Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh, diddums...

People knock on my door to ask for some piece of information, or to ask that I help with some of the blizzard of paperwork that wallpapers a Life sentence.

One of these is the official complaints process. There are three forms, including appeals processes, and wording complaints can be an art. After all, the recipient will wriggle out of responsibility given any opportunity (or none). And I enjoy helping people fight their corner.

In recent days, two people I have written complaints for have been badgered by three different Governors. Their universal whine from these managers is that I word the forms with some sarcasm or level of assertion.

Well, Doh! That's why people come to me in the first place, because by the time they are reaching for an official complaint form, they have already been given a long run-around by staff.

And so they want to make their complaints in a manner which reflects their frustration and anger with the failings of staff. Nothing abusive, you understand, but worded in such a way as to leave no doubt as to which idiocy needs to be remedied. Just as I write here, in fact. This is a tone staff don't like!

I think that these Governors suffer from an old prison disease, one that afflicts all staff. They just cannot accept that staff may be wrong or that a policy is idiotic. In their Universe, such things are just not possible.

And so a complaint from a prisoner is automatically viewed as being illegitimate. A complaint written without a suitable level of obsequiousness is to present them with an outrage.

But here's an idea. Governors, stop crying over the fact that some cons are pissed off. Instead, take the time to ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, the con may be right.


  1. An extreme example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    The more incompetent, the more self deceiving. Plus, if you add the Peter principle, which acts independently to the DKE, unpopular organizations like the prison service, or education, will attract and nurture a disproportionate number of parvenues.

  2. err, Jimmy, could you rewind that and come again? I cant make head nor tail of what you're saying, sorry. What is Dunning-Kruger, the Peter principle and DKE?

    As for prison governors and senior managers and such like they seem to think they are superior to the majority of people for some reason and they don't like it when this is challenged. I find their assumption extremely arrogant, but have yet to find a fool proof way of taking any of them down in a direct challenge on a individual basis from such a lowly bod as I.

    The times they listened and gave ground was when I met with them as a representative of a larger group, a union, that seemed to bring out such smarm and charm; they couldn't do enough for me.

    In fact they made out I was the next best thing to sliced bread or something like that and I am sure it was a tactic they were using to tip my ego into vanity.

    It didn't work although my head felt like it was swimming for a good few weeks after those particular negotiations!

  3. Sophie J

    Rather than show your ignorance by asking Jimmy to explain his comment, why not do a search on Google and discover for yourself what the Peter principle and the Dunning-Kruger effect are. You may find the description of the Dunning-Kruger effect especially interesting.

  4. oh yes,indeed, very interesting

  5. Sorry Sophie J,

    The Dunning-Kruger Effect, or DKE, was an experiment that measured peoples 'self rating' compared to how 'competently' they performed in a test or some task. The results suggested that for a group of people that showed the 'normal' distribution of abilities, those that scored worse, would rate themselves higher than those who scored best, whom rated themselves to have scored lower. Or put another way, despite the Normal distribution of scores in the tests, most people estimated their abilities as just above average.

    The worst case scenarios being: that incompetent people failed to recognize their own inabilities, and clever people didn't fully appreciate their own superiority, hence would fail to criticise the ne'er-do-wells. So you can end up with a skills inversion, confident idiots at the top, and self-doubting smart folk, at the bottom.

    The Peter Principle is a classic: In an organisation with many positions of ascending rank, with each rank having greater responsibilities and requiring greater skill to perform; an individual will be promoted by doing well at their previous position, until they reach a position in the company which is too difficult for them to do well.

    And so there they stay, doing the job they are unfit to perform well, since nobody would dream of going backwards.

    Now combine the two, the DKE and the PP, and you will have a fair mechanistic explanation as to the extent that organisations can screw themselves up, royally.

  6. Ben: Funny you should write this now. This morning I was having a whinge to Simon Israel about my MP avoiding me and the Prisons Minister, Crispin Blunt, holding talks about my case with the PRT but not with me! He suggested that perhaps I should change tactics. When I asked for an explanation, he said that they read my blog and are not happy about being ridiculed!

  7. JimmyG,

    Are you a fan of Bob Sutton by any chance?

  8. Hi Ben and JimmyGiro,

    I particularly liked this post and your analysis. Thank you.

    The Dunning-Kruger Effect really strikes a chord with me with something I experience in a different scenario. It describes something I've been trying to get my head around for years.

    Because it seems irrational, I've had some difficulty analysing the cause of the effect, and perhaps consequently, how to tackle it.

    I've recently been wondering about the efficacy or otherwise of attempts to counter the worst effects of the DKE by exposing the "perpetrators" to overwhelming evidence that they are deluding themselves. I wonder if there can ever be a "bloody hell!" moment when a deludee is eventually convinced that they have behaved inappropriately and sort themselves out. I've wondered how much evidence needs to be involved before this happens, or even if it can happen at all (the Wikipedia article suggests not.)

    So where people are suffering as a direct result of organisations and people exhibiting the DKE, what's the best mechanism to attempt to resolve the situation?


  9. @Wigarse,
    No, but having just skimmed over a google search, he seems a good source for ideas.

    @King Queen,
    Finding the cause to the DKE would be a milestone; and as you rightly point out, the key to the solution.

    I suspect there is a self stabilizing negative feedback in our social nature. Think of those beautiful girls who think they are ugly, or Sarah Jessica-Parker, who thinks she aint. The problem could be a life-time of flattering the lowly, whilst clipping the wings of those with high potential. We like to see our friends do well... but not too well.

    So for me the probable cause of DKE is: mediocrity in our social ethics. Before the 80's, the great and the good were warned of getting above themselves; post 80's is all about bringing up the rear, and inflating the grades, which can only lead to the 'rise of the parvenues'.

    The solution therefore, is to let people lose, as well as win. True competition, of equal opportunity, rather than manipulated 'equality' of outcomes, a la Harriet sugar-and-spice Harman.

  10. As an administrative member of prison staff fighting at every application and complaint to make the system fairer and to make sure incompetent, lazy and downright malicious officers and governors are held to account- we're out there. There just aren't enough of us.

    Keep it up Ben. Never stop complaining. Never stop asserting.

  11. Good for anonymous - I believe it is true too as in my dealings with the prison staff anything that was said that was positive about a prisoner managed to become a negative risk when presented to the people with the power!!