Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Processes and outcomes

One of the more throw-away comments made by Sir Emyr in publishing his report, according to the Western Mail, was "It may be that some wit will say that you could have told us this on the back of an envelope in a day. Yes, but it wouldn’t have been evidence- based".

It's an obvious temptation to wonder whether he had any particular wit in mind. I have to admit, though, that I do actually have some sympathy for the viewpoint that the conclusion is, in some ways, a statement of the obvious. But...

In a previous existence, I did a lot of project management, and projects are generally about achieving change. One of the things that I learned about project teams is that there are often two types of people involved. The first type are totally focused on the outcome, and will seek to achieve that by whatever means are possible, and in the shortest and cheapest fashion possible. And they don't always worry too much about who gets hurt in the process, or how happy anyone else is. The second type are more focused on the process followed to get to the result; or perhaps more accurately will only be fully engaged if they are happy with the process. Over-simplistic, of course, but broadly true.

The most successful change projects are not always the cheapest or the fastest; getting the maximum buy-in from all participants often increases costs and timescales. But it's an approach which is more likely to achieve deep-rooted and effective change, and establish a more consensual base-line for the future.

I've been confident from the outset about the probable conclusions of the Convention; and confident that the referendum would be held within the agreed timescale. I suspect that history will judge that the work of the Convention has been of great importance, not so much for its conclusions, as for the process followed. There's nothing unusual about a longer term view varying from the assessment which many make at the time.


Peter D Cox said...

This is a really thoughtful comment of the report which I entirely agree with ... but
What the report proves beyond a shadow of a doubt (evidenced I suppose) is that it is impossible to write this issue on the back on an envelope in a way that an average person (me, please) can understand. Sir Emyr advised a towel wrapped head and loss of life for a day when trying to understand the exact intricacies of Part3 v 4. And because the Wales Settlement is not 'like Scotland' (or Northern Ireland for that matter) writing the question to be answered will be a nightmare and people like Peter Hain will have more chances to deprive Wales of a proper constitutional settlement worthy of the 21st century.
If anything, the evidence of the All Wales Convention report highlights - rather well in my view - the way in which politicians have failed Wales: to have had a clear vision for the future, to put that in legislation that is comprehensible, subject to effective democratic scrutiny where it matters, and to follow through with action. (Note the remarks about the need for Whitehall to engage properly with what is now the law!)
I suspect that the AWC has moved us foreword with engagement - if only because in another life Sir Emyr would make a brilliant Plaid politician - but the fundamental flaws of the Settlement remain - and sadly, have to be lived with for at least my lifetime.

John Dixon said...

The diffiulty of framing a sensible question is a serious issue. Basically, the referendum is not about whether Wales gets the powers or not; it's about whether the Assembly gets them all at once, or bit by bit in a very untidy and costly way over an unspecified number of years. Personally, I don't think that's a great constitutional change question of the type which needs a referendum; but we are where we are as a result of a stitch-up to paper over internal disagreements within the Labour Party, and a referendum is built into the legislation. I'd sooner face that problem than go for the alternative at this stage, which is further primary legislation to untangle the mess.