"A fourth separation of powers shall be incorporated in every system of government for the independent feedback of results through a Resulture or Feedback Branch of Government."

You might imagine that for all the debate at the heart of government, there might be some function to check up on the outcomes of these debates. And in some cases there is. In many, even in most cases - nothing. Maybe a profit and loss account to show value for money - but with regards to the actual purpose of all the laws and policies and programmes, answering the question of whether they have achieved their aims - there is no structure in place to make sure this happens, and so mostly they become atrophy and waste, pointlessly clogging up the system and pointlessly exhausting tax-payer's money.

Would a business survive these conditions?

In this episode we start with Montesquieu's idea of checks and balances behind the separation of powers, explore its reality in the UK's political system, and think about what effective feedback might mean for this system.

Talking points:

The Separation of powers from Montesquieu

The centralised nature of these powers and opportunities to respond

Systems Thinking, Cybernetics: responding to reality

The political class - unaccountable and uninformed


Business as a model for government and its limits

Feedback on Social Purpose

Myths and perceived credibility about the centre

Broadband now and the 1984 privatisation of BT

Cybernetic feedback as non-political: Something just happens.

Law-making - spectacle vs value

Messianic transformation vs gradual improvement

Diversity of perspective, Design Authorities and purpose - safety, reliability and performance

Failure enquiries - no politics, no blaming and the origins in the Victorian rail system

...and the Global Financial Crisis

A mechanism to take feedback decisions out of politics

The contradiction at the heart of politics

Existing feedback institutions, their limits and potential

Abandonment powers for laws that don't work

The cost would be a fraction of the benefit

The building of a body of knowledge about specific circumstances


The god-like power of the feedback loop (1 hr BBC 4 film of Jim Al Khalili on The Secret Life of Chaos):


Mathematics, complex systems and small changes (5 minute clip from above):


On the separation of powers: origins in Montesquieu and Aristotle:


In Our Time - Montesquieu (podcast - 50 mins)


List of supreme audit institutions :


UK’s National Audit Office:


Reading List:

Schumpeter, Joseph (1976) Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, George Allen and Unwin

Drucker, Peter (Number 14, Winter 1969) The Sickness of Government, The Public Interest

Friedman, Mark (2005) Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough: How to Produce Measurable Improvements for Customers and Communities, Fiscal Policy Studies Institute

Straw, E. 2014. Stand & Deliver: A Design for Successful Government. London: Treaty for Government.

Fazey, I. Schäpke, N., Caniglia, G., Patterson, J., Hultman, J., Van Mierlo, B., Säwe F., et al. 2018. Ten essentials for action-oriented and second order energy transitions, transformations and climate change research. Energy Research & Social Science 40: 54–70.

Schwartz, D. 2017. The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age. New York: Basic Books.

Furubo, Jan-Eric and Nicoletta Stame, eds. 2018. The Evaluation Enterprise: A Critical View. Aldershot: Routledge.

Guilfoyle, Simon. 2016. Kittens Are Evil: Little Heresies in Public Policy. Axminster: Triarchy Press.

Nyhan, B. and J. Reif ler. 2018. The roles of information deficits and identity threat in the prevalence of misperceptions. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties: 1–23.

Rosling, Hans with O.Rosling and A. Rosling Ronnlund. 2018. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. New York: Flatiron Books

Forss K, Marra, M., and Schwartz, R., eds. 2011. Evaluating the Complex: Attribution, Contribution and Beyond. Comparative Policy Evaluation, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Extract 1:

PROGRESS is a radically different model of school accountability. It explores what might be learned from the history of Antidote – an organisation set up to foster more emotionally supportive school environments – to inform the development of such a model. It starts with pupil, staff, and parent surveys to describe their experience of the school, using the data that emerges to have conversations with each other to develop an explanation about what it means and a strategy for improvement. Every school should engage in this sort of process every year. League tables of public examination results are too blunt an instrument, and unlike the PROGRESS process do not stimulate solutions as well as highlight problems. Independent surveying and confidential reporting averts the syndrome of the untouchable but largely ineffective head teacher. All government agencies should find out how their stakeholders experience them and be held to account for responding to the findings. Board members would then have the judgment of the people and organisations they are there for and not airbrushed data from management in the annual review. - 22 Park, James. 2018. Turning the tide on ‘coercive autonomy’: Learning from the antidote story. Forum 60(3): 387–396. http: //doi .org/ 10.15 730/f orum. 2018. 60.3. 387.

Extract 2:

Rework was the term used in manufacturing for all the parts of an assembly not made to specification, which post quality control were then sent back for further machining to get right. The cost in time, money and organisational complexity was high. This was a bane of ‘old world’ engineering and led to the demise of much of the West’s manufacturing industry. Starting with the automotive industry, Japanese companies revolutionised the process with ‘zero defects’, ‘right first time’ and similarly purposeful intentions. Today, either a company’s manufacturing is world class or it’s not in business. These attitudinal changes, translated into practice, are at the heart of this book - Laing, T., Sato, M., Grubb, M., and Comberti, C. 2013. Assessing the Effectiveness of the EU Emissions Trading System. Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy Working Paper 126. London: Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

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