Professional standards and the public. Hmmm. Let’s start with a detour.
In my previous incarnation, as a consultant charged with helping major companies deliver a positive experience to and construct decent relationships with their customers, I learnt early on not to trust management speak. Managers were economical with the truth (OK: they fibbed) either intentionally: or they relied on pretty naff tools for evaluating what was going on.
Satisfaction surveys, for one. Whenever a government department quotes some nonsensical 90% satisfaction rate, I wince. Because in theory the entire technique has been blasted to kingdom come by research carried out over the last two decades. A simple satisfaction measure tells you next to nothing.
Companies with 90% satisfaction measures still have customers defecting in groves, still go bust because.. . well, because “satisfaction” is such a nebulous, irrelevant measure. But it looks good on government reports and it sounds good on the evening news.
The pcc rules – in splendid isolation
So much for satisfaction: what, then, of “understanding”, or “reputation”. The first of these nebulosities seems to be the currency in which the Press Complaints Commission trades. The pcc recently ruled that the Express was neither inaccurate nor misleading when it illustrated a piece on electrolysis for transsexuals with a picture of a razor.
Why so? Well, overall, the piece included reference to electrolysis and laser: so the pic was purely illustrative. Therefore anyone reading the piece would have understood, blah, blah, blah.
Really? I have two tests of that understanding. When first I mentioned the issue in a room full of pcc members, perhaps one knew why transsexuals would receive electrolysis. No-one ventured an answer, perhaps scenting the obvious trap. But clearly the use of electrolysis in the transitioning process is not widely understood.
I also know, from NHS staff I have spoken to, that following the piece in the Express (and similar in the Mail) there has been an upsurge in complaints about “trannies getting free cosmetic treatment on the NHS”. Now, pardon me for being a dyed-in-the-wool empiricist, but those two bits of evidence strike me as pretty central. People in general don’t know the situation: and following pieces in two bnational papers, some people have been complaining on the basis of a complete misunderstanding of the issues.
I’d say that was evidence of the papers being “mis-leading”. But no: the pcc does a fairly close textual analysis of the piece – a bit like a rather constipated English Lit student – and pronounces that if you look at this and that and the other, the words don’t mislead.
You see the difference?
The bubble reputation: professional bodies protecting their own
And then there’s reputation. I am currently supporting one individual through a case involving a professional body. I won’t say which, though you may be able to pick up some idea from the examples given. She is accused of bringing the profession into disrepute.
Oh, I asked: so how is the body measuring that? By survey? Do they use a panel? The rsponse from the other side – a highly-paid and somewhat blinkered lawyer – would have been hilarious, were it not so seriously wrong. Of course not. The body has a panel that looks at cases and the panel is charged with deciding what actions bring the profession into disrepute, what don’t. Consult the public over what the public considers relevant when it comes to reputation…why, the very idea!
Yes, it would be hilarious, were it not for the fact that this panel of self-righteous men and women did not hold power of career life and death over other individuals, did not soak up significant public money enforcing their view of “reputation” – and did not let others who clearly have brought the profession’s reputation into disrepute off the hook.
Not quite the masonic handshake, so much as as nudge and a wink to people who are “one of us”. In what way? We-ell…undoubtedly you have read of high-paid individuals in certain professions, in medicine, in teaching, who have used the byzantine payment structures put in place by the last Labour government, to milk the system for every pound they can extract.
GP’s drawing down £200,000 – and more. Head teachers who have managed to “earn” significant six-figure sums by doubling up their work. Oh: you must have heard of them, because these make the papers and…people get very hot under the collar. Quite clearly, these individuals do damage the reputation of their profession. You would imagine that the professional standards bodies would be queuing up to knock down these egregious troughers.
Troughers defend the troughers
And of course you’d be wrong. Because such salaries are earned by people who know how to work the system. In a year or two, they might themselves be on panels, sitting in judgment on others. And to kick them out on the basis that the public think their reputation sucks. Well…what on earth sort of society do you think we’re living in? A democracy.
So inctead, we have public bodies merrily carrying on, quoting public understanding, public reputation in support of their biased activities – whilst making damn sure that they never, ever test what the public actually thinks of either.