It is encouraging to read of the N-56 initiative to promote greater collaboration between government and business. Whichever way we vote in September, it is arguable that one change that could really transform Scotland’s economy and its use of public funds would be to turn the rhetoric of collaboration into actual practice. In the allocation of limited funding, management of large projects, reconciliation of different objectives and harnessing of underused potential, collaboration has much to offer.
This is not as easy as it sounds. Collaboration requires an ability to see other points of view, to set aside parochial positions and look for the intersection of real interests. It requires an ability to think creatively, to explore options that may seem unimaginable and to make concessions for overall gain. The partisanship and defensiveness that are so often a feature of large contracts, for example, would need to give way to greater openness and common purpose. Such an approach requires skill, competence, aptitude and changes in attitude. In short, a different culture from that which often prevails.
A good example is the proposed inquiry into the trams in Edinburgh. What we need is to learn from such mistakes as were made. Nobody is perfect and the key is to understand the pressures, perceptions and assumptions with which decision-makers were operating at crucial stages in the project, in order to avoid repetition in other large contracts in the future. The danger, revealed in some of the language used by some observers, is that the inquiry is viewed as a way to find fault, to allocate blame and to create scapegoats.
If however, the goal is to discover the facts, analyse objectively what happened and ensure that, in future, there is accountability and responsibility built into project management, and realistic expectations of what can be achieved with limited funds and limited knowledge, then progress will be made. If it leads to people being able to own up to difficulties early, without fear of loss of face (or worse), many problems would be nipped in the bud.
There are many examples in the NHS, Police Scotland, local authorities and the corporate world of the kind of silo mentality to which the N-56 report refers. We need to understand the reasons why and stop repeating the same errors time after time. The fact is that there is rarely, in public or private sector life, one winner, and eliciting the cooperation of others is the key to most success. The same of course applies after September 18….