Systems Thinking in the Public Sector

A place to recommend and discuss books that contribute towards our systems thinking and practice

Systems Thinking in the Public Sector

Postby Selwyn157 on Fri Jun 11, 2010 2:26 pm

Systems Thinking in the Public Sector

1 Barber, M. (2007) Instruction to Deliver. Politico’s Publishing, London, p. 205.
You are reading an extract from
Systems Thinking in the Public Sector
by John Seddon, published by Triarchy Press.
To read more about this book, or to order a copy, go to:

The purpose of this book is to illustrate how ‘bureaucracy and red tape’ have
driven public services in the wrong direction. The cost is not just the cost of
the bureaucracy itself; there is an additional cost because the changes being
mandated by that bureaucracy are the wrong things to do. The bureaucracy
has made services worse, and public sector morale has been sapped.
If investment in the UK public sector has not been matched by improvement,
it is because we have invested in the wrong things. We invest in the wrong
things believing them to be the right things. We think inspection drives
improvement, we believe in the notion of economies of scale, we think
choice and quasi-markets are levers for improvement, we believe people
can be motivated with incentives, we think leaders need visions, managers
need targets, and information technology is a driver of change. These are
all wrong-headed ideas. But they have been the foundation of public-sector
These plausible but essentially wrong ideas have been promulgated through
a massive specifications and inspection industry. There are now many
thousands of people engaged in telling others what to do and inspecting
them for compliance. Public services have requirements placed on them
by a plethora of bodies, the biggest single weakness of which, common
to them all, is that they are based on opinion rather than knowledge. The
regime, ignorant of this essential shortcoming, legitimises the role of the
many specifiers by giving them the power to demand compliance. This is
dysfunctionality of a high order.
To understand how dysfunctional the regime – and its associated thinking –
is, it is necessary to learn to take a different view. The ‘better way’ is based
on the principles and practices of systems thinking.

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