Human Coding

Having launched this site a week ago, I was worried that I might not have anything to blog about.

Maybe Human Risk wasn’t really a thing.

Fortunately (at least for the blog), Human Risk is alive and well in the UK where this week has seen a number of ministers resign for what The Economist summarised as Unparliamentary behaviour: sex scandals and ministerial mistakes.

It’s Human Risk in full effect: people doing things they shouldn’t.
Albeit, people who absolutely should know better.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Ministers have had to resign for behavioural reasons; there are plenty of examples of that in the past.
In fact, it’s been a feature of British government for some time that people in positions of power don’t behave appropriately.

So much so, that there’s something called The Ministerial Code which is a set of principles that outline what is expected of Ministers.

Note the word “Code” rather than rules. It’s a peculiarly British way of managing Human Risk. We love Codes.

Whether it’s The Highway Code that is a set of principles to guide road users or The Takeover Code which governs behaviour during (surprise, surprise) takeovers.

Codes are a form of principles based regulation; rather than containing a detailed list of rules, they outline principles that people in a given situation need to abide by. By not being overly prescriptive they allow for flexibility of interpretation, which in theory removes loopholes and means the regulations don’t need to be constantly updated.

As a means of managing Human Risk, Codes are an interesting idea. Because they’re not having to list out all potential scenarios they want to cover, they can be short and easy to read. Those subject to them have to think about their behaviour; you can’t just point to a (potentially badly worded) rule to justify your actions. The spirit of the law takes precedence over the letter of it.

Of course that only works well if the body enforcing the Code has some teeth. What’s amazing about some of the Ministerial resignations in the UK, is that they were allowed to resign rather than get fired. A code won’t control Human Risk, if the humans it is attempting to control don’t fear the consequences of non-compliance, but are instead prepared to run the risk.

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3 thoughts on “Human Coding

  1. You’re absolutely right! Here’s what it says:

    “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”

    Which, as you say, is a rather optimistic expectation; if you’ve deliberately done something that’s against the rules, then the likelihood of you self-selecting to resign is probably fairly limited.

    Of course that’s not what it means; it’s a British way of saying “Ministers who lie can expect to be fired”! I’m not sure that sends the right signals…

  2. Off course French have got a quite different view of what a code is….see Napoleon’ s civil code, setting precise rules even in the very private domain of family inheritance…

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