public services

Delivering Public Services That work

A little bird told me there has been a interesting follow up to John Seddon's book 'Systems Thining in the Public Sector' which is being described as 'proof of the pudding' Delivering Public Services that Work is a book of Case Studies showing how Systems Thinking has been applied to a particular public service in six local authorities. Each case study – written by the manager or project leader responsible – describes what was done, how it was done and the results achieved.

'Someone rang me just to thank me this morning. They didn't want anything. They just wanted to thank me. I've worked here for 8 years and that's never happened before. I was so surprised I didn't know what to say.' Team member, Stroud District Council, quoted in Delivering Public Services that Work

Seddon's prescription then and now (for the UK and for any other country using the quasi free market model for public services) is this:

  • scrap the myth of 'choice' (because the public don't want a choice of hospitals, they want a good hospital)
  • scrap targets (because they don't work and people spend their time trying to massage the statistics)
  • scrap specifications (because they're wrong and they don't work)
  • scrap inspections (because they're expensive to do and to prepare for and they only serve to ensure that people are doing the wrong thing correctly – meeting bad specifications)
  • scrap 'deliverology' (because it's nonsense)
  • scrap the obsession with sharing administrative and back-office services in huge call centres and 'data warehouses' (because they don't work half as well as front offices where people talk to the public)
  • scrap the Audit Commission (because it's a white elephant)
  • scrap the centralised regime that oversees the disastrous public sector (because it is the problem)

Then use systems thinking to understand and fix problems and deliver joined-up public services that ...

  • work better
  • work faster
  • save money
  • delight the public and
  • delight the people who deliver those services.

This book offers practical examples of how 'systems thinking' can both save money and transform services.

"There is currently a lot of talk of 'designing services around customers', of 'better community engagement', and of 'innovation in the front line'; all laudable ideas but with little more than hope that they will produce improvements in services.  This book showcases exactly how to go about realising those hopes; it lays out clearly the method to be adopted and demonstrates the results that can be achieved. It should be the first thing anyone aspiring to improve our public services should read." Andy Nutter, Director of Governance and Transformation, Islington Council

A million voices for public services

My dad came home from work with something unusual last week - a magazine called U. It is published by UNISON. They believe public services are the heart and soul of our communities and in reaction to the recession, we see public serves under threat. UNISON took its message to the heart of Westminster yesterday as part of its Million Voices campaign.  More than 100 MPs accepted their invitation to hear from members just how important the work they do is, and why investment in these services is vital during a recession.

Dave Prentis introduced the campaign, talking about how members are “helping individuals, families and communities get through this recession. They’re laying the foundations for a better future – a fairer, stronger society.”

Introducing seven UNISON members, who came to tell their stories to the Westminster MPs, he explained that “as we look forward to the pre-Budget report this week, and a hard-fought election campaign to come, everyone’s got something to say about public services...

“But unfortunately it’s not often we hear the voices for those who actually provide the services.”

And with this introduction seven UNISON members took to the stage.

Sue Warner, a cook supervisor from Matlock, won cheers as she told the audience about the organic beef and pork her kitchen serves. “We were way ahead of Jamie Oliver. Because we’re in house all the money goes on food.”

Kim Russell, a teaching assistant from Wales, ran through a staggering list of work she undertakes, including mini bus driver, running an after school cookery club and school librarian.

Other members speaking up included a child social worker, a psychiatric nurse and a ward housekeeper.

Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, thanked members for driving the campaign: “your words speak more powerfully than we ever could.

Add your voice to our campaign to create a fairer society. I did because I want to see changes that put people before profit and public interest before private greed.

Design education to focus more on the design of services

The Royal Society of Arts is calling for design education to focus more on the design of services and move away from what it says is an emphasis on product and industrial design. 3369437997_d0a9b56973

"An RSA paper released today, Social Animals: Tomorrow’s Designers in Today’s World, says students need to gain a broader range of communication and research skills to help them work within public services.

It outlines six challenges for design educators, among them the suggestion that students should be taught how to be ‘problem finders’ as well as problem solvers, to help find new ways of delivering public services.

RSA head of design Emily Campbell says, ‘We are currently seeing huge opportunities arising in service innovation, which stems from all the time trying to get public service providers to invest in service design.’

She adds, ‘Generally speaking design schools are not preparing for that at the moment.’

The paper, which was authored by Sophia Parker and emerged from this year’s RSA Design Directions award competition, also looks at how redesigning prison visits could benefit inmates and their families and reduce reoffending rates.

It suggests strategies such as creating a system of visiting ‘pods’ to offer enhanced privacy, and introducing virtual prison visits through a secure Internet connection.

Campbell says, ‘Recently announced plans for new prisons holding 1500 offenders each to be built in the next decade provide Government with a real opportunity to “build in” recognition of the importance of design in modelling and prototyping facilities.

‘There is an ongoing debate about the role designers could have in improving health and education services. Here is an opportunity to bring those skills to the prison environment, which provides us all with an essential public service.’"

This is a crucial topic that is at the heart of my research question (pictured above).  I am happy to see my undergraduate experience of product design courses not embracing service design echoed in this call for change in design education.

Less than half are happy with council services

Less than half of us are happy with council services. According to Ipsos MORI managing director, Ben Page, the drop in satisfaction could be due to a lack of communication from councils, and increases in council tax. He said: ‘There are places that are very focused on the priorities of their residents, and they clearly out-perform the rest.’


Councils must get better at communicating. They need to prove they are good value for money, and focus on providing high-quality public services to make people happy.

Touching the State

Touching the state is a publication by the Design Council. Despite the paper being a few years old it is still highly relevant. It asks the question: "What does it mean to be a citizen in the 21st century?" By looking specifically at voting, jury service and the new citizenship ceremony this project questions "Can these encounters be designed differently to increase engagement and sense of citizenship?"


The paper is a fantastic demonstration of how to visually convey design enhancing relationships.