There has been a bit of a flap over Steve Hilton’s strategy bulletins, which have bemused and befuddled many of the Tory MPs who have received them. Francis Elliot has already done a fine job of picking out the best bits. But for those who want more — and in the interests of transparency — here they are in full.
Strategy Bulletin No.1 (16th October)
This week: Nobel Prize award shows intellectual backing for our ideas; our positive alternative to “big government”; Michael Gove explains the post-bureaucratic age; introducing the brilliant David Brooks
1. Advocate of ‘social responsibility, not state control’ wins Nobel Prize for Economics
Last year, the Nobel Prize for Economics went to Paul Krugman, adovcate of Keynesianism and big government. The award was much-cited by supporters of Gordon Brown to argue their intellectual ascendancy. Well – this year, the prize has gone to Elinor Ostrom from Indiana University, whose advocacy of non-state collective solutions to social and environmental problems chimes perfectly with our central argument: that progress is best achieved through ‘social responsibility, not state control.’
Here’s a quick summary from Danny Finkelstein’s Times column this week…
“This week, the Nobel Prize for Economics went to Elinor Ostrom. for her work on how local voluntary bodies can govern common resources (fisheries, irrigation systems and so on) better than either government bodies or private companies. Her best-known book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, travels the world, providing case studies of communities outperforming formal government intervention. Ostrom is part of the Bloomington School that argues for the importance of customs, traditions and a shared sense of fair play in administering social policy. It is still cutting-edge stuff.”
…and here are some links if you want to read more:
Article summarising her approach and basic philosophy from the Wall Street Times: http://wallstreetpit.com/11183-elinor-ostrom-and-the-relevance-of-economics
Interview with Elinor and her husband: http://www.mercatus.org/uploadedFiles/Mercatus/Publications/Rethinking%20Institutional%20Analysis%20-%20Interviews%20with%20Vincent%20and%20Elinor%20Ostrom.pdf
2. Party conference reaction – “big government”
Some of the reaction to our conference focused on our criticism of “big government.” Our alternative to “big government” is a “strong society”, and that position is described clearly in this extract from Matt d’Ancona’s column last Sunday:
“More explicitly than ever before, Cameron declared himself a foe of statism: its follies, its wastefulness, its tendency to compound more problems than it solves. But the alternative the Tory leader proposed was emphatically not a reheated Thatcherism. The Conservatism of the Eighties was about vigorous individualism: personal prosperity, share ownership, buying your own council house, consumerism, individual aspiration, getting on your bike to look for work.
The Conservatism that David Cameron proposes is something quite different, though no less demanding. It is not just “individual responsibility” that he champions but – crucially – “social responsibility”: the sense of duty and belonging that would (for example) inspire a group of parents to take advantage of Michael Gove’s excellent proposals to set up their own independent school, state-funded but free of town hall control; the deployment of charities, church groups and voluntary societies (as Iain Duncan Smith has so persuasively advocated) to address the pathologies of the “Broken Society”; enterprise not only as the basis for economic growth but as an engine (as Cameron put it) of “infectious” self-belief in a community.
The radicalism of this approach has not been fully appreciated. This is neither the paternalism of the old Tory patricians, nor the rugged individualism of the Thatcher era. It is an audacious attempt to fashion a notion of social solidarity from the bricks of centre-Right ideas. For three decades, we have been told that solidarity of this sort is the hallmark of the Left, and that it is achieved through the agency of the state. Cameron disputes that orthodoxy completely. His mantra that “There is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state” is not just a nifty soundbite; it is also his most deeply rooted belief.
And – no point in denying it – it is ambitious to the point of recklessness: nobody knows if it can be done. Cameron proposes nothing less than to wean this country off its apparently unbreakable dependency upon the state, centralism, welfare, and rule from Whitehall: the corrosive habits of half a century…”
3. Explaining the post-bureaucratic age – Michael Gove captures it clearly and concisely
In his Today programme interview last week, Michael Gove offered a simple explanation of one of our most important ideas: the post-bureaucratic age. Listen to this clip:
4. David Brooks – a brilliant exponent of progressive Conservatism
If you haven’t come across his work before, it’s really worth checking out David Brooks in the New York Times. While he writes on American politics, he often captures the essence of what we’re all about here. This column from a few months ago, although written with the Republicans in mind, is a fantastic description of our values and political approach:
Strategy Bulletin No.2 (23rd October)
This week: a focus on transparency. How Conservative Windsor and Maidenhead Council have used transparency to cut energy bills; public sector transparency in the US; some cool stuff they’re doing in San Francisco; a great piece explaining how government transparency can lead to innovation
1. Conservative Windsor and Maidenhead council uses transparency to cut energy bills by 15%
Transparency is a central component of our political approach. Along with decentralisation and accountability, it’s one of the building blocks of the post-bureaucratic age. We think transparency can help us achieve many of our most important aims – from reducing wasteful and ineffective public spending, to improving the quality of public services, to increasing public sector accountability and promoting personal, social and corporate responsibility.
Many Conservative councils are leading the way on transparency, and here is a great case study from Windsor and Maidenhead Council. They decided to publish online, in real time, the energy use of some of their main council buildings. Since they did so, energy bills have fallen by 15%. It’s a good, concrete example of the dynamic effects of transparency: the very act of putting information in the public domain actually changes people’s behaviour: it makes them more responsible. That’s why transparency should be pretty much a standard component of all our policies and reforms. Wherever possible, we should be looking for ways to take information and data that was previously hidden, and make it easily and freely available to the public.
Here’s a link to the Windsor energy transparency site. Click on the ‘live link’ to see real time energy consumption rates.
2. Public sector transparency in the US
The US is way ahead of us on transparency – particularly on public spending. We’re already committed, if elected, to publishing all items of central government spending over £25,000 – so people can see how their money’s being spent, and the job descriptions and organograms of the senior civil service – so people can see who does what and with what effect. But if you want to get a feel for how it can be done, have a look at some of these websites:
The Missouri Accountability Portal allows taxpayers to see how their money is being spent – state contracts, the salaries of state employees, the lot. It’s the works:
A similar project is underway for New York State:
Here is the public spending site of the US Federal Government:
And here is the central repository for all the data they’re publishing:
3. San Francisco publishes data to promote citizen engagement and social responsibility
As well as promoting accountability and efficiency, transparency can lead to innovation – new, socially-useful services being created. Here’s a great example from San Francisco, reported in the Guardian recently. This is a summary:
“DataSF.org<http://datasf.org/>, [is] a repository for thousands of pieces of information pouring out of local government. “The idea behind the site is to open up San Francisco government and tap into the creative expertise of our greatest resource – our residents,” said [San Francisco Mayor Gavin] Newsom at the launch in August. He hoped for “a torrent of innovation” such as those on the iPhone and Facebook app platforms. DataSF.org makes publicly available more than 100 data sets from local government, including from the police, the transport authority and public works. ”It makes sense,” says Brian Purchia, Newsom’s deputy communications director. “It’s the public’s data.” Two months after it launched, the project is already reaping rewards from San Francisco’s huge community of programmers. Applications using the data include Routesy, which offers directions based on real-time city transport feeds; and EcoFinder, which points you to the nearest recycling site for a given item. One company, SpatialKey, has created a visualisation tool that lets residents check <http://blog.spatialkey.com/2009/09/visualizing-sfpds-operation-safe-schools/> for drug offences taking place near schools. The local data service EveryBlock, meanwhile, is helping residents track calls to311<http://sf.everyblock.com/service-requests/>, the number used for requests to fix broken streetlights, potholes, blocked drains and the like.”
And here is the full piece, including some interesting links: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/oct/14/san-francisco-open-city-data
4. The most interesting technology start-up of 2009 is…
…the US government, according to this commentator. Here’s his summary of why transparency can produce great innovation:
“after taking a pretty careful look at the tech scene (and of course with a number of my recent posts being focused on Facebook<http://dashes.com/anil/2009/06/the-future-of-facebook-usernames.html>,Google<http://dashes.com/anil/2009/07/googles-microsoft-moment.html>, Apple<http://dashes.com/anil/2009/07/apple-secrecy-does-not-scale.html> and other giants of the tech industry), I think the most promising new startup of 2009 is one of the least likely: The executive branch of the federal government of the United States. Now, .gov websites have historically been backwaters at best, a bunch of awkwardly-designed, poorly defined sites that only met the bare requirements of a web presence. But of course the current administration is comprised in great part of digital natives, and it’s remarkable how quickly they’ve remade the .gov world into not just a number of compelling websites, but into a broad set of platforms that are going to inspire as much technological innovation as Twitter, Facebook or the iPhone did when they unveiled their technology platforms.”
and here is the whole blog post: http://dashes.com/anil/2009/08/the-most-interesting-new-tech-startup-of-2009.html
Strategy Bulletin No.3 (6th November)
This week: introducing two fantastic cutting-edge thinkers who are advising us on policy: they’re ready to work with you on new ideas and new ways of doing things, so please do get in touch with them…
1. Tom Steinberg: using technology for social change
Tom is probably the best thinker on technology and society in the country. He’s the founder and director of mySociety, a non-partisan organisation that runs many of the best-known transparency and democracy websites in the UK includingwww.theyworkforyou.com<http://www.theyworkforyou.com>, the brilliant www.fixmystreet.com<http://www.fixmystreet.com>, www.pledgebank.com<http://www.pledgebank.com>, and www.groupsnearyou.com<http://www.groupsnearyou.com>. He also co-wrote the excellent Cabinet Office ‘Power of Information’ report on setting UK government data free – something we are now committed to doing ourselves.
Tom is working with us to develop a new vision for government technology – not just making it more efficient and transparent, but also as a way of stimulating social action and social responsibility, transforming the relationship between citizens and the state. His email address is email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> – so why not send him an email, and say hello. Even if you don’t have a specific area right now where you think technology or engaging the public might be the right approach, it’s worth sitting down with Tom to talk through your aims and plans more generally, because I’m sure he’ll bring a useful, creative and stimulating perspective to it all.
2. Richard Thaler: behaviour change and post-bureaucratic approaches to regulation
Richard is one half of the duo who wrote Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, the influential book on smart new ways to encourage behaviour change without resorting to heavy-handed top-down state regulation. Nudge argues that we can help people make better choices in their daily lives because, in the words of the authors: “people often make poor choices – and look back at them in bafflement! We do this because as human beings we are all susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness and even the planet itself.”
One of the core values of progressive Conservatism is designing policy that goes with the grain of human nature, and Richard Thaler’s work captures this perfectly, using the latest insights from behavioural economics and social psychology to explain why traditional political approaches to issues like encouraging people to save more, live healthier lives, or use less energy, have failed. Richard’s co-author, Cass Sunstein, was appointed by President Obama to be head of the White House Office of Information and Regulation, and I’m delighted that Richard has agreed to serve in a similar capacity with us if we win the election, as a member of Ken Clarke’s ‘star chamber’ on regulation.
His email address is XXXXXX and you should definitely get in touch with him if you’re grappling with a difficult policy issue. He always has useful insights from around the world, so please do make use of this invaluable resource.
Here are some great examples of how harnessing the insights of behavioural economics and social psychology can help you achieve your policy goals in a more effective and light-touch way:
* Encouraging people to fill in their tax forms in Minnesota: The Minnesota state government had attempted various bureaucratic approaches to encourage people to submit their tax returns on time. They had threatened to introduce fines, published new guidance and various other bureaucratic regulatory approaches – but none of these were effective. What finally proved effective was the decision to publicise the simple fact that most Minnesotans had already filled in their tax returns. As soon as this social norm was made apparent to the wider public, the number of people submitting tax forms shot up almost overnight.
* Cutting binge drinking in Montana. A few years ago, the authorities in Montana managed to cut binge drinking amongst students – something that the Labour Government has tried and failed to do over the past decade. How? They simply put up advertising that stated: ’80% of Montana college students drink fewer than four beers per week’. This led to an immediate fall in binge drinking because of the power of social norms. As various academic studies have shown, people typically like to feel like they are part of the norm – so as soon as these students were told that binge drinking was abnormal, they changed their behaviour.
* Improving restaurant hygiene in Los Angeles: In 1998, Los Angeles County began to publish openly the results of restaurant food safety inspections. This rapidly improved the hygiene of restaurants and significantly cut the incidence of food poisoning without any increase in the number of inspections per restaurant. This is completely different to Labour’s approach to risk and regulation. Their approach to improving restaurant hygiene would be to increase the number of inspections, increase the number of forms and risk assessment guidance materials and increase the state penalties for restaurants that do not adhere to the rules. What this example shows is that publishing information and increasing transparency can help policymakers better achieve their goals without recourse to increased regulatory burdens.
* There are many more cool examples of this post-bureaucratic approach in action at the Nudge blog, which is regularly updated and is at: http://nudges.wordpress.com/
* Finally, just for fun, have a look at this wonderful video from Sweden from a project sponsored by Volkswagen encouraging people to use the stairs instead of the escalator: http://nudges.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/musical-stairs/
But above all, do please get in touch with Tom Steinberg and Richard Thaler. We’re incredibly fortunate to have such innovative and accomplished thinkers on our team, and I really want us all to make maximum use of this terrific opportunity.
Strategy Bulletin No.4 (13th November)
This week: the Hugo Young lecture
I wanted to concentrate on David’s Hugo Young lecture this week because I think it provides a really clear and comprehensive explanation of a big part of our overall aims and approach. I think it’s the best account yet of the social and political reforms we want to make, and I’d really appreciate it if you could put aside 20 minutes or so over the weekend to read the speech in full!
(But I’ve also summarised the key points below…)
1. Progressive Conservatism is about achieving progressive aims (like fighting poverty) through Conservative means (like decentralising power). It’s clear that Labour’s approach to poverty has failed – the poorest have got poorer, and the numbers living in deep poverty have actually gone up. Labour’s big government approach relies far too much on just transferring money to deal with the symptoms of poverty instead of really tackling the causes of poverty.
2. The best long-term solution – the way to make sure someone stays out of poverty – is to make sure they have a strong family, a good education and a job. That’s why the focus of our social reform plans are strengthening families, school reform, and welfare reform.
3. Our positive alternative to Labour’s big government is the big society. But we’re not naive: we don’t assume that community groups, charities, social enterprises and responsible citizens will suddenly just spring up to take over from big government. We understand we will have to put a lot of effort into making it happen. And so we see a new role for government: to create opportunities for people and communities to take power and responsibility from the state, and to stimulate social action. So the alternative to big government is not no government; not laissez-faire. The alternative to big government is the big society, and there’s an important role for the state in helping to bring that about.
4. The first step is to redistribute power to give people more control over their lives and communities. This is our strategy for moving the country into a new, post-bureaucratic age. The three key reforms here are decentralisation (eg with schools, local government), transparency (eg publishing public spending online), and accountability (eg with policing). This redistribution of power will itself increase personal and social responsibility.
5. But we need to go further – not just enabling people to take responsibility, but actively helping to create the big society. We will use the state to remake society, with our strategy for social action. Social action is already a core part of modern Conservatism (our local candidate community projects). If we win the election, it will be a core part of policy programme – so we make sure people actually take advantage of the opportunities created by our reforms. Our strategy for social action (explained more fully in the speech) addresses three groups:
i) social entrepreneurs – we will identify thousands of social entrepreneurs with strong track records and franchise successful social programmes so we can more easily replicate them; we will look for new ways of helping successful social programmes grow and expand their reach and impact;
ii) community activists – we will engage hundreds of thousands of community activists who can lead social action locally (eg organising police beat meetings, campaigning for new schools to be set up);
iii) active citizens – there are no simple answers or short cuts but we will use research about how to influence behaviour change (our ‘nudge’ agenda) to help create new social norms around community service, philanthropy, and personal responsibility.
This new role for the state will also mean a new role for civil servants – to be more like civic servants, understanding how to work with social entrepreneurs and how to encourage social action.
6. Two key phrases from the speech that serve as a useful summary:
* “So yes in the fight against poverty, inequality, social breakdown and injustice I do want to move from state action to social action. But I see a powerful role for government in helping to engineer that shift. Let me put it more plainly: we must use the state to remake society.”
* “This, then, is our new role for the state. Galvanising, catalysing, prompting, encouraging and agitating for social renewal. It must help families, individuals, charities and communities come together to solve problems.”
A copy of the speech is attached, and also copied in this email right here:
Strategy Bulletin No.5 (4th December)
(Sorry for missing the last two weeks – I was away.)
This week: an update on our plans for National Citizen Service – some cool ways of harnessing the power of information – a really useful way of describing the post-bureaucratic age.
1. National Citizen Service
This is a fantastic, tangible example of our belief in social responsibility, not state control. Over the past few years, we have been working with leading figures in the community sector to develop our plans – and as well as developing our plans in theory, we have been putting them into practice with a number of pilot projects. This recent article by John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday is a really good summary of our commitment to this policy:
2. Data visualisation – the power of information
New technology will increasingly help us to present our arguments and policies in more innovative and compelling ways. A good example is how new online tools can help you to present information in a much more accessible and powerful way than standard charts or tables. The way information is presented can have huge power and can help shape behaviour. As you can see from the links below, putting information in a visual format can bring arguments to life and empower people with the data they need to make informed decisions. It’s precisely this type of innovation that we want to unleash through our commitment to opening up government data – so people have access to loads of datasets so they can build their own websites and applications (eg crime mapping, what government money is being spent in their area etc).
If you want to start doing this yourself, there are some links at the end to online tools you can use.
And if you want to have a go at visualising data yourself, these tools are a great place to start:
3. Post-bureaucratic age
This is a great summary of the post-bureaucratic age idea, which you easily adapt and use in speeches and other documents to explain what it’s all about. It comes from a speech from Michael Gove this week on our vision for education reform.
“My colleague David Cameron has described the historical period we are now entering as the post-bureaucratic age. As a phrase, its never going to be the catchiest way of capturing the zeitgeist, hardly up there with Cool Britannia or the Giving Age or any of the other new dawns which we were invited to be dazzled by ten years ago. But what it may lack in pithiness it more than makes up for in prescience.
The post-bureaucratic age describes precisely the new world being shaped by the economic, cultural, social and technological forces of our time.
Originally, authority in society was exercised on the basis of clan, family and local loyalties. The county gentry administered the law, individual noble houses marshalled men for conflict, news was exchanged at the parish pump or village inn, commerce was carried on at the market town and status was overwhelmingly a matter of birth. Even during upheavals which appeared to be driven by ideology, like the English Civil War or the Thirty Years War, the pattern of loyalties for most was dictated as much by clan, feudal or dynastic factors as anything else.
Then, with the growth of technology and internal communications, the establishment of canals, turnpike roads and railways, national newspapers, national parliaments and national banks, we moved into the bureaucratic age. The new nation states of the nineteenth century raised their taxes, enforced their laws, deployed their armies and provided for the welfare of their increasingly enfranchised citizens by establishing more and more powerful bureaucracies. The golden age of bureaucracy was the long twentieth century – from the establishment of Bismarck’s welfare/warfare state after 1870 until 1979. In Britain Balfour, Lloyd George, Chamberlain, Butler, Attlee, Churchill, Macmillan and Wilson all oversaw a growth in the role of the central Government bureaucracy, paralleled by what happened in America under FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon.
The economic shocks of the 1970s halted the forward march of the bureaucratic state. But we only really moved into the post-bureaucratic age over the course of the last ten years as the knowledge, and ability to allocate resources, which used to confer such power on bureaucracies has become increasingly dispersed.
In the last ten years information technology has revolutionised how services are provided. We can perhaps see it most acutely in the media – for example in the realm of broadcasting. When I was growing up in the 1970s access to the airwaves was very tightly controlled by bureaucratic means. And the most powerful bureaucrat of all was the Controller of BBC One. That single man, and it always was a man then, could control what the nation watched and when they watched it, creating shared moments of national unity around the Christmas Morecambe and Wise Show or determining which sports should enjoy the prestige, and resources, which came from primetime exposure.
But whereas there was only one all-powerful channel controller when I was a child now every one of us has the potential to be our own channel controller now. Thanks to innovations such as Sky Plus, Tivo and iPlayer we can all decide what we want to watch, from an almost infinite range of options, and decide almost without restraint, when we want to watch it. This transference of power from the centralised bureaucracy to the empowered individual in broadcasting is a metaphor for what is happening across the economy.
Traditional travel agents are increasingly obsolete when you can choose everything from your flight operator to your hotel and even your children’s slot on the white water rafts online in advance. A and R executives, and record shops for that matter, are increasingly obsolete when you can search online for the music you want, not the music the middle men think you should have. Doctors and pharmacists are no longer distant gods in white coats when every diagnosis and prescription can be cross-checked within minutes and a million second opinions can be downloaded instantly. And Members of Parliament, for that matter, are no longer aloof and unaccountable creatures of unrepresentative party caucuses when you can monitor their votes, speeches, absences and, yes, expenses, instantly online and hold them to account publicly for any breach of faith.
This technological revolution has helped accelerate social trends which were already gathering pace, in particular the decline in deference towards established authority and the growth in a consumerist approach towards all institutions. And all of these factors have been underpinned by changes in how global markets have been operating, with capital more fluid and innovation more dynamic than ever before.
So in this new, post-bureaucratic, age where information about performance is much more accessible, costs are more transparent, individuals more powerful and impatience with middle men more pronounced every institution has to adapt.
The most successful institutions, and nations, will be those which recognise most quickly, and profoundly, how this flatter world will work. Instead of hierarchies there will be a premium on networks. The innovations which define our time, whether it was the medical collaboration which defeated SARS, the intelligence collaboration between Sunni tribal chiefs and the US military which made a success of the surge in Iraq or the open-source collaboration which defines wikipedia have all been generated by individuals working outside traditional bureaucratic boundaries.
And all these collaborations emphasise that access to, and mastery of, knowledge will increasingly confer the sort of advantage which family connections and inherited position used to secure. Intellectual capital will be the most valuable kind. And network theorists like Alberto-Laszlo Barabassi also teach us that the more contacts there are between people with a rich stock of intellectual capital, the more traffic there is between those with knowledge to share, the more new knowledge, insights, innovation and growth are generated. The clusters of innovation around Cambridge, Boston and Palo Alto emphasise that investing in knowledge accelerates our progress into the future.
But while the world has been moving faster and faster into a post-bureaucratic age in which knowledge matters more than ever, our country’s education system has been moving backwards in the last few years, becoming ever more bureaucratic, with the place of rigorous knowledge being downgraded.”