Trudeau, Orwell and ‘Deliverology’

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I suspect that most people have not heard of ‘deliverology‘. This is a good introductory piece by Andrew Nikiforuk on this ‘new’ fad which is gaining more traction in the political world.


Deliverology is an approach for the management of reform initiatives “which began in the U.K.’s failing educational system [and] is the brainchild of a certain Michael Barber.” It consists of three components,

  • formation of a delivery unit
  • data collection for setting targets [and subsequently, measuring successful completion rates]
  • establishing routines


Politics in a democratic society like Canada revolves around a known timetable for elections. In the past, calling elections was usually a prerogative of the governing party, but more recently, has shifted to a fixed date schedule that informs citizens of the next time they can head to the polls to vote. From a politician’s point of view, such certitude of timing, sharply focuses their attention and efforts to ensure that they are successfully re-elected, because after all, that is the most important goal of the game.


Given this reality of an electoral cycle, it is incumbent on politicians in power to create an image of success with respect to first and foremost their partisan followers, and secondly, the rest of society. Lofty campaign promises of changes are more often than not left unfulfilled or abandoned in the harsh cut and thrust of practical politics. It is one thing to disappoint society in general with respect to governing, and an altogether different magnitude of failure if your core followers are left feeling frustrated and deceived at the end of your mandate. And yet, perhaps not surprisingly, this is exactly what happens over and over again.


Enter the purveyors of a magical new snake oil, called deliverology, which it is claimed will solve the problems of accountability by blinding us with smoke and choking us with bullshit. Citizens cynicism about politicians all being liars and charlatans seems constantly renewed by successive generations of leaders and politicos.

Citizens used to call governments that didn’t deliver on their promises incompetent, corrupt, dishonest and leaderless. But Barber has a wondrous cure — deliverology — to be applied by experts.


Whether you are Trudeau, Trump, May or Merkel, you can employ the tactic of utilizing deliverology to paint a better picture for yourself and your efforts than are warranted by reality. Where are the changes in Canada promised by Trudeau under the rubric of REAL CHANGE NOW.  Where is electoral reform, climate change reform, better environmental legislation, and infrastructure advances? Delivering legislative success on the legalization of pot strikes me as a woefully inadequate report card for Trudeau’ first term government. Maybe I will need to start smoking pot in order to calm myself when I contemplate all the much more significant priorities that our society needs to address and is utterly failing to deliver on.


And therein lies the crux of the matter. Embracing deliverology is the easiest, laziest approach to governing. There is little in the use data on deliverology to suggest it has EVER been successfully applied to make reform initiatives a reality.

“Deliverology is a technical solution that ignores the complex reality and inherent ambiguity of public service and public management,” Schacter writes. “It assumes a narrow and specific delivery problem that can be traced to the bureaucracy. It assumes that performance targets are appropriate instruments for addressing all manner of delivery problems. If these assumptions are wrong, then deliverology is an elaborate solution in search of a problem.”


We deserve better from our leaders and government than their self-interested use of a technique to essentially manipulate “…constraints on the public by the powerful (to keep them in power) through the medium of information.” If we truly want to change things in our world and make them better, then we all need to see the truth hidden behind the curtain of deliverology.


2 Responses

    • Paul

      Hi Roger. Can you please be a little more specific? Do you mean the more popular Machiavelli from “The Prince” wherein he promotes several strategies and tactics for leaders to gain, maintain, and expand one’s power or the more likely,and truer, Machiavelli from “The Discourses” where he defends the merits of republican democracy?

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