From a systems perspective the UK Public Sector is totally broken!

John Seddon, in his ground breaking book Systems Thinking in the Public Sector, provides a harrowing view of the "value destroying and non-customer centric system" the UK Public Sector has become locked into in the last 10 years.


John identifies 5 types of waste which are rampant right across the board in the current UK public sector regime from education to health to citizen engagement:

1. The costs of people spending time writing specifications
2. The costs of inspection
3. The costs of preparing for inspection
4. The costs of specifications being wrong
5. The costs of demoralisation

I have represented John's description of the problem systemically in the diagram which shows "an arms race of distrust" as commissioner controls generate deliverer behavior which quickly reinforces commissioner distrust resulting in more draconian controls which increases deliverer distrust and so on.....
There is no way to improve this kind of system. The way it has been setup it can only generate more and more distrust in more efficient ways!

The only thing you can do with a system like this is to try to find ways to make it run in reverse and begin reducing distrust on both sides rather than increasing it.

To this end John suggests that to fix the current regime would require 4 fundamental systemic changes:

1. Changing the locus of control - instead of compliance people need to feel free to act in the best interests of their stakeholders
2. Inspection as one question - "What measures are you using to help you understand and improve the work?" instead of "Are your following the standard process?"
3. Learning about what works - changing the focus to understanding what works and providing information on it so that managers can decide what methods suit their circumstances
4. A better view of human nature - not assuming people are perfect or selfless but changing the whole emphasis to "liberate public servants from the prison of suspicion and distrust that the current regime locks them into".

Read Systems Thinking in the Public Sector: The Failure of the Reform Regime.... and a Manifesto for a Better Way by John Seddon published by Triarchy Press 2008

About Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson delivers keynote conference speeches, workshop facilitation and in-house consultancy in four key business areas:

  1. Creating High Performing Teams in enterprises including Virtual and Mobile Teams (based on the Bioteams Book)
  2. Establishing effective Collaborative Business Networks enabling companies to co-operate effectively in areas such as sales and product development (based on the book - The Networked Enterprise)
  3. How to use the latest social media technologies including blogging and online communities to promote enterprises, brand, organisation or event
  4. Development of graphical on-line interactive Business Dashboards and What-if Simulators for organisations to support Performance Improvement, Strategy Development and Executive Team Development.

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Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration

Steven Poole, writing for the Guardian on Saturday March 15, reviews "Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration", by Keith Sawyer and concludes that the book's big idea is that there is no such thing as the lone genius: everything turns out to be collaborative.

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