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Wednesday, 20th May, 2009

When organisations make mistakes how should they be rectified? Most often the spotlight turns to identifying an individual or individuals who are culpable for failure (be it the top dog or frontline professional) then fixing the immediate problem.  A new report by Kieran Walshe and colleagues argues that when it comes to long-term fixes prevention is better than cure. They suggest that too much emphasis is put on treating the symptoms of failure (for example by bringing in ’turn-around’ teams to address poor exam results, or by asking advisors how to reduce waiting lists) rather than addressing the root causes. It’s rather like a doctor using an elastoplast to stem bleeding, it may do the job immediately but without a closer examination of the wound further infection may occur. Instead of waiting to react, Walshe et al suggest that organisations need to be pro-active in their approach to organisational learning. External bodies or regulators should not be the only guide here, there is a wealth of knowledge within institutions that should be better shared and acted on.

For further information:

 ‘Failing to learn – or learning to fail?‘ Society Guardian, 20/5/2009

Walshe K., Harvey G., Skelcher C. and Jas, P. (2009)  Could do better? Knowledge, learning and performance improvement in public services (pdf).

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