The word ‘tickbox’ emerged recently as a cynical angle on official or corporate incompetence. They had ‘ticked the box’ – people said – but failed to act. It is used increasingly to describe this gap between official spin and reality.
Yet, says David Boyle in this powerful expose of tickbox culture, that is just the tip of a vast tickbox iceberg. The only people who remain blind to this gap are those rich or powerful enough to run the world, and behind tickbox lies an insidious philosophy of automation and the misuse of data that weighs heavily on every one of us. It makes our public services less effective – and makes them soar in costs – it lies behind so many stark injustices and disasters, from Grenfell Tower to the deportation of the Windrush generation. Yet the system carries on, and grows in power and strengths – vacuuming up the resources of the NHS pursuing pointless targets or badgering us to reveal how much we had enjoyed our visit to their bank counter – because those who run the world remain committed to it.
It is time we escaped the tentacles of tickbox. Boyle suggests a series of ways out – starting with recognising the danger and calling it out for what it is – a massive failure, corroding our lives and our ability, as human beings, to act on the world.