This is a cautionary note for all those people taking Michael Gove’s speech about “The Privilege of Public Service” seriously.
One of my favourite books on organizations is by the Nils Brunsson, the Swedish organization theorist. My late friend and colleague Christopher Pollitt and I used to spend many pleasant sessions, drink in hand, discussing how it applied to public policy.
And although it was written 30 years ago but its argument was never more relevant than when listening to Michael Gove talking about public and civil service reform.
The book is called “The Organization of Hypocrisy” and the subtitle is “talk, decisions and actions in organizations.”
It’s argument, in a nutshell, is that organizations are subject to contradictory pressures resulting in inconsistent talk, decisions and actions. But they like to tell rational stories about themselves so they invent an “organizational hypocrisy” – a story everyone knows is not true but that everyone pretends is.
A classic example Christopher and I used to discuss was a policy initiative which was launched, coincidentally, in the same year Brunsson’s book appeared (1989).
It was called “Working for Patients”. Continue reading