My name is Guy Palmer and I maintain this site.
The site went live in 2002. It combines three of my major interests, namely:
- Statistics: the subject of my degree and, on and off, of my professional career.
- Politics: the occupation of much of my leisure time when I was a young adult (as an active member of the Labour Party).
- IT: the main focus of much of my professional career.
Statistics alone (late 1970s)
I graduated from Cambridge University in 1979 with a first class degree in a subject called Operational Research.
Operational Research is a really interesting subject which was reasonably topical at the time but, alas, no longer is. It is partly about using quantitative techniques (i.e. statistics) to analyse real-world problems and partly about thinking outside of the box.
A few random examples, from the purely quantitative (i.e. boring) to the more lateral (i.e. interesting):
- The archetypal travelling salesman problem: calculating what order to visit a given list of places, such that overall travelling distance is minimised.
- Packing suitcases: a practical method for minimising the number of suitcases required is to do the packing from the biggest items first through to the smallest (it tends to lead to smaller gaps).
- Maximising profits: most chocolate is bought on impulse. When a person first looks at a display of goods, they tend to first look at a point that is horizontally centred and vertically two-thirds on the way down. Mars worked this out and got their chocolate placed there in many news agents, massively increasing sales.
- Winning World War 2: the Government's Operational Research team noticed that, when they missed, the German's bombs tended to fall north of London, rather than south of it. So, they made sure that all the photos of bomb sites in the newspapers were from places south of London. By so doing, they hoped that, consciously or subconsciously, the Germans would adjust their targeting so that the bombs fell even further north.
- Maximising happiness: assume that you never get married and that you will date N people in your lifetime. Then, on certain assumptions, it can be demonstrated that the person you should marry is the first person after the first N/3 who is better than any of that N/3.
IT and statistics (1980s)
Thinking I was joining an Operational Research organisation, I joined Anderson Consulting (now Accenture) in 1979. It turned out that I was actually joining an IT and management consultancy company, with a bit of Operational Research on the side. So, purely by chance, I got to learn IT (Fortran, Cobol, APL, etc). But it was a great company, with great people, so I stayed there for 10 years.
Whilst at Accenture, I was 'posted' to the Cabinet Office for a year in something called their Financial Management Unit. That is where I became interested in performance indicators. At Christmas time, we were each given 10 Cabinet Office christmas cards to send out. I sent one of them to the partners at Accenture saying "keep up the good work" and signed it "Maggie". They thought it really was from Mrs Thatcher and held an emergency meeting to decide how to respond!
IT on its own (1990s)
In 1989, I decided to set up my own management consultancy firm, called Pareto Consulting. We specialised in doing IT strategies for NHS organisations, from the Department of Health down to individual hospitals. We were very successful in our aim, becoming the dominant firm in this particular niche.
After ten years of doing this, I decided that I had become a bit too much of a capitalist and wanted to do something with a bit more social worth, so ...
Politics and statistics (2000s)
In 1997, I set up a think tank, called the New Policy Institute. The original idea was to address the 'boring' aspects of social policy (such as housing and utilities), as these were being ignored by 'New Labour'. The problem was that everyone else was ignoring these issues as well so we had difficulty getting anyone interested in what we were saying, obtaining sponsorship, etc. Then, by chance, we were sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to write a report entitled 'Monitoring poverty and social exclusion - Labour's inheritance'. That report was very influential, so we continued to work with the Foundation, with annual reports from 1998 and this website from 2002.
Running a think tank might sound exciting, and at times it really was. But it also taught me that policy is often driven more by Ministerial whim than actual evidence, and that much of the media is only interested in pandering to their readers' prejudices. Take Council Tax reform as an example. This was (and still is) a subject where reform is desperately needed and where we were the acknowledged experts in the field. The Government asked us to produce a report on the way forward, which we did.
- Media misreporting: a day before the report was published, but after the newspapers had been sent (embargoed) press releases about it, the Daily Mail and Daily Express both made it their front page, but telling complete porkies about what we were recommending. Then, on the day that it actually was published, in other words the day that they should have been writing about it, they wrote ... absolutely nothing on the subject.
- Ministerial whim: some time later, we presented out thoughts to the relevant Minister. who was very interested in them. Then, to cut a long story short, a more senior Minister suddenly decided that there should not be any reform of any sort so the whole thing was stopped dead in its track.
In 2007, I emigrated to Australia. Here are two ways of explaining why:
- If you look at my career above, you will see that it dramatically changes direction every 10 years. In 2007, my 10 years of 'think tanking' was up and what more dramatic a change could I make than moving to the other side of the world?
- My wife is Australian and has always wanted to move back to Australia. One day I was watching Dr. Phil and he said that, when I get up in the morning, I should think to myself what can I do to bring more happiness into her life. So, one day I did and asked her if she wanted to move back. Her face just glowed - Dr. Phil had got it right once again.
Even though I was moving a long way away, I decided to keep maintaining this website, partly because I still find it interesting, partly because I wanted to prove to myself that the Internet etc really does make (very) remote working possible, and partly because I genuinely believe (or, at least, hope) that the material on the site is useful to people interested in social justice in the UK.
In my spare time, I am:
- Working with my wife to turn our back garden into a vegetable patch and fruit tree orchard. The TV remote has been programmed to tell us what we should plant, when and how, based on the phases of the moon.
- Thinking about moving to Queensland: now I've got a taste for living in a warm climate (in Melbourne), I've begun to hanker for one which is even warmer, particularly in winter.