Tag Archives: systems thinking

How studying mitigates risk

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

The Auditor General for Wales encourages well managed risk taking at Good Practice Exchange events. Ahead of the Good Practice Exchange’s work on well managed risk, Simon Pickthall shares some information on Vanguard’s approach.

A photo of Simon Pickthall from Vanguard Consulting

Simon Pickthall from Vanguard Consulting

We are facing unprecedented financial pressures, coupled with the practical implications of working more closely with partners.

In this environment, it is difficult to imagine taking well-managed risks. The contradiction of funding pressures necessitating being radical in our thinking, while funding pressures making radical thinking seem extremely risky can pull us in different directions simultaneously.

However, being radical in our thinking is not a risky endeavour if undertaken with good method.

We often find ourselves in meetings, discussing radical service design and implementation. These meetings are organised around monthly updates, and quarterly reporting schedules. Working parties are dispatched to work out the logistics and build the plan. The plan is scrutinised by different leadership tiers in different organisations.

This process is intended to mitigate risk, and cover all the angles. It can also feel like a very long time until anything is started. When it is started, it can feel not quite as radical as our original ambitions, and existing system conditions (budgets, procedures, policies and authorisation limits) can remain. This is argued to be to ensure risk is covered, but it also severely restricts the radical nature of our service redesign.

However, there is an alternative method – study the system as it currently works. This is often seen as merely information gathering, and just a precursor to starting our radical service redesign on the ground. Studying is, in fact, essential and, when undertaken using good method, gets truly radical redesigns off the ground much quicker.

The method by which you undertake the study phase is crucial, to avoid recreating the problems in the new system that exist in the current system.

Change starts at Check; a structured method for understanding the ‘what and why’ of current performance as a system. This builds knowledge of where and how to act. The model for Check (below) outlines the key data to be collected.

A diagram of Vanguard's 'Check' Process, which shows learning begins with customers

Customer/citizen demands on services fall into two broad types:

  • Value Demand: this is demand we want, that is of value to customers/citizens;
  • Failure Demand: demand caused by a failure of the system to do something or do something right for the customer/citizen.

Capability is a measure of how well the organisation achieves its purpose. Prior to any decisions being taken about changes to the work, knowledge about current capability must be established. The study of Flow and System Conditions involves collecting data about how easy/difficult it is for the customer/citizen to get something done and how the system currently operates. The logic of the current management thinking is revealed and the impact of thinking on performance is clear. All of the data collected during Check is used to build a system picture to describe the ‘what and why’ of current performance.  Thus, uncertainty and risk are designed out of the change process.

The system picture developed in Check helps in the formulation of a plan to take action on the system in a way that will deliver predictable performance improvement. At this stage, leaders are in a position to make an informed choice about whether to move to the next stage – Plan.

This next stage involves a period of experimental redesign using systems principles: designing against demand and understanding the value work informs all decision-making. The objective is to drive out waste and establish perfect flow.

Using the Model for Check, therefore, we can not only understand crucial data, but also our existing system conditions and logics that constrain the current system. In addition, studying also provides the required information to make any radical service redesign less risky – studying reveals the obvious difficulties in the current system, and provides a set of principles to be used in the new system. The service redesign becomes, then, a test of a hypothesis, rather than a leap into the unknown. It is a leap of fact, not a leap of faith.

The time taken to understand this study phase can vary between systems, but a good overview can usually be obtained over a course of a few days. As such, when the leaders undertake this study phase, they experience the key issues that they will need to tackle and build a desire to change the system quickly.

Given this, rather than spend time in meetings discussing the plans for radical service redesign, as leaders you can get into the work and apply the model for Check. Very rapidly you will have understood your system, and built a plan for radical change in thinking and therefore service redesign. In addition, this will be a plan based on knowledge, not faith – a far less risky approach.

Change Thinking – Change Lives

Simon Pickthall worked in the public sector in Wales for many years before forming Vanguard Consulting Wales in 2007, working with the renowned management thinker, Professor John Seddon. Simon has been fortunate to have worked with many leaders to help them understand their organisations using the Vanguard Method –  and improve them as a consequence. Simon was privileged enough to work on the Munro Review of Child Protection, and is committed to helping the public, private and third sectors transform public services in Wales.

Simon.pickthall@vanguardwales.co.uk
07951 481878
www.vanguard-method.net

How do we encourage buy-in to a multi-agency approach from partners?

Simon Pickthall from Vanguard Consulting led a workshop on how to redesign services across different organisations at our event on Designing effective services for frequent users. In this post, Simon looks at how we can work together to improve the services that people receive.

A photo of Simon Pickthall from Vanguard Consulting

Simon Pickthall from Vanguard Consulting

This question is a very common one. Often, people have been trying for years to encourage partners to work together to tackle common difficulties. However, these efforts are often very frustrating, and time-consuming, despite most people recognising it is a sensible idea. In addition, solutions and approaches that have vast academic support over many years are often not taken forward by organisations.

There is a key reason why trying to persuade others to do something different is very difficult – our assumption is that we need to persuade people through rational means.

Examples of rational approaches are reports, meetings, classroom sessions, slideshows, workshops, conversations, etc. They involve talking to another person and trying to persuade them to do something, or stop doing something. These approaches are extremely common in multi-agency discussions, where schedules of meetings are used to take forward thoughts and plans.

The difficulty with rational approaches is that you are either preaching to the converted – making them feel patronised, or annoying people who don’t agree with you. If somebody does not agree, no argument, quantity of data, or research will change their mind. I am sure we have all experienced this during our lives.

An alternative approach is to be coercive – ‘do this or you will receive punishment, more hassle, etc.’. Equally, ‘do this and you will get a reward’ is a form of coercion.

The difficulty with coercion, is that people will only do what they need to do to avoid the punishment or get the reward. You have not changed their viewpoint or created commitment to change. As such, progress can be extremely slow, with very little momentum.

An alternative, more effective way of helping people agree to work together, is for them to share, what we call, a normative experience. A normative experience can be described as experiencing something directly for yourself. For example, running through a series of case files from various organisations showing what it feels like for a person to go through our systems. Visiting people in their home to ask them about their experiences of our various systems is also powerful. For those interested in the origins of this approach, it’s worth reading ‘The Planning of Change‘.

The advantage of normative change is that people tend to have an emotional reaction to what they see and experience. This sticks with them, and produces a powerful commitment to change. As such, the priority of the multi-agency approach becomes higher, as the individuals wish to solve the problems they have witnessed.

Therefore, commitment to the obstacles to multi-agency approaches are tackled more swiftly. Of course, it is important that those with the authority to tackle the obstacles in each organisation undertake the normative experience, and you have a proven Method to undertake the changes that are needed once everybody has agreed. It is no good taking people on a normative experience without a Method to solve the problems they discover. The website below is a great start in exploring Method. In addition, the book Responsibility and Public Services by Richard Davis is a clear and informative blueprint in taking this work forward.

Given this, you may wish to reflect on your strategy for encouraging multi-agency buy-in. You may want to explore moving from attempting to persuade people rationally, to designing normative experiences for the leaders involved. This may have a dramatic effect on the pace of change.

Change Thinking – Change Lives

Simon Pickthall worked in the public sector in Wales for many years before forming Vanguard Consulting Wales in 2007, working with the renowned management thinker, Professor John Seddon. Simon has been fortunate to have worked with many leaders to help them understand their organisations using the Vanguard Method – and improve them as a consequence. Simon was privileged enough to work on the Munro Review of Child Protection, and is committed to helping the public, private and third sectors transform public services in Wales.

Simon.pickthall@vanguardwales.co.uk
07951 481878
www.vanguard-method.com

Why we’re focusing on improving services for frequent users

A speech bubble with the title of Designing effective services for frequent usersWhy is the Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office running seminars that focus on frequent users? Dyfrig Williams outlines our thinking and how services can provide efficient citizen-centred public services.

The Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office decide on our programme of events based on the following criteria:

  • New legislation and other significant developments affecting public service delivery
  • Work undertaken by the Wales Audit Office
  • Topics that are identified through consultation with key stakeholders

In the case of our seminar on Designing effective services for frequent users, it was a combination of all three.

Legislation

If you’ve attended any of our recent seminars, you’ll have heard the Auditor General for Wales talking about how the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is a gamechanger for Welsh public services. Organisations are required to integrate and collaborate; to think about prevention and the long term; and to involve people.

The Social Services and Wellbeing Act reinforces this by focusing on people, wellbeing, prevention, partnership and integration. The current public service environment clearly supports public service delivery that centres on citizens. If you’re looking to revamp your service to meet this focus, then these acts provide a framework and a rationale for change.

Audit work

Our colleagues in the Health Audit team approached us to put a seminar together on Designing effective services for frequent users as they were reviewing emergency ambulance services commissioning. Fflur Jones wrote a great post for the Wales Audit Office on joining a Welsh ambulance crew for a night shift, where she says that:

“The calls ranged from the routine to the extreme: from a caller that did not require any urgent treatment who had contacted the service for the third time that night to a patient suffering life-changing injuries as a result of a road traffic collision. I’m assured that the life of a paramedic is never dull…..

“Calling an ambulance is not always the right choice and other alternatives, such as pharmacies and out of hours services can get patients seen quicker and allow ambulances to respond to the cases where they’re most needed. It also taught me that the need for the public sector to work together to provide better services and to provide services for unmet needs and to fill service gaps is greater than ever.”

The Good Practice Exchange have been working on our first piece of audit work on behaviour change, where we’ve worked with Good Practice Wales and a range of other organisations on festivals in Bangor and Swansea. Behaviour Change techniques can potentially improve public services when there are increasing demands placed upon them by enabling people to choose the right service in the right circumstance.

The Wales Audit Office’s Picture of Public Services report also paints a stark picture of the challenges that devolved public services’ face. The report shows that public services have faced significant and growing financial, demand and capacity pressures since the previous report in  2011. Some of the headline messages include that:

  • Organisations are in a position where they have to take well-managed risks to deliver sustainable solutions to financial and demand pressures on public services
  • there are difficult barriers to overcome in order to radically reshape services, including political and cultural barriers
  • ‘What gets measured gets managed’ – public services are increasingly adopting ‘outcome’ measures, but there remains a tendency to measure and manage how much activity is going on and how long it takes
  • public services need to work together through the difficult choices to understand the short and long-term impacts for the public and other public services, and to mitigate those impacts where possible.

From a purely economic perspective, the case for change is clear. Public services will continue to waste valuable resources unless we work together, resources that could be better spent to provide services that people actually want.

And to me that’s the crux of it – more than anything services need to be fit for purpose so that they provide what people really want. On my last day of working for Participation Cymru, I wrote that working with the Citizen’s Panel for Social Services had been the most fulfilling work that I had ever done. Seeing people actively challenge systems that had repeatedly let them down because they believed that things could and should be better was incredible. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fantastic teams, projects and organisations since working for the Good Practice Exchange, but unfortunately these services are still the exception rather than the norm.

Working with key stakeholders

Every event that we run is developed in conjunction with a range of stakeholders, and this is no different. We’ll have speakers from local authorities, health boards, the Ambulance Service, Fire Service and the Older People’s Commissioner. More than anything though, the event will look to share good practice from delegates’ own experiences and will throw out issues that people are facing to the collective expertise at the event.

We’ll also be ensuring that the focus of the event is firmly on what people want from their services. When I was tasked with working on this event, I immediately thought of a workshop that Simon Pickthall from Vanguard delivered at our Reshaping Services with the public event. In this seminar Simon shared how traditional public service interventions had failed to meet people’s needs because inefficiencies were resulting from maintaining broken organisational processes. These inefficiencies become obvious when we think about how public services work – people are made to fit into organisational silos, instead of organisations working together to meet people’s needs. Simon gives a really good overview of some of what he’ll be talking about at 6:37 in the below video.

The Stoke-on-Trent case study in the Picture of Public Services report (p.108) is an example of the approach that Simon will share. But we won’t be telling people what to do or directing people to use particular methods. We don’t believe that one size fits all – we need to look at the good work that organisations are doing and think about how we might adapt those approaches to suit the needs of people in our areas. And if we can do that, then we’ll be better placed to deliver the best possible services for the people of Wales.

How Gwynedd Council is using Systems Thinking

Gwynedd Council has been looking at how they can provide more effective services. Dyfrig Williams spoke with Dilwyn Williams, Chief Executive of the Council to see what we can learn from this work.

A Photo of Dilwyn Williams

Dilwyn Williams, Chief Executive of Gwynedd Council

Dilwyn Williams and Gwynedd Council first became aware of Systems Thinking at the Welsh Local Government Association conference a few years ago. The method is used to focus the organisational mind on what’s important for residents and how to get rid of systemic barriers that prevent staff (often consciously) from providing a better service. The approach also seeks to change the command and control mindset in order to equip the organisation with a better approach to how it designs and manages work. They decided to hold seminars on the method for members and officers, and this led to the council undertaking work on applying the method to its systems dealing with homelessness and buildings maintenance.

These seminars asked some really tough questions about the way that Gwynedd Council provides services:

  • Are the services really focused on the needs of citizens?
  • How can can we overcome some of the difficulties that stop the organisation from performing to the highest possible level, such as work arrangements and a historical overemphasis on risk and budgets?

Staff are asked to always consider ‘What’s important to the people of Gwynedd?’ and now the council’s performance is measured against this instead of traditional outcomes. In the past, when service users gave the Council’s services a score, the Council has used the average score of 7 to 8 as proof of good performance. Now the score is used as an indication of the relative level of performance. Everyone is asked to consider the reason why that score isn’t 10, and if there is something that they can do about that. This means that a change in culture and mindset is required, as performance management moves away from being a process of comparing numbers to be a system of looking for improvement opportunities. As Dilwyn said, ‘The why is important – why not 10? This is an opportunity to improve.’

Pilot projects

The maintenance project was successful, which has resulted in the council using different performance measures. It became clear from the preparatory work that the most important measures for service users were around the speed of the work and the satisfaction with how that work was done. The level of satisfaction gives a clear opportunity for improvement by asking ‘Why is it not 10?’

At the same time as improving the service, the Council also saved money as it stopped sending inspectors to identify the work that needed to be done. Now contractors are told to go and do the work on the basis of a relationship of trust, and if the contractors betray that trust, there are obviously consequences to that.

The homelessness project did not work as well, not because of the efforts of the teams involved, but because of a failure of leadership. But the Council learnt a lot more about what didn’t work through that and it highlighted the importance of good leadership.

How the learning was put into practice

The Ffordd Gwynedd (Gwynedd Way) Strategy grew out of the two pilot projects, taking what the Council has learnt from the Vanguard experience and implementing it in the context of the local culture. Ffordd Gwynedd is now on the monthly agenda of every Heads of Service meeting, since it’s vital that the Senior Leadership take ownership of the strategy. Now when interventions take place, the work starts with the Head of Service and a briefing session is held with the leader of the work.

The strategy requires that intensive work is undertaken with managers, as many of them have been working for the council for such a long time that they have been immersed in the organisation’s traditional culture and management techniques that have been derived from the production world. Some managers may have been working for 20 years with the same mentality, often on the basis of what was seen in traditional management books, but the world has moved on. A self-learning and discussion group was started to look at team characteristics for Ffordd Gwynedd. In the future the organisation intends to look at whether the teams demonstrate each characteristic and whether they’re clear about their purpose. The Vanguard Systems Thinking Mantra is used, which is purpose, measures and approach. It’s critical to measure what’s important, and the council is working through this at the moment to create a different culture.

The intention is to create an “expert” in the culture in each service, and each service is asked to put a manager forward for intense training to lead the challenge work. There is an element of continuity planning here, which gives people the opportunity to gain experience in order to lead the work in the future, as managers work three days a week on Ffordd Gwynedd and 2 days a week back in the service so that their experience feeds into the work.

Staff are asked to consider what they do to put people at the heart of services. Do they have an opportunity to discuss this in their team meetings? Some people may feel that it’s the manager’s role to improve services and that their role is to follow what the manager is saying. The Ffordd Gwynedd Strategy stresses that if a person knows about a barrier that is preventing the people of Gwynedd from receiving effective services, then they have a duty to everyone to do something about it. The Council is demonstrating to staff that it is challenging how services are delivered, and for this to be effective it is important that there is no culture of blame – people need to take the opportunity to change how they work and to put that culture into practice. Experimenting with new service arrangements can result in failure, but it’s only through experimenting that there is real innovation. Dilwyn also explained that learning from complaints goes hand in hand with this and that it can be used as a way to learn from failure.

Lessons learned

One of the learning points that Dilwyn shared was that if you start the work with a mentality of saving money, you’re not really able to put people first and redesign services effectively. The financial side cannot be ignored, but by considering how the council can meet people’s needs first and then looking at financial considerations, the service can very often meet those needs, and it’s often cheaper.

Dilwyn said that following a process can make staff feel safer, especially if something goes wrong, because they were following a process that was set by someone else. So it’s essential that staff are empowered so that they can make people central to their services.

Dilwyn also said that it’s important that the people at the top of the organisation think in terms of systems so that it is strategically consistent across the organisation. Some members are eager to move quickly because they see positive results from the work, but it is important to remember that the work is about trying to change the culture, and this does not happen overnight. Also the strategy must be kept simple – the simpler the strategy, the easier it is for staff to understand and the closer it can be to reality. The more complex the strategy, the more difficult it is to implement it in the way that you intended.

Gwynedd Council is now holding a series of events with staff to hear the views of staff about the difference the work has made. How does their work now compare to what they were doing a year and a half ago? We look forward to hearing more so we can share the learning.