A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to an article by Dr Simon Duffy, the Director of The Centre for Welfare Reform. I have to say it was genuinely one of the most remarkable things I have ever read.
The article was entitled ‘An Apology’ and started as follows:
Since establishing The Centre for Welfare Reform in 2009 I have been able to work and think with other people about some of the judgements I made in the past. And, I believe I should make a written apology for two mistakes that are having increasingly negative consequences:
1. Complex Resource Allocation Systems (RAS) - using questionnaires, points, weightings and formulas to calculate a fair budget
2. Support Plans - which are now being abused and which are undermining the autonomy of disabled people and families
Mr Duffy then proceeded to explain his thinking in developing the above pieces of policy, the rationale he followed, the unintended consequences he missed and the assumptions that undermined the policies.
It was, in its own geeky policy way, a moving piece of writing.
Here, My Duffy explains the logic that underpinned the RAS:
I continue to think that knowing your budget, as soon as possible, is a useful way of enabling you to take more direct control over your own life and your own supports. It promotes autonomy, creativity and a rightful sense of entitlement.
However this does not require a Complex RAS.
The reason that we started to develop a Complex RAS was primarily because senior managers said directly or indirectly “we don’t trust our social workers to make judgements about what is fair and reasonable”.
I feel particularly guilty about this because I know that when people with more power say that they do not trust those with less power, this is because those with less power are not trustworthy. Rather, it is because of the incompetence of those with more power. Yet, in the desire to get individual budgets into the hands of disabled people and families, I supported the development of increasingly more complex versions of the RAS.
I won't make any comment about the policy itself as it is beyond my area of expertise. What I think we should focus on is the approach of Mr Duffy.
Here is a man who was genuinely trying to make things better and for the right reasons too. What’s more, upon reflection he was able to look back and recognise that all the hard work he put in didn’t end up making the situation better.
The article is also notable for the lack of sugar coating. Mr Duffy doesn’t mention all the good things he did nor make excuses. He explains why things happened without trying to absolve himself.
This article is an example to all of us trying to make the public sector better.
Nine times out of ten we will make our changes for the right reasons, trying desperately to design a service that will be better than what we had before and will better meet the needs of the people we serve. However, sometimes we’ll get it wrong; not for want of trying but just because we make mistakes, miss unintended consequences or are too absorbed in the detail to notice the big picture.
When that happens we need to stop for a second, apologise and then to learn from our mistakes. Mr Duffy does that in his article; we don’t need to publish blogs every time we make a mistake but acknowledging them, understanding why they happened and working out what to do to rectify the situation is a must.
An apology doesn’t hurt either!
PS. Check out the article… It’s a few months old but well worth a read: http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/by-date/an-apology.html