a thing.

On the topic of Iraq, that war was a classic example of a foreign plot to force us into a war with a country that posed us no threat. Certainly Britain and British people would never dream of engaging in wars of aggression. Our Fundamental Decentness would prevent it. And the razing of Fallujah that killed 6000 people can definitely be pinned on the Americans, whose army – this is well known though we are usually too polite to tell them – has always been Less Decent than ours. The fact that Britain played a supporting role in the massacre – sorry, the re-taking of Fallujah – can almost certainly be attributed to the creeping effects of foreigners in our midst.

We, Britain, became the Fundamentally Decent Nation we are today by not doing bad things. Definitely not. It wasn’t us. We would never behave like those Japanese types, or like Germans, or like Serbs. We just don’t have it in us. And it is so sad to see what a bunch of foreign infiltrators can do to make such a Fundamentally Decent Nation look so cruel.