Business First September 2017 Business First September 2017 - Page 45

to outcomes, and within outcomes from results to impacts, is necessary not least because it indicates where other factors beyond our control might have an influence. The following example shows us why, without a wider perspective which distinguishes outputs from outcomes and results from impacts, we may fail to understand what is going on. Some time ago i n a remote rural community farm incomes were low and there was little to encourage young people to remain in the area. Therefore, to encourage them to stay and thus to keep the community alive, a scheme was devised to improve farm incomes by improving the quality of the cattle the farms produced. The planned output of the scheme was therefore to be better quality cattle, and the outcomes hoped for from that were that farm incomes would increase and that more young people would therefore stay in the area to take over the farms. In this case the increase in farm incomes was the anticipated result and the retention of young people was the impact which it was hoped this would have. The scheme involved methods such as better AI, better feeding and better shelter for the cattle and its effect was that the farms in the scheme did produce better quality calves which was evidenced by veterinary inspections and the fact that they sold in better quality markets. The scheme therefore delivered the output it was contracted to deliver. However farm incomes did not increase as a result because, in the meantime, the BSE problem had arisen and depressed the price for all cattle. The scheme could not be blamed for this but it did mean that the hoped­for result was not achieved. Nevertheless there was some evidence that more young people were staying on the farms (the average age of the farm owners registered with the scheme was going down), possibly because they saw that some attention was now being given to the area. Therefore the desired impact was, to some extent, happening. However without that distinction between outputs and outcomes and, within outcomes, between results and impacts, it would not have been possible to analyse properly the effectiveness of the project. OBA is about the process of planning but does it lead us to focus more on doing things the right way than on doing the right things? This is not unlike the difference between applying medicine correctly and applying the correct medicine. Obviously we would like both but, if we had to have only one, we’d probably ask for the correct medicine (although even with the wrong medicine, some patients get better because of the placebo effect). However, because it’s often difficult to find the right policy, many policy makers appear to prefer instead to focus on doing it the right way – which OBA encourages. But, if we can’t realise now that what we are doing is not delivering the outcomes we want, why should we think that we will recognise it when this system produces the same conclusion? Surely it is better to accept that conclusion now and start to change what we are doing ­ instead of waiting first to go through the whole process of introducing and embedding OBA? But changing what we are doing is likely to require experimentation and innovation and OBA is not very compatible with things like exploration (when you don’t know what you are going to find), effectuation (‘effectuation does not seek to avoid failure – it seeks to make success happen’) and ‘trial and error’ (because trial and error works but until you have tried something you don’t know how well it will work and what to expect from it). When you are innovating how can you set indicators and targets for as­yet undiscovered methods? So why is OBA popular? Is it because, for those parts of the government system which don’t have clear aims and/or which are not achieving useful outcomes, it’s introduction serves as an excuse to postpone recognition of that reality. For those who don’t want to realise, or can’t comprehend, that they aren’t doing the right things and their programmes don’t work, it can be very welcome because, by the time an OBA system has been installed and is starting to indicate any lack of effectiveness, another new system might well have come along. So the recognition of problems can be put off again and the cycle of evading reality can be repeated. In conclusion it has to be acknowledged that there is a lot more to OBA that is indicated in these few paragraphs and that it might be helpful in those areas of government where the aims are not clear and therefore where at present it can be argued that whatever is done is appropriate ­ because ‘if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there’. However it is suggested here that there are reasons to think that OBA is not going be the universal panacea it is sometimes claimed to be, not least because it is only a tool and one which needs to be used appropriately in combination with other tools. Nevertheless: • It might help those areas of government which should be doing something but which do not have clear aims. • But it is very unlikely to help either those parts of government where the aims are reasonably clear but the wrong methods are being applied ­ or those small organisations and/or initiatives which want, through innovation, to make a difference. • Further, by focussing too much on doing things right to the detriment of doing the right things, it is likely to provide a welcome excuse for those who want to procrastinate. www.businessfirstonline.co.uk 43