Unreasonable Learners petition Scottish Government

We should take out hats off to a group of people for challenging the prevailing management philosophy in order to improve economic and social well-being in Scotland. The ‘Unreasonable Learners’, as they call themselves, are bound together by their passion for systems approaches. Their petition was heard by the Public Petitions Committee in the Scottish parliament last month. You can the proceedings here:

I would encourage you to take a look; it is fascinating (to a lover of intervention theory). The Unreasonable Learners and MSPs have different views of what to do to get more good stuff happening. Some suggestions will be guaranteed to fail, however well intended. The MSPs’ reactions to some of the ideas provide illustrations of how concepts can be completely misunderstood – two competing theoretical perspectives sharing a common language. If the video remains on line I shall be using it when next I teach intervention theory.

New case studies book

The MSPs asked for evidence. As it happens I provided lots of evidence to another review in the Scottish parliament recently. But I’ll also be sending them a copy of the second public-sector case studies book. This edition includes two examples in health, where we are learning that the opportunity for improvement is massive and examples from policing and fire and rescue, which are also novel areas for the Vanguard Method. It’s also worth mentioning the case on food safety, where the work has been well received by the regulator (contrasting with the blind ignorance of the Audit Commission – still not dead yet).

You can get the book from Triarchy Press:

Inspector Guilfoyle Speaks

Inspector Simon Guilfoyle, one of the police officers who contributed to the case studies book, is speaking at a ‘NET2’ event in Brighouse near Leeds on 24th May. If it’s the first time you’ve been to a NET2 event, it’s free. For more information: http://net2.org.uk/?page_id=969

Evidence under noses

Back to Scotland: The MSPs ought to take an interest in what’s happening in NHS Scotland. Hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent on a ‘customer relationship management’ system. It might, to some, make sense; after all it promises to provide ‘timely and efficient clinical assessment, advice and referral services’. To achieve this the new IT system will be linked to online patient data will track ‘patient encounters’ from initial call to final outcome; clearly a bonanza for the IT providers.

It reminds me of the argument Blair used for the now defunct English NHS IT system: if someone from Bradford falls over in Birmingham… A systems thinker would ask: has anyone done that and the lack of a record caused a detrimental service? Of course no one had an answer. And my bet is they have no answer in Scotland.

Further, why is NHS Scotland trying to ‘join up’ the service? Because it has become fragmented. Peoples’ ‘journeys’ are horrifically difficult simply because the system has been designed to ‘maximise efficiency’; but that actually leads to gross inefficiencies. This is what the MSPs ought to see. If the service weren’t fragmented we wouldn’t need to spend this money putting it back together. The CRM system will just pile costs on costs.

Argument misses point

An argument has blown up in the English NHS between those who commission services and those who provide them. It is all about data entry. How do you classify a patient who stays in hospital for under 24 hours? Apparently there is massive inconsistency in how patients are ‘described’ for data-entry purposes. Any ‘incorrect’ recordings will lead to ‘incorrect payments’.

The point is this is a normal problem in such arrangements and it is commissioning itself that is the real problem. Aside from these data-entry problems (categories don’t reflect the true variety and the provider is incentivised to ‘up’ the ‘package’), a much worse feature of commissioning is that people receive treatments as ‘commissioned’ which don’t solve their problems; meaning resources are wasted – and this is happening on a vast scale.

The authors of the report that sparked the row? The Audit Commission. Not dead yet and, as ever, missing the point.

Universal Credit in difficult waters

A row has broken out about children not getting free school meals under the arrangements for the Universal Credit. The UC will rely on ‘rules’ in a computer system. It was shocking, but no surprise, to hear the minister for children say they have no idea how to set the rules on free school meals. All we can be sure about is that when the rules are set they will be wrong, in the sense that they will not deal with the variety and thus will create problems for families and greater cost to the state.

If you want to listen to the piece on Radio 4’s Today programme, Mark Easton, reporter for home affairs, can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/b006qj9z/console (start at 2 hrs 40 mins, 50 seconds). To quote him:

‘this is a huge challenge … there is no easy answer … this is a sign that they really don’t have an answer yet … no one has yet come up with a solution to how you deal with the complexities … trying to simplify it is not simple … there’s a double complication as it’s (free school meals) a benefit from the Dept from Education not the DWP, so it’s a cross-Whitehall issue’

Hate to say I told you so.

But let’s make them do it

The UC project team is seeking volunteers amongst local authorities to ‘test’ the UC. Sounds great until you see what this means. The ‘test’ is focused on ‘how do we get people to access UC online?’

In the words of the UC project team: The pilots will explore ‘reducing the need for mediated support for claimants to use the online service…’

It’s an incredible thing: spending money on making sure the people who need help get that help online. The policy is ‘digital by default’. So this is making sure ‘they’ do as they have to; more policy-based evidence, which will look good until the day the UC goes live.

I did tell them they should spend their money on developing a face-to-face service that could deliver the UC quickly and efficiently. But that wouldn’t be ‘digital by default’.

The Achilles heel

Simon Pickthall, our man in Wales, wrote a blog summarising the problem UC will hit: the failure to absorb variety. See the blog here:


More on shared services down-under

The news from Australia is that the New South Wales government is about to be the third Australian state government to walk away from horrendously expensive shared services failures. And, to add to the list, Victoria is now reported to be ‘questioning its own approach’.

It’s all coming to a halt down-under, unlike the UK where failure only leads to doing more of the same.

We don’t know what we’re doing

Closer to home, Carole Mills-Evans, deputy chief-executive and corporate director of resources at Nottingham City Council, was defending the council against critics pointing to overspending on their shared services project. She is reported to have said: ‘Business cases of all types routinely make assumptions. Projects of this type are complex and it is not unusual for arrangements to change and develop along the way.’

In other words she doesn’t know what she’s doing; but in her defence she is doing as she is told, along with many others. See the news report here:

Can I come to your place?

I want to do a few events on evidence in the public sector: evidence of what works and, also, evidence of why we shouldn’t be doing many of the things Whitehall wants us to do. So the audience I want to speak to is public-sector leaders and local politicians. Depending on where the events are, I hope to bring along authors of the latest case studies and other practising experts who work in the public sector.

I don’t just want to preach to the converted, although it is always nice to bump in to friends, it would be great to get people along who, for example, have been trying hard to share services or who have been pushing services online. I shall help them by explaining what to study in order to get out of trouble.

All we need is a large room, in September; Vanguard will do the rest. If you’d like to accommodate us on the ‘Evidence Tour’, please contact Charlotte Pell: Charlotte.Pell@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Vanguard Method in higher education

A university in central England that is already down the road with the Vanguard Method is looking for an in-house expert to further their work. The applicant will need to be able to demonstrate competence with the Vanguard Method. Our people will help with the particular applications in higher education. If this interests you please contact: office@vanguardconsult.co.uk

Job opportunity in financial services

Fiscal Engineers, a small high-quality financial advisory service based in Nottingham, has an opening for an operations and compliance manager with a background in the Vanguard Method and financial services.

Contact Shane Mullins: shane@fiscalengineers.com

Stuart Corrigan’s new book

Stuart Corrigan, our man in Scotland, has written a brilliant little book that reminds managers of things they think they know but don’t do anything useful about and, this is the gem, helps readers with the question: what kind of system do I have? An essential question to answer before you study your system, lest you study it in the wrong way. You can get it from Triarchy Press: