Friday, 22 February 2013

Procurement lessons from the Vicky Pryce trial?

There once was a TV programme called 'Give us a clue' - in the light of the Vicky Pryce Trial there may be potential for a new docudrama called 'We haven't got a clue'.

Yet, let's face it, who in the world would ever have guessed that a trial about speeding points could have raked up so much venom in what might now be viewed as a 'problem family'. What's that they say about fury and a woman scorned?

But aside from the evidence extracted by the lawyers, there's another story based on the ability of laymen and women to make a good judgement. It appears the jury wanted to do a good job but for some reason the ability to do so eluded them. What's more, the jury's inability eluded the judge.

So when the jury passed the judge ten questions which they wanted guidance on, he voiced the view that the jury "had a fundamental deficit in understanding". He arrived at that conclusion because the jury were asking questions, which, in his mind, some had already been answered and others irrelevant. Now we have learnt that two thirds of juries may be as 'clueless' and lack understanding of the advice judges provide. Does that justify ripping up a centuries old legal system and one which has been able to cope with jurors who couldn't even read and write?

Isn't there something in our system about 'beyond reasonable doubt'? I quite like the idea that if I was on trial and the jury were in doubt, the defendant gets the benefit of the doubt. But equally, if I was the victim, I quite like the idea that they would give me the benefit of the doubt - but that's not what our justice system is about!

Which is better? That a jury ask questions over and over and over again until they can understand the answers, or the jury just say, "to pot with this, the trial is only about penalty points, let's toss a coin".

But aside from that, if a questioner doesn't understand the answer, is it the questioner's fault or the fault of person who gives the answer which wasn't clear enough?

One thing I learnt from my PhD is that not asking, what appear to be, stupid questions, is stupid. Sometimes questioning the edifices on which so much of received wisdom is a good thing. If that were not the case how on earth did we ever manage to progress from mud huts to wifi?

But I have also dealt with many senior decision makers who are being presented with increasingly detailed technical information on which to make procurement decisions. Heaven help us if, out of frustration they start tossing coins because, we as procurement technical experts just can't convey in clear understandable language what we're talking about.

So the next time you are tempted to say "these people just don't get it", think about the Vicky Pryce trial and ask who's fault is that?

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