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Systems Thinking in the Public Sector: The Failure of the Reform Regime... and a Manifesto for a Better Way Paperback – November 4, 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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La Eficiencia En El Sector Publico. Un enfoque sistemico.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Triarchy Press Ltd; First edition (November 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0955008182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0955008184
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,445,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Extracts from Philip Johnston's review of the book in the Daily Telegraph:

"Do you ever wonder how the Government came to make such a pig's ear of running the public services that by 2010 annual spending by the state will have doubled since 1997 to the astonishing sum of £674 billion - with little obvious to show in the way of improvement to justify such an outlay?

We know that vast amounts of our hard-earned cash are simply wasted, but have only a vague idea of the cause of this profligacy. Is it because the Government has employed too many bureaucrats, or because the computer systems have crashed, or because the public sector is simply incapable of doing anything efficiently?

I have been reading a book which purports to provide at least part of the answer: Systems Thinking in the Public Sector. The title makes it sound more boring than an Alistair Darling speech, but it is an extraordinary insight into why, at the end of each month, millions of us are left wondering where on earth all the money taken from us in tax has gone.

The argument compellingly made in this book by John Seddon, an occupational psychologist and "management thinker", is that the Government has designed failure into almost everything it does on our behalf. It has not done so deliberately; but it is culpable because it has failed to listen to people who know better how to run services on behalf of the customer rather than the producer.

On the eve of the Budget last week, Gordon Brown set out what he called the third stage of Labour's public sector reform programme.

It was, he said, "designed to meet the rising aspirations of citizens and to achieve excellence and opportunity for all".
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"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a measure." Goodhart's Law is as powerful, if not as well known, as Parkinson's Laws. It deserves to be better known and understood.

This book helps us to understand the working out of Goodhart's law, and shows us how disastrous it is when people in charge do not understand Goodhart's Law. It uses British examples, but the principles would be just as valid in USA and other countries. The current British economic horror story is in large part due to the public sector flaws that this book describes so well.

The basic error which Seddon exposes is that failure to think of the whole system or pathway of help, leads instead to focusing on parts of the system, with the result that although each bit may be doing its bit, the overall result is awful, as one part clashes against another. This dynamic is currently endemic in Britain's public sector leading to valueless activity, meaningless measurement, and ever poorer service, at ever greater cost. You and I as taxpayers are paying heavily for this stupidity. David Craig describes the full costs in his book Squandered.

The dynamics of not trusting the staff, not believing the staff's reports, working to meet the target, rather than to meet the need are powerfully described, with examples drawn mainly from the housing sector. I could supply many examples from the UK NHS, and teachers, soldiers and police would readily testify to the truth of Seddon's argument. Their managers would utterly deny there is a problem, and set about rooting out the few bad apples who disturb their illusions. It's not that managers are intrinsically daft, it's just that the tasks they are set are misdirected from the start.
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