Broken Bollards: Piecing Together The Picture

Five Years

It’s all of five years since I wrote A Bigger Block of Concrete (PDF).

In it I described the organisational learning and systemic insights I’d gleaned from the closure to vehicles of a road near my home and the subsequent, ongoing damage to the wooden bollards that block the way. I had stumbled inelegantly through several misguided theories, before eventually realising what was truly going on, the root cause, and a possible long-term fix that would work better than simply re-seating the bollards in bigger and bigger blocks of concrete, as my local council was doing.


After writing my article and sharing it with the people at the council, my suggested solution was partially implemented. Some bollards were repositioned; so that vehicles hit the curb first and had a chance to avoid knocking the bollards out of the ground. But not all of them were moved, and those that were not continue to be damaged, as you can see. In fact, if I’m honest, even some of the re-sited bollards get damaged. So there’s plenty of room for improvement in my solution.

Another turn around the PDSA cycle anyone?

Not Learning Still

And that’s why I’m writing about the bollards again. Two things have been on my mind, whenever I see them.

First, I note that no new efforts have been made by the council to come up with an effective solution to the bollards problem. It’s my impression that the gaps between ‘fixes’ is longer than ever, no doubt because of financial constraints. Nowadays they waste money less frequently, but they still waste it nevertheless. For whenever they return, they put the bollards back in the same place with a bigger block of concrete, rather than experiment with alternative positions or other possibilities. Whatever the state of the economy and the financial situation, I am forced to conclude that nobody’s learning still. The losses continue to mount.

It’s Not About Bollards

Which brings me to my second reason for bringing this up again; my story is not about broken bollards. They are a symptom. It’s a story about systems, seeing the whole picture and designing for the ‘use system’, and about organisational learning, in this instance, developing the capability to recognise failure and turn it off.

I have told my story to different audiences, and been told tales by those who have passed my article on to others, and it won’t surprise you to hear that many people who hear about this road closure get what I’m on about. But not everyone. Some clearly think I’m banging on about trivialities. As I overheard one manager explain to his colleague, during the break at a CIPFA event at which I had spoken, ‘No doubt it’s not a priority for them at the current time.’ He meant the managers at my council who are responsible for this kind of thing. For them, an issue like this isn’t the most pressing one they face.  They have bigger problems.

And that’s clearly right, it’s not a priority. All the years that I’ve watched successive repairs fail and more money disappear down the pan, not to mention the other losses I mention in the article, it’s impossible to conclude anything else. Seeing the whole picture, getting out of the office when that’s what it takes, recognising failure, working together across specialisms and teams to identify root causes, experimenting with solutions, continually improving, continually learning, and designing better for next time. It’s quite clear that none of this is a priority for these particular managers at my local council.

Mind you, that’s not what the guy at the CIPFA event was saying. He meant broken street furniture isn’t a priority. But then I guess he thought I was just talking bollards. He was wrong.

One Response to Talking bollards…

  1. […] an earlier post David talked bollards – the wooden variety used on the roadside, that is. The ones on his street were forever getting […]

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