Blog: Let’s be honest…

The Ideas Hub was recently forwarded an article from The Guardian written by Matthew Syed who highlighted the need to blame less and learn more from our mistakes in the social sector. Matthew is an author and journalist who has written books on high performance including ‘Black Box Thinking’.

It seems, from my own experience and that of other commissioners, being open about and learning from mistakes is not something that comes easily to Local Authorities. When you look closely at this environment, the lack of transparency becomes more understandable. In a workplace which often has a steep hierarchy, an overstretched workforce and an imperative of cutting budgets, ignorance may be useful because you might not want to know the true extent of the decisions you’re making. Furthermore, the sheer size of the organisation, the layers of jargon and bureaucracy might make a true assessment of the consequences impossible.

Failure is inevitable in a complex world.

Honesty, transparency and continuous learning and reflection are all vital ingredients to the successful development of a collaborative and co-productive approach; NPC also clearly state this in their recent report on how to change systems. So I’ve been on a mission to find examples of organisations where openness and honesty are positively encouraged.

The aviation industry is the exemplar for transparency and accident investigation. In this sector learning from mistakes is literally a matter of life and death and as a result they have developed what is known as the ‘just culture’.  A ‘just culture’ is a one in which front-line operators and others are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them which are commensurate with their experience and training. Instead they are celebrated and praised for raising concerns and there are formal mechanisms in place which enable these to be shared across the industry.

The second example comes from an NHS Trust in the Midlands where they have recently employed an Ambassador for Cultural Change. Her remit is specifically to open up the work environment to a greater level of transparency which permits staff to feel safe about sharing concerns and knowing that action will result from this.

We at the Ideas Hub are interested in hearing about other examples because as Matthew states in his article, ‘failure is inevitable in a complex world. It is vital that we learn to harness these lessons and use them as a dynamic process of change.’

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