What are People Centred Systems?
We developed the term through the course of our work with public and third sector organisations whose services were primarily concerned with people’s welfare. Their leaders learnt that the real locus for transformation lies beyond the boundaries of their individual service functions (social care, home care, health, housing, homelessness, benefits, council tax, advice, fire, police, voluntary service and others) and, instead, in realigning their mutual focus to design system-wide responses that are ‘citizen shaped’.

What’s the problem?
Life can be bumpy for people in many ways, for many reasons. How society organises itself to support people when they wobble can either help or hinder how able people are to (re)balance. ‘People Centred’ is a phrase increasingly used, and unintentionally misused, by organisations who make efforts to consult with people, albeit unwittingly to solve their own problems rather than the person’s. People continue to be seen as ‘in need’ and therefore in need of a ‘service’. Organisations seldom get beyond designing that service.

Instead, when you study things from the perspective of the people, you learn that the place to start is to thoroughly understand what really matters to them, building on what they have and enhancing their sense of being in control of their lives. Rather than services, people need security, financial independence and the love, strength and identity that come from relationships.

Studying traditional services reveals a predictable pattern of demand in communities, illustrated here:​​

The question is, are we here to fix breaks or to organise ourselves to prevent them? Increasingly, organisations espouse the logic of prevention rather than cure. However, in practice, the real logic underlying the design and management of their services means that the very opposite is unavoidable. Reacting in silos, screening, rationing, turning people away until they are ‘bad enough’, specifying and prescribing are all predictable system features. Their inevitable, unintended consequences mean that people are moved up the triangle, rather than down. This is costly, both in human and economic terms and yet it remains invisible while the primary focus of organisations is on managing activity (‘How many calls are answered?’) and budgets (‘How much does that transaction cost?’).

While in reality some people will still need (people centred) services – at the top of the triangle and sometimes in the middle – the imperative is to strengthen the base first. Individuals are supported to help themselves to live their good lives within their communities.

What’s the real problem to solve?
If our ‘Thinking’ about the design and management of work directly determines the way the work works (the ’System’), which in turn governs our ability to support each other and the economics of that support (‘Performance’), then the only way we can improve Performance is by changing our Thinking. That is the real problem to solve. How do we make the invisible visible? In fact, it is hiding in plain sight and studying our systems from the point of view of the people they are really here for reveals the many counter-intuitive truths that help us to see things from a new perspective. And it looks something like this …..(click here to reveal the two logics of Command and Control and Beyond Command and Control in People Centred Systems).

The Vanguard Method for People Centred Systems is now available online – you can follow the first steps that others have taken towards making dramatic improvements to the quality of services provided, thereby reducing operating costs and reducing demand on services.