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Why do we keep getting it wrong?

I was wondering what to blog about this month.  There have been a few events recently that I’ve had issues with, that I thought of writing about.  There was the workshop which was part of delivery of the Health and Wellbeing Strategy.  It had a series of presentations, which were very interesting, but virtually no opportunity to actually think through the issues and try to move thinking forward (there was only 20 minutes on the agenda, which because of late running was squeezed down to 5).  Then there’s another half day workshop in the next few weeks which again has been organised as a series of presentations.

My moany self has kept wondering – don’t these people know anything about organising workshops?  OK, it’s not easy to get lots of people discussing an issue in an effective way, where everyone has as much opportunity as possible to input and you can capture the results (more than just a series of meaningless bullet points).  But there are things you can do.

Or am I wrong and they right?

Then there was the priorities / business planning session that was actually well facilitated but didn’t take the opportunity to draw on the knowledge and expertise of the volunteers (so paid staff were repeating work which had already been done).  I’m not sure I’ve an easy answer to that, apart from doing more to ask people and involve them early and throughout the process.

So, I thought, I can’t write about any of them.  They’re just moans  about fairly ordinary things.  It’s hardly going to come as a revelation to most people reading the blog that a series of presentations isn’t a good way, on its own, to get a discussion on an issue.  And the sorts of way of dealing with it (people individually write posts-its and theme them, small group work, snowball into larger groups, have detailed note takers, etc.) are not new and will be familiar to most people who are experienced in running such events.

So we’ve got a familiar situation of people not achieving the best they could.  Of not learning from the expertise they’ve got to hand locally, or more widely.  A report this week from Lord Carter was one of many of its kind, saying how much improvement there could be if everyone was as good as the best (in this case £5bn a year could be saved from the NHS budget).

So, we’re not as good at learning from each other and from best practice as we could be.  Again, not new.  I spent fifteen years in a national agency (the IDeA and its aliases) dedicated to doing just that.  Similar improvement agencies have come and gone in health and other sectors.  They provide guidance documents, case studies, training, places online to share good practice.  But still it’s not shared as well as it could be.  So what’s the problem?

Is it that people aren’t aware of the good practice so never know to search it out?  Is it that they don’t always want to listen (is a series of presentations a safer bet than something that is going to generate lots of work and hassle?).  Is it that the mechanisms for sharing are inadequate?  Can you actually find the examples of good practice when you want them?  Is it that we all make mistakes and some people will always be better than others, so we won’t all match best practice?  Or is modern life – actually life generally – just too complex?  There are so many issues where you might potentially want help, and the time it would take to explore possible solutions or best practice would end up taking longer than the equivalent time or resource saved.

So actually we have a problem without an easy answer.  Now that is interesting.

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