Ray Ison: The travesty of targets

I’ve been reading through a couple of chapters of Ray Ison’s 2010 book Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate Change World, courtesy of downloads offered by The Open University.

“What seems clear to me is that the pervasiveness of systematic thinking and practices associated with goals, targets and projects … does not augur well for adapting in a climate change world,” he writes. “We need to invent something better.”

The “travesty of targets” is that they:

  •   Are seldom institutionalised in an adaptive manner that is open to revision as the situation evolves;
  •   Are easy to develop but much more difficult and expensive to monitor and police; and
  •   Preclude context-sensitive local design in relation to situations or issues of concern.

A chapter sidebar reprints a 2009 article from The Observer, “This isn’t an abstract problem. Targets can kill,” by Simon Caulkin:

The Health Commission’s finding last week that pursuing targets to the detriment of patient care may have caused the deaths of 400 people at Stafford between 2005 and 2008 simply confirms what we already know. Put abstractly, targets distort judgment, disenfranchise professionals and wreck morale. Put concretely, in services where lives are at stake – as in the NHS [National Health Service] or child protection – targets kill.

H/t: Mike Jones

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