Perspectives.

Long-form articles and multimedia from practitioners with something to say.

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If you’re blaming “coordination”, you’re probably missing the real problem

It has become a sacred truth that fragmentation holds back peacebuilding. Integration, coherence, and whole-of-government are good. Silos, turf wars, and tactics-without-strategy are bad.

Yet we have seen a full decade of initiatives to blow up silos, and the ambitions that we held at the beginning have not been realised. In fact, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that we have gotten better at collaborating on certain specific tasks, but failed to change much at all at the policy level. […]

9th November, 2015|Categories: Long-form|Tags: , , |

How to plan and evaluate when everybody sees things differently

There is a hackneyed F. Scott Fitzgerald quote to the effect that “the test of a first-rate intellect is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still function”.

In the policy world, this sounds more than a bit comical. Pretty much any significant question involves clashing incentives and value judgments, and a politically viable answer means holding things in creative tension rather than a “right” answer that (hey presto!) resolves everything. It would be strange to think otherwise. […]

8th October, 2015|Categories: Long-form|Tags: , , , |

Is your organisation able to recognise and act on the early warning signs of failure?

In January 1986, the Challenger shuttle exploded 73 seconds into its flight from Cape Canaveral. Afterwards, several engineers declared to commissions of inquiry that they had ‘laid down on the landing platform’ to prevent the launch going ahead.

What was striking was that the responses from managerial staff were very different indeed. They described a process where issues had been raised, as they inevitably were prior to any launch, but then resolved through normal procedures. […]

3rd September, 2015|Categories: Long-form|Tags: , , |

Building a culture where it’s safe to talk about failure

I recently gave a series of talks on Follies in Fragile States, and there was a lot of back and forth about titles. The sticking point was always the same. ‘We can’t say failure’, my counterparts would say, ‘because it will embarrass our partners’.

In the end, invitations asked participants to come discuss the ‘challenges’ of stabilisation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or even its ‘dimensions’. Of course this contrasted jarringly with the very first slide in my deck: the fall of the city of Goma to insurgents in 2012. We started things off with a line of police waiting for mandatory ‘political sensitisation’, angry and ashamed, outside a facility that the UN had inaugurated a year earlier with considerable hoopla. […]

10th August, 2015|Categories: Long-form|Tags: , , |

The one basic rule of public sector innovation

Things do not change easily in the public sector. A dense thicket of oversight, rules and entrenched interests means that innovation is as much political endurance trial as it is a sudden spark of creativity.

Fast Company recently published an interesting illustration of this basic truth. It concerned President Obama’s US Digital Service initiative, a sort of trouble-shooting service centre with a mandate to fix ‘outdated tools and unreliable systems’ across other federal agencies. […]

16th July, 2015|Categories: Long-form|Tags: , |

The HIPPO report is done — now what happens next?

There have been umpteen high-level reviews on UN peace operations. The most recent, the so-called HIPPO report, happened to coincide with the release of my own memoir / polemic on how peace operations must evolve.

What is striking is that the two documents contain a lot of the same messages, but approach them from virtually opposite directions. […]

3rd July, 2015|Categories: Long-form|Tags: , , |
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