The Wrong Approach to Public Services


What’s wrong with the public sector? It’s not that it’s overstaffed, it just needs to adopt a more systematic approach to the work it does.

During the nineties a third of the public sector in Australia was retrenched. Right now in NSW the new O’Farrell government is pushing through at least 5,000 public sector job cuts. It’s being mirrored around the world to offset debt and budget blowouts.

It’s curious thing to do though isn’t it — to make cuts before driving efficiency measures? Yet it seems attempts at driving efficiency often fail. The reason, says John Seddon from Vanguard Consulting in the UK, is because too many public sector departments are governed by command and control thinking. The alternative approach is covered in his book Systems Thinking In the Public Sector: the failure of the reform regime — and a manifesto for a better way.

Systems thinking involves focusing on how we service the customer, looking from the outside-in. It is the antithesis of the top-down approach that governs most of the public sector.

What John says makes perfects sense, and his company is working hard to change thinking in service organisations around the world. I wonder though, whether the approach is constrained by politicians making wild declarations that need to be fulfilled, even though what is promised is counter to what’s needed. Doesn’t the political system demand a command and control approach?

First published on CBS News

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