Author: simonblampied

The DA’s poor positioning

The Democratic Alliance

The DA’s priority is to, every 5 years, get as many votes as it can, with an end goal of becoming and staying the leading party.

So what is the best way to get more votes in 2014? Well, to start answering this question, we need to take a little tour of history. In Grade 10 or 11 (2004/2005) one of my class mates managed to, after doing an internship at the DA, get Helen Zille to come and speak to our class.

There were two things that are still top of mind;

  1.  How the DA had become the Official Opposition in the 1999 Elections
  2. The DA had a strategy to win in the 2009 General Elections

Zille explained how, after the 1994 elections, the DA focused on its goal of becoming the official opposition. She explained how they achieved it by displaying signs that they were the official opposition. This boiled down to imagery of them making a lot of noise wherever they could, until the ANC started to respond to their noise in the media. She explained how this helped position the DA (aka DP pre 1999 election) as the official opposition, as in the media, the leading party was responding the their opposition. This was of course not the only reason they achieved their goal, but it is significant that positioning was a major contributor to their success. Then on the second point, about the DA winning the 2009 elections, well that was significant, because as you all know, the DA didn’t win the 2009 General Elections.

But this is a piece about strategy rather than politics, so let us start discussing strategy. The DA needs more votes, or written in a different way, the DA needs more South Africans to believe that they will do the best job of running the country.

So how do individuals decide who will do the best job of running the country? A very complex marriage of your experience of the different political parties, as well as your political influencers (family, friends, Gareth Cliff, etc.), stated, implied and assumed experiences of the political parties. This decision is largely emotional, as are most decisions, and not as logical as all the party communications would imply.

So what is the problem with DA’s strategy you ask?

Well they still seem stuck on the pre-1999 methodology of publicly criticizing the majority of what the ANC does which was noted by Mandela in his 1997 farewell speech as ANC president. This is important because, as a voter, I would like to vote for the party whom I think would do the best for the country, but the vast majority of my experiences of the DA has been them criticizing the ANC. Why not rather focus on becoming objective, i.e. congratulate and support the Government when they do something well, as loud in the media as when you disagree with them. And when you do disagree with the Government or the ANC, suggest an alternative, or improvements.

This kind of objectivity is what would emotionally connect with me, not necessarily the majority of South Africans, so it is just an idea, a thought to disregard if it doesn’t hold. But what is clear is that this change of tact will enforce the imagery that the DA isn’t exclusively in opposition of the ANC, but rather a political party that is exclusively focused on the best for South Africa, and I would like to believe that I live in a country where the majority of people find a stronger emotional pull from a party that shows it has the best interest of the country at its core, rather than an emotional pull from legacy.

We would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment below.

If you would like to read more about positioning, read a summary of Ries and Trout’s famous book on Positioning.


Cape Town: Opportunities for the economy and graduates

Cities have become far more important in the context of the economy in recent years (Frost and Sullivan) and they have responded. Watch this 20-minute video from Bruce Katz as he explains the measures US cities are taking to grow their economy.

Cape Town has similarly outlined their economic strategy and the city identifies that economic growth should leverage the cities core competencies whilst aligning with major international, continental and regional growth trends. It will also be a major focus to ensure that the growth occurs in sectors that have the possibility of creating numerous jobs for semi-skilled and unskilled workers.

Based on the need for the city to specialise and produce value-added products, it seems like the industries the city should pursue to push growth, because they meet the three criteria above, are high-tech industries within health, energy, telecommunications and agriculture. This falls in line with global growth and continental growth trends.

Due to the city also being the advertising and design capital of the continent, the manufacturing of consumer goods may be a also be a good sector to enter, as the retail and wholesale sector is doing well, and it has been found that an improved manufacturing sector,  will drastically improve the economy.

In the cities’ economic strategy document, it is stated that Cape Town needs to find a niche to specialise in, this niche should be entrepreneurship, as Cape Town already has 190% more entrepreneurial activity than South Africa’s average, and high-tech and manufacturing intensive entrepreneurship to be more specific. To drive this activity, there will need to be much better cohesion with the universities in the region. Students in the sciences should have a clear path for themselves to move from academia into a start-up business.

The “inventors” within the universities should be exposed to industry knowledge of key tech industries as well as students from other faculties, so that they will be able to conceptualise, design and commercialise or implement their ideas. If a structured programme is put in place, with the universities and city working together, Cape Town might just secure itself a growth rate of in excess of the so called “magic” 6%.

p.s. Something to look at is , hopefully we will see the city getting far more involved in this initiative in future.

Metrics and Matrics

Education is key to the future growth of South Africa. However, when compared to other emerging markets, South Africa performed well in most indicators, but education, labour and innovation were pointed out as areas of poor performance. This makes Angie Motshekga‘s recent NSC (National Senior Certificate) 2013 report all the more disappointing, because as many people have written, the published results hide the real issues and this fails the youth.

But what is more disappointing than the results (like the over 50% dropout from Grade 1 to Matric) is the press coverage of the published results. Like the technical report released, journalists  stick to reporting on the results, and somehow seem to think that they have done the country a service by ‘exposing’ the poor performance. But all it results in is a lot of noise and very little productive discussion or accountability. Let’s face it, the Matric results are at the end of 12 years of schooling and tell us very little. They are what Eric Ries terms “Vanity Metrics” and to borrow a definition “Vanity Metrics: Good for feeling awesome, bad for action”. I would argue then that the matric results will only become valuable when compared with metrics associated with the inputs during those 12 years.

The key inputs can be described as; Grade 1 entrants (And their Grade 6 and 9 future-selves), Teaching, the Learning Infrastructure and the Governance of the system. Strangely enough, when we look at the Department of Basic Education’s Annual Report, we find a table (below) that has strategic goals for all of those inputs.

DBE Strategic Goals

But this wasn’t in the Technical Report, so can we really blame the press?…

So now we have a base to work off, the matric results now have become valuable, because we can see how they have progressed since starting Grade 1 in 2002, relative to the improvements in the other inputs. Then we can all start having productive conversations.

But what comes next?

Well, constant review and improvement of the metrics associated with the inputs and results and this is where the press will become productive and the Department of Basic Education will be held accountable for the improvement of the inputs, not the possible random variations in the results at the end of a 12 year system.

And there should be improvements to the metrics, for example, according to a McKinsey report, the most effective ways to improve an education system is through its instruction; Through the quality of the students entering the teaching profession, through quality training of teachers and ensuring all students have access to quality teachers. So let us start measuring those items for the “Teaching” input. So item 1.1 in the table above needs to be expanded from “Improve teacher capacity and practices”.

With this honest reporting and accountability, we may also find a proliferation of highly impactful not-for-profits as they will have a better idea where the education system needs the most help. A few NPO’s already addressing key areas are;

Numeric – A not-for-profit who have leveraged Khan Academy resources to creatively deliver better Math education to low-bandwidth areas. Learn more about it here

Partners for Possibility – Links principals with business leaders to empower principals, thereby improving school leadership and governance.

But no one, not even the Department itself will be able to achieve real impact without good data, the right metrics and the public availability of information to improve transparency and accountability, so hopefully next year when the results are released they won’t just contain vanity metrics, but maybe also a few actionable metrics for the press and public to chew on.