Danny Buerkli
Sep 19 · 3 min read
Control versus Shared Power — which cards will you play?

Government is no child’s play, it’s serious business because the stakes are so high.

So why is it that we’ve been playing the same tired, worn-out cards?

We use target-driven managing — even when we know full well that making people accountable for results they don’t actually control inevitably leads to all kinds of gaming and dysfunction.

We insist on knowing ‘what works’ — even though for complex problems knowing ‘what worked’ somewhere else won’t tell us much at all about whether it will work here.

We build transactional services — despite the fact that we know that it’s relationships which make many services work.

And we, of course, use hierarchy as the ultimate trump card.

These cards, these patterns are failing us but we still hear many calls for more of the same. But doubling down on hierarchy and control won’t get us out of the mess that we’re in.

Let me be clear. We are not saying that these cards are always wrong. What we are saying is that there is an entire set of different cards that we ought to play much more often.

These are not based on control but they are based on the idea that we do better when we share power.

Instead of target-driven managing, we redefine governance to include much richer notions of accountability and to change the role of leaders from heroes to stewards.

In the place of insisting on understanding “what works” ahead of time we choose continuous learning where we use data for learning, and not for control.

We replace transactionality with relationships understanding that for complex services we need to create the space for meaningful personal interactions.

And instead of hierarchy, we choose subsidiarity — instead of assuming that power needs to sit at the centre of government and at the top of organisations we assume the opposite. We push authority to where the knowledge, expertise and wisdom sits — rather than carrying information to where authority sits. We believe in radically redistributing both power and accountability across the system.

This is radical but it’s not ‘our’ vision — because this is real, these cards are being played by pioneers like Wigan Council, by Gateshead Council, by the Dutch home care provider Buurtzorg and by many more here and abroad.

It’s fun to talk about this in the language of games and to be creative with it but the backdrop to this is serious. Something profound needs to change and hopefully these Radical Visions, this one included, can help catalyze that.


The Shared Power Principle game is based on our recent discussion paper on the same topic. This was a team effort across CPI with all colleagues contributing to both the underlying thinking as well as to the illustration itself. The brilliant illustrator is Joe Wilson.

The game was launched at Nesta’s Government Innovation Summit 2019 and the illustration forms part of the Radical Visions publication.

Want the actual playing cards? Leave your email address here and we will be in touch once we can gauge whether there’s enough interest to get them produced.

Centre for Public Impact

The Centre for Public Impact is a not-for-profit founded by Boston Consulting Group. Believing that governments can and want to do better for people, we work side-by-side with governments — and all those who help them — to reimagine government, and turn ideas into action.

Danny Buerkli

Written by

Centre for Public Impact

The Centre for Public Impact is a not-for-profit founded by Boston Consulting Group. Believing that governments can and want to do better for people, we work side-by-side with governments — and all those who help them — to reimagine government, and turn ideas into action.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade