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Saturday 29 November 2008

Relationships that make government

Political-management trailer from Simon Baddeley on Vimeo.
How can I make it easier to watch the films I've made of conversations between politicians and administrators? It's getting easier - with greater bandwidth and better codecs (see my notes on this here - scroll down). Does my permission to put this material in the public domain apply to the internet and what choices should I allow on YouTube - to comment, to embed, to syndicate? My friend Nick Booth says openness should be the default. There are further films here - see 'No Overall Control'
Faces to places: officers practice political mapping
The people who've made these videos have trusted me not to have them used other than for teaching and learning. If, in my attempts to increase opportunities for learning about the working relationships of politicians and managers I put that trust at risk, a swift rethink must follow.
These clips are from an archive begun in the 1970s - when VHS tapes were the recording medium. The extracts below don't match the accompanying scripts perfectly. The transcriptions are nested in the films. There's some background reading here, and at my contact URL.
 1. My interview, over 20 years ago, with David Blunkett in which he describes "a growing grey area" and denies:
"any clear-cut idea that there are two separate groups, the politicians who get on with formulation and direction of policy and officers who are aloof from this, who have nothing to do with the political arena and actually get on with implementation...both officers and members know that isn’t true and that officers are inherently involved in the formulation of policy because of the nature of information giving…"
3. The late Sir Richard Knowles, Leader in 1994 of Birmingham City Council and Roger Taylor, Chief Executive, speak to me about their working relationship. Roger Taylor:
"... it’s so important to have this very very regular and intimate and informal contact. You can’t pick that up if you just have a series of formal meetings about particular issues. So it’s very very important for me - with all the political parties on the city council - to have a very very comprehensive understanding of what’s happening within them, where their policies are taking them, particularly with the controlling group, what ever party that is, that understanding their policies, the nuances, the shifts, the way in which the shifts in power are influencing the development of that policy is very important and that’s what I pick up from being able to have this easy relationship with Dick all the time."
2. Theresa Stewart, when Leader of Birmingham City Council and Michael Lyons, the city's Chief Executive in 1995, discussing politicians who manage a process, and managers who give shape to policy:
Michael: …it’s very difficult to actually map out where the boundaries lie and that is particularly the case when you talk about the relationship between chief executive and leader, and I’m quite clear that the process for making decisions on behalf of the council lies with the elected members and the leader manages that process. I‘m equally clear that officers who are worth their salt do try to help the controlling group of the day - to give shape to their policy aspirations and to deliver…so there is a dialogue not only at an early stage but continuing…at all stages in the policy process. I do think there is some challenge there as well, which - Theresa: Very important. M: - is a bit of a tension in the relationship. Perhaps in a minute we might come on to talk about the party politics of this because I do see that as being a delicate matter, but actually an area in which we have some fairly clear idea of where officers stop and members - and that’s wholly the territory of members, but again it’s not easy to define the boundaries. T: …Sometimes I talk to the chief executive about management - a bit apologetically sometimes…It isn’t straightforward...It isn’t that I have this pile of policies that are at my side of the table and he’s at his side, either receiving them or saying ‘Well, we’ll take this this way or that way’. Because it is an exchange…
3. A ward councillor, Andy Salmon and a neighbourhood co-ordinator, Julie McKinnon, from Salford City Council talking about each other's jobs and how they work together. Political-management leadership is not confined to the apex. It occurs, in this conversation, at street level in an area blighted by economic degeneration - ill-health, unemployment, dearth of skills and poverty of aspiration. A gang has stoned a bus. The bus company, to protect staff, has withdrawn service - compounding local problems.
Andy Salmon (councillor, Langworthy Ward, Salford): I saw a clear need to do something about this, so my first thought was to ring you…other councillors contacted their…fellow councillors on the GMPTA (Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority) to say that’s something that needs dealing with in that environment…but…to my mind it was a local issue. Julie McKinnon (Neighbourhood co-ordinator): Yes A: It has wider repercussions clearly, but in terms of the actual sorting out of Churchill Road, that is a local issue. You’re the local - J: Yeah A: - Neighbourhood co-ordinator so therefore let’s see if we can do something about this and although I was talking in the political realm as well, talking about Labour group, and we, as ward councillors, had been involved in collecting a petition…
Political action came with Andy deciding the issue was ‘local’. Normal procedure is to report to the GMPTA. To handle the matter differently requires Andy to ensure he has cleared the way with his political party, especially fellow ward politicians. He approaches his manager to ‘see if we can do something’. The council’s support for devolution encourages Julie to exercise discretion, but her job description says nothing about buses nor is there a budget for addressing an event like this.
J: Yeah. Well…I think that was the Wednesday you phoned me, and they’d withdrawn the buses on Monday…I was just really really unclear as to what I could do. So when you phoned and said the cameras could be a solution to this problem - A: Hm J: - and I think that, you know, if you could get a meeting together with some of the key players and could you follow it up - erm - I could see where you were going and think, yeah, that - that is the way that this problem - A: Yeah J: - will be resolved -
Julie's confessed ignorance of buses is not a problem once a politician for whom – and with whom - she works has given her a steer.
A: Yeah J: - and I just - I just did that. I just phoned - phoned people up - A: Mm J: - and said that it was your suggestion and having you there gave it legitimacy. ‘Councillor Salmon has said’ A: Right J: ‘Councillor Salmon’ is not me, as a – as an officer trying to set the agenda. It’s - A: No J: ‘Councillor Salmon has said - and this is - erm - is it - can you do this, can you do that, will you come to a meeting?’ A: Yes J: - and it was all ‘yes’ ‘yes’ ‘yes’, so – A: Hm J: - and I think that would have been a lot more difficult, if - if it hadn’t - A: Yeah J: - had that, that backing.
4. A conversation between Lin Homer, CEO of Suffolk County Council and Chris Mole, Leader of the Council about where policy is made. Imagine ‘policy’ as something prepared and eaten in a restaurant. Decisions by a guest presented with a menu are constrained by decisions in the kitchen about its content. Choice may be widened if there is prior discussion between chef and guest about what might be on the menu. Choice-making becomes sophisticated if the guest learns how the kitchen works and the chef learns more about customers’ taste. Guest’s palate and chef’s cuisine may - through conversation, tasting and observation - ratchet up the quality of decisions on what’s cooked and what’s eaten, making it impossible to tell where decisions are made about what gets served. This negotiation between a politician and a manager reflects their mutual understanding of the tensions involved, including several circumspect ‘erms’ and ‘ahs’:
Chris Mole: We (A ‘group’ of leading members) get together roughly fortnightly…to hear from you where you think the major issues are coming up…we listen to you more than bringing things to you...we tend not to walk into those meetings with a kind of list of things... Lin Homer: That’s perhaps something we should think about…there’s the other side to that which we are working on, but it doesn’t feel to me that we’ve cracked yet, is the issue of how I do get messages from group, particularly if group are going to be concerned about whose agenda we’re rolling forward. There’s been less of a culture in Suffolk than I’m used to of messages going between senior officers and senior members - erm - and so to some degree - C: Are you sure that’s the case? Education’s got a fairly well established M4 process [innovation where lead members work with lead managers of each service] where the senior four members meet with the EMT [education management team] to look at what the management team are taking forward on behalf of the members, and to varying degrees, then, the other thematic areas – L: I still think it’s mostly about officers telling members what they’re up to, as opposed to acting as an opportunity for the group to give priority about the stuff it’s talking about…and I think there’s something within the group about - erm - the democracy of the decision-making within group which means that pre-briefing is seen to - to partly undermine the freedom of the group to reach a decision -
Lin draws attention to one of the trickiest features of what should be a joint process. ‘Pre-briefing’ is a way of sketching out a detailed menu – a management device to signal the main issues in a way that will allow variations on the more detailed agenda that follows. She suggests that even this, though welcomed by some politicians, is perceived by others as pre-empting their contribution to policy.
C: Hm L: - but where post-briefing is then sometimes already too late for us to be as fast as you want us to be in the uptake.
If Lin and her colleagues leave agenda-preparation to politicians who then send out their list as ‘post-briefing’, unpredicted requests will arise to which managers cannot respond in time to meet politicians’ expectations. The purpose of a menu, even a rough one, is to bring predictability to pace of decision-making.
C: I think this is where - L: That’s a bit of a frustration. C: - where the politicians struggle is to have enough of a view of the forward agenda to know what to take into group at the right time in order to get views rather than being - reacted to the things once they’re on a formal agenda...
There is a question about how many politicians, other than Chris, are participating in political-management conversation.
L: …The thumbnail sketch it would leave me with is that - erm - I end up feeling that we can kind of draw up a forward agenda for group based on the officer view of what we think is emerging to share with group but if we do that, we get a little bit of the ‘well who’s agenda is it anyway?’ and ‘who told you to order it like that?’ C: Yeah L: But if we don’t put an agenda in we’re not getting the…dialogue with group that would turn that around and say ‘the agenda from our perspective is the following, now as a management team bloody well deliver that!’ so it’s kind of damned if you and damned if you don’t, and if you go all the way back to the appointment, one of the key criticisms from members of this organisation…is we move too slowly. C: Yeah L: But I think some of the reason we move slowly is that very dichotomy of how you get the clear agreement on what the important things are to move forward.
[The same CEO in conversation with the leader of the opposition - click, scroll down] 5. Woking Borough Council's CEO, Ray Morgan, talking with Sue Smith, Leader of the Council in 2007, about a ‘trading zone’ between members and officers.
Ray Morgan: …what I would call the dinosaur regime - officers in this box and members in that box. The reality is - Sue Smith: It doesn’t actually work like that. R: - the leadership is in this trading zone. I won’t call it grey zone. I call it ‘trading zone’ because that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re trading off what’s possible administratively. S: Yes R: What’s desired polit - S: - ically R: - and how are we going to get a balance where we’re both going to survive? S: That’s right. And sell - R: Sorry to describe it that way. S: - selling it back down the line both ways as well.
8. This clip from a film I made in 1995, captured almost as well as I can imagine the brokerage role of an officer working to a minority administration and the wise circumspection of the council's leader, Brian Clements. Their pauses and emphases exemplify the value of even fuzzy film in conveying what text cannot. Though all these relationships are unique to the individuals in them and the context in which they strive to work together there were quotes in this clip that spoke to universal characteristics of these relationships. I note the way Brian, well aware of the CEO's role in these circumstances, says how Jim will "look to me for...a view" or how Jim says of his and his officer colleagues' brokerage roles in getting a political steer, is that "the job of a good management team is to tease that out", and so "we put something in between us and talk round it" referring to the importance of "sharing information and giving warnings"; but it was these remarks, especially, I carried away with me from this conversation:
"I am answerable for the organisation but if you want to make an organisation work well it has to trust you as well as be trusted by you and Brian has to carry the trust of ... political colleagues." "The relationship between policy and administration is as nebulous in a way as the distinction between officer and member at that level. Whilst the definitions and the roles are very clear - Brian is a politician and I am an officer - we inhabit each other’s worlds. Brian helps me to make the administrative systems work better - to be more accountable - and I can help the political wheels to go more smoothly."
7. A film of an exercise in learning to read a political environment followed by group discussions involving councillors and officers about case studies - critical incidents. and a similar exercise in another council:

8. An attempt to explain the idea of ‘reading’ and the importance of ‘responsible gossip’ 9. Some thinking about ways politics, management and professionalism converge to make good government: Neither of these last two is clear enough, so I must re-jig them for clarity. It's all shaky, but it's a start. I’m learning more as I go along. [More here] [A letter to Kim James about the difference between teaching and learning - scroll down from a reverie about the sea and Greece]
I say nothing while filming. A list of suggested questions is sent with the invitation to participate. The camera is connected to throat mikes. Films are for teaching and research, used only with the permission of those taking part.
* * * Back to the future - November 2009: ... and here, to my delight, is a clip we've been allowed to use, from one of the conversations filmed in Australia on 4 September 09 for seminars on Political-management Leadership: Negotiating the Overlap - run in seven Australian cities with my co-tutor and host Professor John Martin of LaTrobe University. Filmed, on 4 September 09, by Annie Guthrie, it shows a conversation between Ian Robins, previous CEO of Wyndham City Council, and Mayor Shane Bourke about their working relationship.
Shane Bourke: He was a - quite a interesting minister, and he said "Always remember, Shane, there's a little bit of Darebin in all of us."
Ian Roberts: Hm
SB: You know. So. Things like that. So, that was like, as far as I was concerned he was trying to give a message, like, you know -
IR: Ah
SB: - this is what councillors should do.
IR: Yeah. Although it was a message about - erm - I guess, there's always a temptation to follow self-interest a bit, and remember that you're really here for the community's interest.
SB: That's exactly right
IR: That's what it's really about
SB: We are always lucky here because the culture had always been here like that and it still is today. You know it's followed through.
IR: Mm. Yeah. So in terms of the practicalities of the relationship, from your point of view, what would you say were the key issues?
SB: I just did what I was told. Whatever you told me to do I just did it.
IR: I don't think so.
SB: I just did it. I think with the relationship - on a serious note - I think what it was about was about trust and I can say to you, all those times, and you know I was Mayor three times under you, that I trusted you implicitly.
IR: I was CEO under you, but sorry - not Mayor
SB: No no
IR: The Mayor was on top -
SB: Whichever way. Yeah. To me it was a partnership. I never looked at - this person was on top or this person was under. I think it was about - it was about a partnership a clear partnership of you as CEO, me as Mayor, councillors and your executive, but you knew what you had to do and I knew what I had to do.
R: Yeah, I think there was a fair degree of clarity about the roles
SB: Yeah
IR: - and I had no interest in politics -
SB: Nope
IR: - and you had no interest in management fundamentally
SB: Exactly
IR: - and that was, sort of, useful, although ironically - erm - as CEO you've got to be politically aware and I -
SB: That's right
IR: - whether its advocacy and those sorts of issues.
SB: Yeah
IR: I think that was important. The other thing which I think was very important at the time, was - er - the city had a clear vision of the future
SB: Hm
IR: - er - with the long term community plan. I think that was very valuable and that provided a very strong basis for communication -
SB: Hm
IR: - and then I think the - er - of course there was a couple of major advocacy campaigns with the freeway
SB: Hm
IR: - and the toxic dump and - and those issues, and they were very uniting in many ways
SB: They were. But the toxic dump -
IR: They were polarising too
SB: Well they could of, but I suppose because from day one of that elected council of '97 you know and when were talking about relationships and things, I think because we were galvanised as an organisation even - even with the community but within the organisation, elected members and also - er - the administration, so everybody was galvanised and everybody was working for it, and you can remember through that period of time the One Nation Party was an issue
IR: Yeah
SB: - coming coming to Wyndham and instead of us being too hysterical about it because it was pretty hurly-burly there, we set a citizenship ceremony up on a particular night and all the people that could have been a concern went to that
IR: Yeah
SB: So we took the oxygen away from what that was about.
IR: Yeah. That also was an underlying - erm - philosophy of council which I found very - er - refreshing at the time. The council said that if it impacts on the Wyndham community we'll do something about it. If it doesn't well stay out of it, and - er - that meant like the East Timor thing was around and some councils were getting involved in that. As far as Wyndham was concerned it didn't impact on the Wyndham community. It's a federal matter. Leave it to the federal government.
SB: Yeah that's right.
IR: Stay out of it. One Nation federal matter until - erm - it was in Wyndham then you dealt with it as you saw fit. Then stayed out of it. And that was, I guess, a very strong message - er - for the senior staff and the staff generally of what council was really about.
Wyndham City Council filmed by John Martin, edited by Simon Baddeley on Vimeo.


  1. Hi Simon,

    I've been dipping into your blog for a while - introduced by your comments on Stavros's blog of course. I've watched some of these clips and found them fascinating, especially the Hertfordshire discussion (above) and the clip, from my own County Council, of our now MP and the former CEO. I chair a committee at that Council (as an independent non-elected member) so many of the comments were very thought provoking.

    I also enjoyed the Savoy post - amazing that the information you wanted was still there for the asking.


  2. Delighted by your interests and the diverse connections involved. Getting to the Savoy register did involve some digging but it was a delight to get to it. If you'd be interested in making a video of you and the key officer who supports you I'll be on the train at once. My research continues, with a focus on the key pairings that make partnerships work, but any boundary spanning pairing that makes government attracts me. Please keep dipping.

  3. Gosh, I don't think I'd even know where to begin on the role of an independent non-elected chair, and her relationship with elected members and officers. I find it an exceptionally difficult balance, and am constantly challenged (by elected members) and have to resort to relying on my interpretation of my statutory mandate, not having an elected one. As an authority we have pushed that statutory role further than most other authorities. It's a fascinating area though - and I enjoyed the national conference in Birmingham recently especially for some of the discussions on good governance that I had with academics at Teeside Business School and Cardiff Uni (Michael Macauley and James Downe). I wondered at the time whether you attended it? I wrote a post on my blog about the CEO of our authority, but I'll leave you to find it if you are so minded, since it is otherwise anonymous ...

  4. So think about a video. it can make the complexity and subtlety easier for others to learn. Two of my colleagues were at the conference and reported back on it. Sounds as if a new Conservative party is emerging...

  5. Ah! It occurred to me this evening that it may have seemed as if I was at the Conservative Party conference... Probably the least likely place to ever find me, but the same fantastic venue, just a few weeks later. The National Assembly of Standards Committees ... Should have made myself clearer.

  6. Whoops! Sorry. I'd be intrigued to do a film of a conversation between a Standards Committee Chair and the officer involved. My contact details are at the top right of the blog under my picture. S

  7. I can't make the email link work, Simon. The video is an exciting idea, but I'm still quite a way from having mapped out my role sufficiently in my mind to be able to talk about it coherently. I'd love to have a theoretical framework to work with, to think about, and need to find some more reading - anything you think particularly interesting would be gratefully received. My email is on my blog (A Different Voice). Reading and writing this has spurred me to write to those two I mentioned above, and ask them for copies of their articles too. Should have done that weeks ago.

    Have you added to the Savoy post, btw? I've drawn Stavros's attention to it and hope he reads it, but it seems to have grown since the last time I read it ...

  8. I tried emailing you via your blog and got this.
    Hi. This is the qmail-send program at I'm afraid I wasn't able to deliver your message to the following addresses. This is a permanent error; I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out.
    There's a further note about my communication not being authenticated. Try me on or 07775 655842. These contact details are in the public domain - one of the pleasures of not being a celebrity!

  9. Hi Simon,

    I have very much enjoyed the videos as I enjoyed your lectures at INLOGOV. Interested in the idea of the boundary spanner. In Wiltshire we have created posts specifically to facilitate network governance and this has led to many interesting discussions with elected members. If you ever fancy a trip on the Brompton to Wiltshire do let me know. Plenty to point a camera at down here.

    Best wishes

    Steve Milton
    Head of Community Governance, Wiltshire Council
    (and struggling INLOGOV MSc student)


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