The setting and measuring of simple targets in public services do not work. Workers develop 'tunnel vision', in terms of becoming focused on hitting the targets rather than doing a good job, and after a while these two factors frequently become mutually exclusive.

Instead of constant box ticking and consequent inspection of compliance with such the targets regime, public services should be staffed by well-qualified professionals who are trusted to do their jobs. Their work should be regularly (but not obsessively) assessed/ inspected by qualified, independent experts within the relevant occupational field who use in-depth qualitative and quantitative findings to come to balanced conclusions relating to the quality of the service provided. These findings should subsequently be genuinely open to appeal from the inspected institution, and once finalised, fully open to inspection by the general public who fund the service.

Why is this idea important?

Examples of problems created by the targets culture:

  • Police focusing on petty (and frequently middle-class) misdemeanours which provide easy 'clear up' data for their targets, rather than engaging real detective work on hard-to-solve crimes, which provide a much harder target to hit;
  • Hospitals circulating patients through serial and useless triage encounters to hit waiting times targets;
  • Teachers 'teaching to test', training children to jump through government-defined hoops, rather than focusing on designing 'joined up' programmes of learning that allow children to develop 'soft' but vital attributes such as the ability to read for pleasure, the appreciation of historical narrative and the ability to engage in unassessed creative experimentation in areas such as art, dance and drama.
  • All public services areas spending countless hours (and public funds) to fill in endless 'quality control' paperwork rather than actually getting on with the job.

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