12 October 2010

Bland's Law and the Big Society

"Good intentions are not enough to make a difference", wrote Sathnam Sanghera in the Business Life column of The Times on 26th July.   The author makes a good case for scepticism about the Prime Minister's 'Big Society' initiative.  

The article argues that voluntary bodies are inefficient, mismanaged, unrepresentative and crippled by backbiting. Sir Christopher Bland, the former chairman of BT, was quoted in support of the latter issue, as saying that in his experience “the amount of backbiting, infighting and general skulduggery in an organisation is in direct proportion to the nobility of its goals”. 

This deserves wider coverage - maybe it should be dubbed "Bland's Law" - and many people will be able to give examples of situations that wouldn't be allowed to occur in a professional or profit-led organisation.    

I'll concede the point on the unrepresentative nature of voluntary organisations.  Inevitably, the decision to participate involves self-selection and, vitally, having time to do it.  Don't forget though, that such work can be a great way to improve the CV and employability for people in all sorts of different parts of society.  

But aside from this, and Bland's Law, many voluntary organisations do a fantastic job, and have good processes and management practices.  I think the article is too pessimistic, but very thought-provoking.

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