Avoiding Unintended Consequences

Unintended consequences of organisations’ actions are all too common.  The intention is one thing, but the result is sometimes the opposite, or alternatively, there is an additional, unwanted consequence.  When the UK government introduced drug testing in prisons, instead of curbing drug use, it moved the prison population from soft drugs to hard drugs (more difficult to test for) with all that that entailed.

Reverse Needs Analysis can help resolve this by identifying what needs to happen first in order for a strategy to be successful, and this involves understanding how each of the myriad affected parts may behave, and how those behaviours will interact.

In late 2015, the Chinese government abandoned the one-child policy because it realised it was sitting on a demographic time-bomb (fewer younger workers supporting more and more older and longer-lived pensioners).  They relaxed it to a two-children-per-couple policy.  In 2016, the birth-rate rose slightly and then fell back to a lower level than before in 2017: the opposite of what was intended.

Cost and the lack of nursery facilities have been factors, but there have also been further discouraging factors that had not been taken into account.

In a recent survey, 75% of Chinese companies admitted to becoming more reluctant to hire women following the change of policy.  Last year, 36% of women returning from maternity leave in China were demoted.  And whilst pregnant women cannot be sacked until their child is one year old, Human Rights Watch claims that there is “zero fear” of prosecution for this.  Thus, there are now strong disincentives for women to become pregnant, undermining the new policy.

China has previously announced a commitment to gender equality, so an additional unintended consequence is that China’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s global index of gender parity has fallen over the last few years from 69th to 99th (UK is 20th, just above Mozambique).

Sources:   The Economist Magazine, World Economic Forum Global Gender Parity Index.


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