Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Checking perceptions of justice

Insights into how we really dispense justice can be powerful and essential contributions to aching change. I suspect that many staff would be surprised at the what they actually practice.

Staff perceptions
One way to bring these out would be to
1. Get several staff members to tell a story of a recent difficult situation and how it was dealt with, then
2. Get them to rate it (putting dots on a triangle) in terms of
  • retribution,
  • deterrence and
  • restoration
I would see such an exercise as being important in the implementation of Restorative Practices in any school.

Student Perceptions
And there is another 'triangle' that could also be useful... in this one students might rate staff  in terms of whether they are

  • controlling (assertive/aggressive)
  • helpful (altruistic)
  • just focused on the facts  (analytical)
Same technique: get each student to
1. Tell the story of a recent experience then
2. Rate what the staff did (put dots on a triangle) in terms of in terms of the these three possible responses

The Role of the School in Restorative Practices

Restorative Practices involve a major response from the school itself (over and above the staff response). Staff need PL (knowledge, skills and understanding) but, that is just the beginning...
RP involves a change of culture which requires
  • engagement of senior staff in the everyday life and work of the school, especially
  • engagement of senior staff in the everyday conversations
  • and a change in governance 

Associated changes in school governance need to be made and communicated ...
  • the school accepts responsibility for the use of RP (staff act on behalf of the school)
  • the school enables staff to use RP - time, provides structures, process, support, back-up, recovery strategies and assistance (it need to be OK to fail, at least in the short-term),
  • the school monitors the use, costs and contributions of RP (especially to capture the learning and experiences...)
  • the school genuinely lives the values required at all levels
  • the school understands RP as an investment (not just a solution), which means,
  • the school accepts that it is OK to lose time now in order to save time later on

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Consequences and our notions of justice

I came across an interesting study the other day. The study collected stories involving justice issues - what happened and how things were handled.

The study then asked the contributors to tag their stories in terms of the extent to which they were about
1. Retribution (on behalf of the victim???)
2. Deterrence of the offender and others from repeating the offence
3. Restoration of the offender

Lots of food for thought here I think.

I suspect a lot of the use of 'logical' consequences in schools is
  - about retribution
  - justified as a deterrent
  - with an implied 'logical' outcome of 'restoration' of the offender 

Of course, our responses are shaped by
  - the significance of what happened, and 
  - the offender's response.

And, what we believe others would expect of us is also very powerful. I continue to be amazed at how little awareness many people (not just teachers) have regarding the natural consequences of doing the wrong thing. It is common for the natural consequences to be underestimated or simply disregarded.

Doing the wrong thing is very bad for the offender (Glasser was strong on this).

IMHO, one of the most common reasons kids continue to be difficult after doing the wrong thing is that
  - they are embarrassed  - the know they have done the wrong thing and wish they hadn't, and 
  - they feel disempowered - it can't be undone, and they don't know how to fix it up.

So to save face they get into denial, blaming, justifying.... It is a very painful to lose face - something I never required of a student. Maybe Restorative Practices is as much about restoring the offender's face as it is about restoring relationships.

After all, face is very much the key element in all relationships.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nudge - don't shove!!

A posting originally on the FASTForward blog commented on the Emergent behavior and unintended consequences in social systems.

While the author described emergent behaviours as 'unintended consequences that make you happy', this definition was actually created tongue in cheek. Of course not all emergent things are desirable. So, what to do?

Possible implications for managing chnage include the following
  • Focus on what is (the future being unpredictable)
  • Make small (reversible or containable) steps in the preferred direction (the outcomes of large steps being unpredictable and irreversible)
  • Move to a complexity theory approach and learn to work with emergence, that is,
  • Apply action learning (insightful questions) to the present in order to move forward
As the shampoo ad says, "it won't happen overnight but it will happen".

Update (2 Dec 2012):

Checkout this Ted Talk by Jonas Eliansson - different context - same principles and same message!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More on emergence in schools

If we are going to help shape the future then we will need some understanding of why things happen (cause and effect). Such understanding will helps us to appreciate our limitations and to make wise choices about the methods we adopt.

Because organisations have conscious entities (people) it is possible to nurture emergence by acting in the organisations environment. For example, at a macro-level, international conventions on arms, trade and human rights are all examples of efforts by the international community (as an environment) to shape the emergence of certain behaviours by, and within, countries Properly understood government and school system policies and plans make similar attempts to prompt and nurture the emergence of certain changes in schools. Plans and policies are generally thought to cause the desired changes and are assumed to do so. However significant changes in schools are emergent and the plans and policies are something less than causal.

The behaviour of entities in complex adaptive systems is largely is response to attractors and boundaries existing within the system. If the plans and policies are linked with meaningful attractors and boundaries then the intended changes may well occur. However, social systems are particularly fraught, because individuals, and/or groups, may or may not respond to, or even acknowledge the intended attractors and boundaries. The 'overloaded curriculum' may be understood as too many attractors and too few boundaries.

For the above reasons, leaders working in the field of complexity suggest modest "try, learn and respond" approaches to organisational, rather like a form of ongoing action learning.

For example, "Pick something small and try it. If it works, extend it. If it doesn't, learn from it. ", David Gurteen, Twitter, Aug. 28 2009. Similarly when working in the complex domain, Snowden recommends undertaking a few small-scale trial initiatives. If the outcomes are desirable then support and extend them. If the outcomes are undesirable then undermine the initiative, and try something different. He also advocates a 'safe-fail' approach rather than a 'fail-safe' approach. In the former, it is OK for the any initiative fail without serious damage to the organisation, hence the use of small scale trials. The latter approach is only suitable for systems where the outcomes can be accurately predicted, e.g., bridge building and other engineering tasks.

Nurturing emergence should not be confused with the more familiar "design, develop and then implement the system it" approach that is form of engineering. Such approaches work well when cause and effect are known and consistent over place and time. Consider the variability in the use of ICT in teaching and learning. This suggests that any cause and effect relationships between ICT and teaching and learning are not consistent over place and time. Rather, the relationships, say, between ICT, teaching and learning emerge locally. A basic principle of complex adaptive systems is that small differences in the starting conditions (and every school is different) can result in very large differences in the outcomes.

As mentioned previously, while developments may be understandable in retrospect they were not predictable at the time of their instigation.

Thus, professional development may really be an exercise in nurturing emergence. Thus, if Rob Paterson at Fast Forward the Blog is correct, then perhaps we might achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities involved by using this new approach.
[Note: Emergence is also likely to be a more accurate explanation of our previous successes, and failures. One uncomfortable implication is that our heroic leadership in our major successes may not have been as pivotal as we have believed. Everyday leadership may be less about expertise, insight and heroic actions and more about creating conditions that promote and nurture emergence. Of course changing those starting conditions may require insight, strength and courage at times.]

Requirements for emergence - the right starting conditions

1. Some kind of Container - an environment that is optimal for the emergence in question.
  • The environment contain meaningful attractors and useful boundaries such as suitable purposes, curriculum and pedagogy
  • The ways and means for activity are available, e.g., reliable and effective infrastructure & technical support
  • Governance promotes, supports and acknowledges the desired emergent practices
  • A community of practice contains, enables and/or develops the working knowledge, matching and sustainable practices, and promotes interaction (see 2. below)
(a) Many teachers work largely in isolation from their colleagues for the greater part of the day. Implications?
(b) The available technology is changing continually and rapidly and is thus disrupting the match between the technology and its use, and making demands on the infrastructure and technical support
2. A lot of Optimal Contact Points - emergence is all about patterns
  • A community of practice with an ongoing conversation/discourse sharing knowledge, insights and experience (including stories)
  • A collaborative culture that increases the number of optimal contact points for members of the group (class, staff, school, community, profession, school system....)
  • Regular, and frequent interactions (especially in the form of ongoing conversations).
Note: For many high performing practitioners the majority of their optimal contact points are outside their own school.
3. A few Rules that both shape the pattern (e.g., of ICT use in teaching and learning) and also keep it coherent
  • It can be difficult for many teachers to develop and adopt a set of coherent practices in the context of continual change without a consistent and agreed and endorsed framework.
  • A few simple rules focusing, endorsing and promoting action and collaboration enable confident, coherent and sustainable interaction even in a changing environment.
  • For example, Riverside Primary's 'job description' that applied to everyone (staff, students, visitors) proved useful in improving all aspects of the school
    • Know what is happening
    • Work with others to improve what is happening
    • Make it easier for the next person to do well (achieve success and well-being)
Note: The traditional approach to curriculum has been to provide teachers with little detail and much choice, or, a great deal of detail and little choice. Few, if any, curriculum writers have attempted to identify and articulate a few simple rules that are likely to prove effective in enabling staff and students to work together to achieve success in their teaching and learning endeavours


  • Baring some dramatic or catastrophic event, we can usually envision the immediate future with some clarity and confidence
  • Envisaging the longer term future is problematic - the probability of significant unforeseen/unforeseeable changes in the external environment increases rapidly as our timelines extend.
  • Changes (even small ones) of staff, policies, leadership, resource provision, technologies... may have a profound impact.
    • For many schools/school systems, a change of Principal may be as profound as the combined effected of the global financial crisis.
    • And who would have predicted that a global financial crisis would result in major physical development costing $14bn in thousands of Australian schools?
    • Similarly, "Why I don't believe in 5 yr plans:5 yrs ago, YouTube/Twitter didn't exist, & Facebook was for college kids", johnniemoore, Twitter 18 Oct 2009. And consider the emergence of devices, services and practices associated with YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
  • Professional development in relation to teaching and learning is more about nurturing emergence through understanding, attending to, and bringing together
    • the factors involved in teaching and learning (especially governance and collaboration)
    • well developed matching pedagogies
    • action learning in a range of forms
    • the nature and mediation of activity
    • communities of practice
    • an understandings of cause and effect in its various forms
    • knowing what is happening (particularly as the starting point) in order to improve it

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nurturing emergence for a better school

Schools cannot be managed as machines. Rather schools are complex entities and are therefore largely emergent. For example, over time, particular values, purposes, ways of interacting and practices transform: some emerge while others diminish. Continuity and change are concurrent. These changes are, at least in part, responses (adaptions) to changes in the school's environment. Of course, at any point in time, certain aspects of schools may be treated as simple or complicated and managed using approaches that approximate engineering.
However the complex nature of any school means that development and improvement is really about promoting and nurturing emergence of desirable aspects and constraining other aspects.
But to have Emergence we need 3 elements:
1.Emergence requires some kind of container - an environment that is optimal for the emergence in question. This can be physical and energetic such as the physical and the social environment needed for a baby to be set on her way to reach her potential. For better or worse a school (together with its community and the school system) can be such an environment.
2. Emergence require a lot of optimal contact points. Emergence is all about patterns. To have patterns you need many points of connection. A Human with too small a social world cannot reach her potential. 3 birds cannot make a flock. A few breezes don’t make a hurricane. A few stars do not make a galaxy. No flow in water and you cannot have a vortex. When man had no complex language, he could not communicate widely enough to make much technical progress. He could not create patterns. A father might show his son how to carve a hand axe but an emergent breakthrough like a throwing stick or a bow and arrow would be beyond them. For without complex language enabling abstractions and enabling a large circle of participants the creation of patterns abstract thinking and design cannot happen. For then, if it could not be seen and copied it could not happen. Most schools can meet this requirement, provided the majority of members (staff, students, families...) of the school see themselves as belonging and participating.
3. Emergence requires a few rules (ideally principles) that both shape the patterns of interaction and also keep it coherent. As we learn more about complexity, we are astounded by how few the rules are and how often they are so simple. With computers it is easy to model bird flocking now. But, to get the pattern, we also need the process of iteration and we need a computer to do the math. But to model, we need to know the rules.
In the meantime, one school (Riverside Primary School) adopted three simple interactive rules for all of its members: staff, students, families, community members and visitors:

  • Know what is happening around you
  • Work with others to improve what is happening
  • Make it easier for the next person to do well
And it worked well... click here for more information
Acknowledgement to Rob Paterson at the Fast Forward the Blog

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Student retention - not a simple matter

"There is a simple solution to every question - and it is usually wrong" And this certainly applies to the issue of student retention.
In the school context, retention is about constructive engagement in learning and involvement in the life and work of the school community.
Schools begin working on retention well before students start school through 0-4 programs such a
  • parent-Child Groups,
  • pre-Kinder sessions,
  • early intervention
  • ...
And retention means different things for different people. For different students it can be about
  • getting to school
  • being in class
  • staying in class
  • managing well in the playground
  • initiating assistance when the going gets tough
  • coping with the everyday ups and downs as they occur in the life and work of the school
  • support for the student
  • support for the family
  • support for the school
  • support for the community
  • ...
So for different students, retention can be a matter of
  • readiness to participate, e.g., 'At school, on time, ready for work'
  • moment-by-moment participation in the school: getting through
    • a lesson
    • a break
    • a day, a week, a term, a year, K-12, a course
    • a transition (making it to high school, post year 10, university, employment, community and society...)
  • engagement - being there is not enough
  • attendance - sufficient continuity to ensure success and well-being
  • enrolment - being in the right place in the system
  • ...
After students begin school there are numerous efforts to retain students according to their needs through
  • Monitoring and supporting attendance
  • Provision of quality teaching and curriculum*
  • Feeding and clothing students
  • Transport arrangements
  • Family support programs and services
  • Other family focused initiatives
  • The provision of programs to meet special needs
  • Teacher aide support for special needs
  • Playground support
  • Linking to other agencies and support programs
  • Course counselling and selection services
  • Alternative (out of school) programs and support
  • Social skills and intra-personal skills programs
  • ...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rewards, compliance and the world

Many young students are reward orientated, as we know. If they remains so, then there is a huge challenge for all concerned:

The world does not give rewards because people need them. It gives rewards because it wants something from them. That means that the recipient of the reward has something to offer, and that the offering will be made in a acceptable form.

Despite our protestation to the contrary, the world does not bother much with getting people to comply.

Certainly there are some rewards for compliance per se, but those that do exist (Rating One on car insurance, for example) are often long term, not immediate.

There are basically two responses the world makes to non-compliance:

  • punishment, as in demerit points or fines... , or
  • marginalisation, e.g., when non-complying people are simply overlooked and or ignored.

This could mean that as well as focusing on enabling a student to be successful in school right now we might also need to be

  • projecting forward several years to what is likely to be working best for him/her then
  • working out how we can help ensure that he/she will get there

Monday, August 31, 2009

Robustness or Resilience (PBS for example)?

In developing school-wide systems, it may be important to be explicit about whether you are aiming to make the school's behaviour management systems
  • robust - unlikely to fail in any of its parts so that problematic behaviour is prevented from occurring
  • resilient - able to recover quickly and easily from failures (life's ups and downs), even the big ones
Follow the link to a posting on this issue from my favourite blogger (Dave Snowden).
Sometimes, when you are introducing PBS, staff may unwittingly assume that the intention is to make the school's behaviour management robust so that behaviour problems will disappear. Of course, this is unlikely to happen and some staff will then naturally think that "PBS doesn't work".
It is more realistic to aim for school-wide systems that are resilient. This will achieve three major outcomes:
  • school-wide systems will cope better with the ups and downs involved
  • recovery by the school, staff and students will be easier and faster, e.g., restorative practices, and, as a result,
  • behaviour problems will reduce (even if they don't disappear altogether)
And this reminds me of the three measure of progress in relation to a problematic student behaviour:
  1. Are the incidents getting fewer, that is,further apart? - "Yes" indicates the students behaviour is more 'robust' and that the student has more resilience
  2. Is the recovery time getting shorter? "Yes" indicates the student has improved resilience
  3. Are the the incidents getting less severe? "Yes" indicates improvements in both robustness of behaviour and personal resilience)
Problematic behaviour tends to improve in the above order. A "Yes" answer to any of the above questions indicates progress , even if, the last thing that improves is the actual incidents themselves. When a serious incident occurs it does not always mean that "We are back to square one!!!" or "All our work has been in vain!!"
It may be useful to get any staff and the student involved to answer these questions for themselves. In this way you are helping them to building resilience.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

League tables, their use and limitations

What are the benefits of school league tables? And for whom? People need information for making decisions. Schools want to do well, and parents want to send their children to good schools. But are league tables likely to be helpful?

The tables do not contain measures of school performance. They contain measures of student performance. No one would deny that there is a link between school performance and student performance. However, it is just not that simple.

Only part of any student’s performance is attributable to the school. Other contributing factors include

  • the student’s natural ability
  • the student's effort,
  • his or her family,
  • his or her friends
  • and the wider community.
It is not possible to isolate and measure the school contribution separately from all these other contributions. Even in the twenty-first century it still ‘takes a village to raise a child’. If the tables report anything then it is the success of the combined contributions . As a result, the tables frequently do serious injustice to many schools, particularly in high needs areas – those areas where families and communities have significantly less to contribute.

The data in league tables are something less than what the labels suggest. For example, the literacy and numeracy data is derived from narrow measures of certain aspects of the students’ actual literacy and numeracy. But even this can be useful. Such measures can act as a ‘flag’ and draw attention to matters that might warrant further consideration, especially by those, such as the school, who can put the data into context and make improvements.

Public reporting pressures schools into giving undue attention to certain aspects of the curriculum at the cost of other very worthwhile learning. That is, pressure to improve the school’s contribution can distort and narrow a sound curriculum and thus be counter productive.

Finally, the question of parent choice. I support the right of parents to choose but choice comes at a cost. Schools that are low on a league table are likely to suffer most. Hard working and very capable staff may feel undervalued and unfairly treated. Parents who cannot move their children to a higher school may feel a little guilty and disappointed with the school. Parents who do move their children usually take with them valuable resources. League tables can promote the movement of social capital away from where it is needed most, towards where there is already a plentiful supply.

Fortunately, the vast majority of schools and families quickly realise the limitations of league table information and adjust their judgements and decisions accordingly. Most schools and communities survive the immediate collateral damage that occurs. Curricula narrow and distort. The life and work of schools go on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What is not negotiable in a school?

Are there any things that are not negotiable in a school?
For me, there are three things that are not negotiable,
  • No harm to self, others or property (aka care, safety,...)
  • No disruption to work or safe play (consideration, learning...)
  • No offense to other members of the school community* (courtesy, respect, friendship....)
(* Includes neighbours and visitors)
In fact, these are the three school rules. These rules are derived directly from the rules that apply in our society - the school does not invent these. And they related directly to the two key outcomes
  • success
  • well-being
There are several supportive ways in which we interact with students. The main ways include
  • coaching
  • negotiating
  • mediating
  • befriending
  • advocating
  • ...
In fact when it comes to the not negotiable three school rules, the bottom line is that at times we will just need to be assertive. Of course there are children who, based on their other life experiences, expect all things to be negotiable. And others who dismiss all support other than befriending... And yet others who simply don't understand. But these things don't change the rules.
It is best to achieve as much s possible on the basis of our working relationships with students (coach, friend, mediator...). However, when our working relationships break down, we may need to be assertive and our right to do so comes from our role: Principal, Class Teacher, Duty Teacher, Teacher Aide...
Making the role explicit while being assertive can help reduce the student's confusion.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Improve the system to offset spending reductions

The global financial crisis is forcing governments world-wide to reduce spending as an alleged strategy for 'cost saving'. An earlier blog showed that this is a false claim. Reducing spending without system improvement is simply cost shifting. And the shift tends to be towards those who can least afford the cost.

Cost savings are achieved by improving the system so that
  • the system is more efficient = uses less resources
  • the system is more effective and hence, there is less rework = uses less resources
There are numerous valid strategies for improving the system using small changes
  • Start with Easier First - releases resources quickly and easily (minimum change)
  • Then Reduce rework - reduces resources consumed and hence releases resources
  • Build in Continuous improvement - releases resources through improved processes
  • And always Focus on solutions - doing more of what works, and less of what doesn't work, rather than developing counter measures (rework = uses more resources)
  • Big improvements from small changes are achieved by addressing the constraints - only introduce changes (differences) that make a difference.
The latter strategy does not assume that the way to maintain outcomes (e.g. student learning) is to increase the focus on what appear to be core activities (e.g., classroom teaching). Making such an assumption usually leads to cutting resources for things other than classroom teaching.

Reducing the cost of poor student behaviour
Each year, inappropriate student behaviour costs the Tasmanian education system tens of millions of dollars worth of staff time, energy and commitment that would otherwise be applied to the core task of educating students. In many cases poor behaviour is the major constraint on achieving and maintaining learning outcomes.

The irony is that, in order to maintain resourcing for core activities (especially staff:student ratios in classrooms) the system is cutting 'non-core' activities such as support services, professional development, school development and the provision of tools. There is little regard to the cost effectiveness of such decisions.

The development of a system-wide student support information system (estimated cost $300 000) was abandoned as a very early 'cost saving' despite the fact that it would have returned many times its cost in actual savings, and helped to improve key outcomes and core activities. These improvements would have allowed some slight reduction in resourcing for core activities across the entire system which in turn would have resulted in actual cost savings in cold hard cash.

And this is just one example.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Challenges as opportunities

The global finacial crisis is presenting challenges across the board. Many of these challenges are urgent as resources are lost, or simply not available. If financial resources are inadequate the first response is to stop spending in an attempt to 'reduce costs'. But this strategy does not actually reduce costs... it just changes who pays the cost, and usually, this becomes those who can least afford it (The Myth of cost saving by cutting spending).

The only way to reduce costs is to improve the system - to reduce waste starting with rework. The best way to do that is to ensure that

  • Goals and purposes are clear and shared
  • Commitments are feasible (and/or safe)
  • Processes are efficient and effective (reduce rework - releases resources)
  • Improvement is continuous
  • Everyone is a contributor and beneficiary
  • The initial focus is on making things easier first (releases resources)

NOTE: the above list are core tasks - they do not really represent anything new. The small change is to actually attend to these matters on a moment by moment basis and to integrate them into everyday practice. They are not (and cannot be) separate from doing what needs to be done.

Improving the system is a key response to the urgent challenges we face. But the challenegs also represent an opportunity is (at least two ways):

  • The harsh reality we face forces up to reflect on what really matters - we have an opportunity to ensure that our goals and purposes are clear and shared
  • The unfamiliar difficulties we face brings our systems to the 'edge of chaos' under which conditions the system may be vulnerable but it is also easier to change.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

IKEA as role model

Recently, members of a staff group expressed some of the challenges they faced in carrying out their work. Their concerns and the possible improvement strategies that they had identified were summarised by a third party in an email to the Principal. The email was intended to be a starting point for discussing the situation.

In response the Principal provided the members of the team with a comprehensive email containing several key documents and advice and instructions. The Principal's email was rather like something from IKEA. It was presented as having all the required bits and pieces (information) and a set of matching instructions.

While some specific aspects of schools can be improved using the IKEA method, the 'constructivist' notions of IKEA are fundamentally different from those involved in constructing the knowledge, arrangements and actions required to make a school effective.

For example, the construction of an IKEA item is a generally a once-only task and most customers would produce very similar items. In addition, the item is largely independent of the context in which it is constructed and the use to which it will be put. Also, the construction of one IKEA item does not impact on the effectiveness of other IKEA items even if they are same room.

In contrast, the aspects of a school are in a continual state of flux... the knowledge, arrangements and actions need to be continually constructed and reconstructed. And no one have the full set of instructions. In this information age, information and instructions are not enough. IKEA is great at furniture but it is not a suitable role for dealing with the complexity of schools.

Dealing with complexity requires on-going conversations in which experiences and insights are shared, and knowledge, arrangements and actions are co-constructed. Rather than trying to produce fail-safe kits (a la IKEA) it is wiser to undertake small safe-fail experiments to find out what works and what doesn't and then respond to the results: nurture and extend what is useful and curtail what is unhelpful. And the time, incorporating the best as part of 'our story'.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monitoring school (system) capacity

One of the reasons that this blog focuses on small changes is because schools do not have an unlimited capacity to do good things. At the same time the number of good things that schools could being doing is almost unlimited, especially if one considers all the desirable and effective approaches that already exist for improving school performance.

One of the differences between implementing solutions and fixing problems is that the former tends top lead to low cost, sustainable arrangements. The later tends to lead to counter measures which usually require additional resources... time, efforts, $, arrangements...

It is true that many decisions about what to improve arise from the need to address problems that already exist. However, addressing an existing problem thoroughly can significantly reduce recurrent costs. The following guidelines may be useful

  • An identified problem represents an opportunity for improvement
  • An identified problem may require containment and resolution in the short term
  • Understanding how the problem arose may enable arrangements to be improved so that the problem is less likely to recur
  • Such improvements may require very little change: many problems can be reduced and even solved by ensuring that things get done on time, by the right people...
  • While counter measures may be still be required they need to be understood as an additional cost and not an improvement

It is wise to assume that the school is already near capacity. Thus, preferred improvement strategies are those that release resources rather than incur recurrent costs. Indeed, releasing resources is the key to increasing a school's capacity:

Attention to small everyday things and, everyone making it easier for the next person can be powerful ways to increase the school's capacity. The resources released are then available for higher order endeavours.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The myth of cost savings by cutting spending

In response to the global financial crisis many governments are trying to reduce costs by cutting back on services. This is described as cutting costs although it is actually simply cutting spending. The spin is based on the implication that cutting costs is both necessary and desirable...whereas, cutting spending might mean that someone misses out. And they probably will.

While it is true that such a strategy reduces the cost to government (at least in the short term) it almost never reduces the total cost. There are two common outcomes from such a flawed strategy:
  1. The total cost increases because
    • Processes become less efficient since they have to be developed using different arrangements and this may not happen (efficiency = 0%, effectiveness = 0%)
    • Actually require more resources - new arrangements have to be established
    • Processes become less effective creating backlogs, rework and deficiencies
  2. The cost moves towards those who can least afford it - those who have the least resources
The only way to genuinely reduce costs is to improve the systems involved.

Note: A new improved system may emerge spontaneously as a side effect of cost cutting - the edge of chaos phenomenon - however this is a very risky and unpredictable strategy.