Insights for Action

Reflections on the Post Office Horizon Enquiry

The role of data in governance

Shadows with no people Photo by Cameron Readius from Pexels

I can’t pretend I had read Rebecca Thomson’s article “Bankruptcy, prosecution and disrupted livelihoods – postmasters tell their story” in May 2009 in Computer Weekly, but certainly through journalism such as Private Eye I was aware well before the ITV drama screened in 2024.

Therefore, I’m most surprised by the evidence presented by Paula Vennells at the Statuary Inquiry on May 22nd. I don’t want to get into an appraisal of her credibility or her competence, other than to wonder how much media coverage you can dismiss and still do your job. I merely wanted to pick up on the fact she claimed she didn’t have the management information to make her aware of the problem. I would like to take that at face value; I can appreciate running a large and complex business means that you can’t be over all the minutiae. Paula Vennells claimed she couldn’t be expected to be aware of single postmaster disputes. Which implies, on reflection, she thinks there should have been performance indicators such as “the number of postmasters in dispute”, “the value of money disputed” and so on. The trouble with this suggestion, is that we now know, with the benefit of hindsight, that these are the kinds of indicators that need monitoring. If we were going to have indicators covering “everything a CEO might need to know”, wouldn’t we end up in the same place; too many indicators for a CEO to monitor. Much as I love the idea of building lots of dashboards to give better visibility to the functioning of a business, I do wonder if the K in KPI is important. It’s a Key Performance Indicator.

I will be following the outcomes of the Enquiry with a lot of interest now, to see what is made of this suggestion. One of the other reflections I have is that Data Analysis is moving away from Dashboarding and more into Data Stories. That seems to encourage the kind of information filtering that Paula Vennells claims was the problem here. Data Stories means you tell the top tier what they want to hear, and don’t bog them down with irrelevant details (like bugs in software).

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