What we have been reading last week — framing poverty, summer-born children, OKRs and public service fashion

We are trying to work more “in the open” and share what we are learning as we go along. In that spirit, here is another note on some of the interesting reports and articles we have recently come across.

This week’s edition is brought to you by Margot Gagliani and Danny Buerkli. Do get in touch with us if you have thoughts, feedback or suggestions.

Language matters 🖼️

Framing is the new catchword. Recent climate change discussions have highlighted how “framing climate change in terms of scientific jargon and figures that have no impact on people’s daily lives can have a detrimental effect”. According to the BBC, “of all our cognitive biases, the framing effect is one of the strongest affecting our decision-making processes”.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is now making this exact point when it comes to poverty. Last week, the foundation released a framing toolkit for talking about poverty. The toolkit is meant to facilitate the telling of a new story about poverty in order to help build public and political will to solve the issue.

It shows how to best use metaphors such as ‘locking people into poverty’, ‘loosening poverty’s grip’ or ‘powerful currents pulling people into poverty’ to explain how poverty works. It also highlights unhelpful framing. This includes leading with the economic benefits of reducing poverty, and stories that narrowly frame the causes and solutions to poverty at an individual level, rather than showing the real causes and systemic solutions when telling a person’s story.

Summer-born children and education 🧒☀️

As we visited SML College, a self-managed learning institution in Brighton (UK) last month, we have been reading and thinking about the purpose of education and where our current system is failing children.

A surprising example of how a school system may fail some children is found in the UK’s age enrolment rules. 1st September is the cut-off date for school entry, and children whose birthday is in August can find themselves almost a year younger than the other pupils.

Research shows that this age difference matters: children born in August are 6.4 percentage points less likely to achieve five GCSEs* or equivalents at grades A*-C [the scale goes from G, worst, to A*, best], around 2 percentage points less likely to go to university at age 18 or 19, and around 2.3 percentage points less likely to attend a high-status Russell Group institution** if they do.

While the UK has worked on making it easier for parents to enrol their summer-born children (born between April 1st and August 31st) a year later, there is still a postcode lottery as councils are less strict with their rules depending on where you live.

Every child is different, and given the complexity of these situations, I think that we may be better served with a system that doesn’t just follow a strict cut-off rule, but takes into account professional and parental judgment — as well as the child’s wishes. This is what we mean by ‘enablement’ — we should be understanding the needs and strengths of individuals and ask ourselves what can be done to enable people (in this case: children) to reach their potential rather than ‘manage their needs’.

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) — a tool that’s too powerful? ⚡

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are a popular management tool. Invented by legendary manager Andy Grove at IBM they have spread wide and far particularly thanks to Google adopting them. It’s a simple system that allows an organisation to define what it wants to achieve and how it will get there. Unlike “key performance indicators” OKRs allow for much more nuance and subtlety.

We have been using OKRs at CPI for the past year or so. In our experience it has been a great way of working out what we should be doing, how to do it and then hold ourselves accountable to that.

The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) uses OKRs on GOV.UK, the UK government’s website. Steve Messer wrote a short yet quite detailed post on Medium explaining how they use OKRs (h/t to Mike Thacker).

Are OKRs too powerful a tool though? In a recent submission to a UK parliamentary inquiry medConfidential blamed many of the negative effects of, e.g., tech products like YouTube on the single-minded use of OKRs in the tech industry. The document provides a good summary of many of the well-known problems that arise when we put too much weight on metrics. I’m however not sure whether OKRs are really to blame for much of what’s wrong with YouTube, Facebook et al.

Public service fashion 📯

Fast fashion retailer Forever 21 released a US Postal Service themed collection and Twitter lit up in delight. We welcome anything that makes the public sector cool and eagerly await more government-related clothing on the racks.

* UK academic qualification, typically taken by school students aged 14–16

** Self-selected group of ‘24 leading universities’ in the UK