Posts Tagged ‘targets’

nutmegThere were always targets for breakfast.  There were always performance indicators for lunch. There were always inspections for supper. 

The civic offices were full of files of data. Nutmeg, the local government apprentice, looked out of the window.  Cllr Nesbit fiddled with bits of things.  Nicodemus, the chief executive, sat in his chair and dozed.

Nutmeg stood up.  ‘I am going for a walk,’ she said.

‘Why?’ said Cllr Nesbit.

‘Whatever for?’ said Nicodemus.


‘I don’t know!’ said Nutmeg.  But she went for a walk nevertheless.

Nutmeg walked to the creek and sat and watched the tide come in.  What was that?  There was a bottle at the water’s edge.  There seemed to be a tiny light inside.  Nutmeg opened the bottle.  Outburst a Genie. 

‘I have been trapped for a hundred years, ” said the Genie, for he was the spirit of municipal government past. ‘You have set me free.  In return I shall grant you three wishes.’

‘Three wishes?’ said Nutmeg.  Nutmeg thought and thought and at last she said,

‘I would very much like something different for supper and something different for breakfast and something different for lunch.’

‘There!’ said the Genie, and handed her a magic Spoon.  Then in a flash and a bang he was gone.

Nutmeg hurried back to the civic offices.  The Spoon conjured up all kinds of local ingredients.  The Spoon cooked supper all by itself, without any guidance or recipe books. And that night Nutmeg, Cllr Nesbit and Nicodemus all went to sleep with a smile.

[OK so maybe I changed this a little bit.  For the true and full story of Nutmeg, check out David Lucas’s charming picture book – if you are looking for a bedtime story to read your children, you won’t do much better]


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If, like me, you have children who are currently at primary school, you will probably be famliliar with being handed on laminated cards the individual literacy and numeracy targets the teachers have set for your children.  So I’ve been interested in the coverage of the Cambridge Primary Review’s interim report published last week.  The report which is independent of the Government highlights the ‘excessive pressure’ many children are under form a ‘high-stakes national testing regime and teachers’ anxiety about league tables, inspection and the punitive culture of school accountability.’  In an opinion piece in today’s Times, Libby Purves argues that ‘treating children as tiny workers tied to formulaic targets has failed’.

This week’s Economist also covers the Cambridge report, contrasting it with the Government commissioned Primary Curriculum report being carried out by Sir Jim Rose.  Sir Jim has been asked not to look at standards and testing and his view is that the key problem at the moment is curriculum overload.  The authors of the Cambridge Primary Review point to a narrow diet of literacy and numeracy and argue that a broad, rich and balanced curriculum, far from distracting from the basics, is actually a pre-requisite for high standards in them.

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In her article in a SOLACE pamphlet, Governing a world city, published earlier this month, Lucy de Groot writes about the potential that Local Area Agreements offer for Londoners.  In the piece, she quotes a comment made by Rob Whiteman, the chief executive at Barking and Dagenham, that councils need to focus on priorities, not targets to improve the lives of local people.

This distinction between priorities and targets is important.  Every organisation needs to have a clear set of priorities if it is to make the most of its finite resources.  And I think the emphasis placed in the Comprehensive Area Assessment on ensuring that these priorities are based on sound intelligence and identified in collaboration with local communities is appropriate.

Take a central government example.  If 12 months ago you had suggested that Whitehall should set a target for the percentage of bank share holdings that it wanted to bring into public ownership, you would have been laughed at.  Of course the government never had such targets.  But faced with a situation where a number of banks looked like they could go under and the economy was seizing up due to a lack of lending, the government’s priority was to keep the financial infrastructure working.  The lack of targets didn’t mean that there wasn’t a clear priority.

It seems to me that Rob Whiteman is right and that priorities and targets have become muddled.  Take community strategies.  Increasingly these seemed to be framed around the national indicator set rather than the long term strategic priorities councils and their partners share.  The tail is wagging the dog, with managerial judgements of the deliverability of national targets taking precedence over local judgements about priorities.

We need a variety of different ways to assess progress against our priorities, and targets are clearly a useful way of doing this.  But our approach needs to be sophisticated so that we use the targets as a means to an end, not simply an end in themselves. The danger is that in chasing the targets we may lose sight of our priorities.

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