One size doesn’t fit all…

…but for most of us it does! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this tired old phrase being wheeled out at Public Sector meetings. The words “one size doesn’t fit all” are trotted out defensively whenever someone has the temerity to ask the Public Sector to explain why it does things so differently and inconsistently from one place to another, and whenever the phrase is used people will nod in agreement and you can see the experienced hands in the meeting room whisper “hear, hear” in their heads. But it’s increasingly starting to sound like an excuse for inconsistency in the Public Sector; it’s the lazy thinkers answer to the question, “do you know what good looks like and have you looked elsewhere for best practice?”…unfortunately the Public Sector isn’t big on knowing what good looks like, and if current form is anything to go by it appears to have little intention of finding out.

I still recall a few years ago I asked why a Publicly Funded development agency was not delivering its training courses online, and I was told without a hint of irony that the people they served in “their part of the world” would not take to such new and unproven technology; the year was 2007 and the average age of the people on their training courses was under 30. What was actually behind this nonsensical statement about the apparent technological illiteracy of their target audience was a combination of complacency, ignorance and fear. They are still not delivering training courses online in 2014.

Complacency came from knowing that they didn’t need to find new innovative ways of delivering services to their target audience because they would be paid by the Public Purse to deliver what they had been told to; whether or not it was effective didn’t matter, there were no competitors waiting in the wings to take their business from them and their target audience was captive…going the extra mile wouldn’t have got them anywhere, there are no prizes for excelling and there are no penalties for failing; so why bother raising the expectations of your service users or your funders if all you really need to do is tick the box and play the game. What need or hope for excellence can such a climate produce?

Ignorance thrives when people exist in isolation, whether its in the culture of a country, a way of life such as a religious sect that requires separation, or an organisation that is allowed to exist in a bubble…when people are not exposed to new ideas, new thinking and new ways of looking at the world, it is very easy to become fixed in our views and intolerant or wary of what we might not understand. The Public Sector creates many such bubbles, where there is no need to look around and see what good looks like and where the drivers for innovation such as the presence of competition are not present, ignorance thrives. What once may have passed for knowledge quickly becomes a set of rapidly ageing facts; in simple terms, stuff you knew that once served you well but is now largely irrelevant. The saying that travel broadens the mind is about more than physical movement, its an observation about our willingness to commit time and effort to exposing ourselves to new environments.

The fear came from realising that if they placed their wares online, they would be visible to the world, open to viewing, open to comparison and open to observation and potential criticism by those who might know what good looks like. And this is not an attractive proposition for Publicly Funded bodies that survive by playing on the differences of the audiences they serve.

The next time someone from the Public Sector boldly states that the reason they do things differently round here is because they understand local need, and says in a well worn homespun fashion that, “after all, we all know that one size doesn’t fit all don’t we”…just ask them politely if they or anyone they know uses Amazon, Google, Halfords, Honda, BMW, Kia, Tesco, Aldi, High Street Banking, Pets at Home, Online Banking, ebay, B&Q, Wetherspoons or Apple; they’ll get the gist…

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