Origins of the Super-Smart Model of Democracy

The need to talk about a ‘Super-Smart’ (or as it was then ‘Super-Competent’) model of democracy started to emerge in 2013 when I was a member of a small group of systems thinkers and participation consultants in Curitiba, Brazil.

We were trying to work out whether it would be worthwhile putting a lot of money, time and effort into offering our consultancy services to the newly-elected leftist Mayors and Governors in a few key cities and states in Brazil.

We started from the results of a survey by PWC about managing complexity. PWC interviewed 1400 global CEOs and found that 70% said managing the increasing complexity of their organisations was a high priority, 91% believed that this required special skills, tools and approaches, but only 5% believed they had the skills needed.

We were proposing that the newly-elected Mayors and Governors were in the same position as those CEOs because their cities and states were far more complex than any corporation. Our aim was to help them to identify, acquire and apply ‘the special skills and approaches’ that they and their senior colleagues needed to manage successfully the hugely-complex cities and states for which they were now responsible.

We would base our consultancy interventions on the work of systems thinkers and participation practitioners such as Stafford Beer, W.Edwards Deming, John Seddon, Richard David Hames, Dee Hock, Jake Chapman, Walter Mylecraine, Enid Mumford, Peter Checkland and the Brazilian educationalist, Paulo Freire.

The consultancy never came to fruition for two reasons. Firstly, we were not sure that we could negotiate successfully the very costly bureaucratic hoops that were in the way of obtaining contracts with public bodies in Brazil.

Secondly, we could see that, because we were starting at the top, as it were, we would be competing with the biggest boys on the block: McKinseys, Accenture, Booz Allen, Cisco, Microsoft, etc. Even finding and getting through the right door would need us to offer something very different and special to trigger a positive interest.

All of the major consultancies claimed to be able to make government smaller, work better and cost less with their versions of performance management, internal markets, IT solutions, outsourcing,  ‘lean’, improved leadership and so on. In fact dozens of studies showed that their hugely expensive interventions invariably led to larger workforces, increased costs and worse government. The British government had actually produced its own study of the disastrously costly and wasteful results of such interventions and entitled it, ‘A RECIPE FOR RIP-OFFS’. No-one in Brazil seemed to have read it.

Moreover, these disastrously wasteful and expensive interventions were underpinned and reinforced by three profoundly anti-state, anti-democratic and anti-labour ideologies: neoliberalism, elitism and managerialism.

Because of our training research and experience as managers, participation consultants and system thinkers we could see how and why their interventions were invariably making government perform worse not better. But to explain the difference between their approaches and ours we would have to produce some substantial documents and spend a long time in preparing ourselves to offer what we decided to call ‘The Super-Competent Democracies Programme’.

As we looked at what we would have to do, it became clear that we could not afford to invest the money and the many months of time, effort and uncertainty that such an ambitious project would entail, and so we called it off.

In 2014 I moved back to the UK and am now living in London.

The thinking and research that we did in 2013 has not been wasted. It has provided me with the framework of the book that I am now trying to publish.

The text currently is now complete, It  runs to just over 70,000 words and consists of:

Foreword: Introducing the Combatants 

Part 1:     Learning from the Neoliberal Thought-Collective

Part 2:      Elitism vs Democracy

Part 3:     Managerialism vs Management 

Part 4:      The Political Implications

Part 5:        Challenging the Dominant Paradigm

Part 6:        The Super- Smart Democracies Paradigm. 

Part 7:        The Super-Smarts  Community. 

Afterword:   The Dropping of the Pennies.

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