Masterclass with John Seddon

Last week I attended a Master class with Professor John Seddon: Beyond Targets in the beautiful Oran Mor in Glasgow. Having recently read John's latest book "Systems thinking in the Public Sector" I was keen to learn more about the parallels and differences between a systems thinkers and a service designer. I attended on behalf of the team at Thinkpublic to learn more about the how the public sector and third sector can work together to move ideas forward.

The aim of Seddon's work is to get people to change the way they think. An array of subjects were highlighted throughout the day ranging from adult social care, pot holes, housing benefits to retail banking. Not to forget the familiar example of  why we have to stay in all day and wait for the fix it guy to mend our broken phone...but he never really fixes it does he?


A lady from the audience highlighted that the event may well have been called "Thinking in the Public Sector" and I agree. It seems that thinking with people in mind is quite rare in the public sector. Taroub Zahran from The Glasgow Housing Association revealed they now provide an ideal service as they have changed their availability from 9am till 4.30pm to offering 24 hour a day, 7 days a week help line. I was bewildered to hear them saying that putting people at the heart of their service was huge change in thinking for them.

"Millions of pounds of tax payers money is wasted because we design services badly"

I heard the phrase "It is a design problem" several times. Although, in conversations with John, council workers and social workers afterwards - they believe that system thinking is very different from service design. It seems to me they are very much the same thing. System thinker or service design you deal with problems before they happen, you understand problems and study systems to learn where change is needed.

People get too caught up in quick fixes and short term solutions. How do we move this thinking forward?Are we making the best use of our systems?How can the third and public sector work together?

Designing a system or a service is a journey of improvement and empowerment that is all about change. It is about an increase in pride - intangible satisfaction. Services need to match with the people, not the other way around. We need to work from the outside in - spend time understanding what we do - what we do right and what we do wrong.

I strongly recommend John's book for those of you who are interested in services and systems. Freedom Command Control Better and Profit Beyond Measure were also mentioned for further reading.

I propose Systems Thinking is a shift in perspective rather than something completely new.