I thought it useful to have some links here, both to things I’ve done or written and to sources which have been influential in my thinking. Where it helps, I’ve sought to explain the significance of the link.
One of the principal products of the Ministry of Defence’s Chilcot Team work was the short publication The Good Operation (‘TGO’ – January 2018). Although this is targeted at an operational policy audience, many of its principles apply to a much wider range of Government policy-making and implementation – not least as the publication is structured according to the ‘Chilcot Checklist‘ for good policy-making developed across Government. TGO was kept deliberately short, as a signpost to the range of actions a policy-maker might pursue, rather than a comprehensive manual for all eventualities.
At the back of TGO, you’ll find the ‘Guide to Reasonable Challenge‘, which is designed to help senior people invite in reasonable challenge and more junior people offer it – combined, an antidote to ‘groupthink’.
A valuable companion piece to TGO was the Royal College of Defence Studies’ publication, Getting Strategy Right (Enough). And of course the prompt for both was the Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot) Report; the Executive Summary, at the very least, is worth a read, as is Sir John Chilcot’s statement on the Report’s publication, 6 July 2016.
I was interviewed by Civil Service World in September 2018, and I think this gives a good overview of how we went about the Chilcot work and the effect it had. Going beyond Chilcot, I set out some thoughts on leadership in a presentation to the Centre for Army Leadership in 2018 (I would probably do it a bit differently now, but it isn’t too bad).
In the humanist sphere, I wrote a blog for World Humanist Day on the Civil Service website in 2018; was interviewed for the Humanists UK website in August 2020; and put my name to a Humanists UK news piece on the need for non-religious pastoral support in the armed forces in September 2020.
Going a long way back, I published an article in New Conventional Weapons and Western Defence ed. Ian Bellany and Tim Huxley (1987), and in the mid-1990s a couple of articles on humanism in The Guardian and BBC Music Magazine respectively and one on the Civil Service in The Guardian. I also published reviews of Wagner’s Ring Cycle and The Flying Dutchman in Wagner magazine.
A fairly random (and very limited) selection of the texts that have been important to me includes: The Gulag Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (for the way in which it brings to life the horrors of totalitarianism); Contending Theories of International Relations by Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff (for its crystal clear exposition of the range of international relations theories); On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman Dixon (for a unique take on what makes for good, and less good, military leadership); and The Unchangeable War by Brian Jenkins (concerning US military strategy in Vietnam).
More recently, I’ve been influenced by the writings of Daniel Kahneman, Yuval Noah Harari (particularly the monumental Sapiens, even though he’s awry with his definition of humanism), Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, Hans Rosling’s Factfulness and Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.