Bill Moggridge of IDEO gave a speech at MindLab last week, and this is the full video. Please share and enjoy!
Archive: June, 2009
“If we want people to innovate, the responsibility has to be with them” (John Seddon, 2009)
At MindLab we often experience how innovation the public sector can be a complex matter in a system that seems to be built for stability and not for development and change. John Seddon addresses this issue in his new book ‘Systems Thinking in the Public Sector’ where he tries to come with solutions for what he calls “the failures of the reform regime”.
According to John Seddon innovation in the public sector is drowning. An intense monitorism poses systems of extreme control which leaves public workers demoralized in a high rate. Seddon argues that this is due to the neglecting of one almost too evident matter: the creation of systems based on the implementation of service experience from the points of view of workers and users.
He introduces what he calls ‘systems thinking’ which is based on the basic thought that the design of the system determines how actors behave. The only plan you will need, he argues, is knowledge by studying the system and the flow of demand in customer terms. Seddon puts it this way: “Things always go wrong. If something is going wrong predictably, you can only turn it off by re-designing the service”.
This should be done by involving public workers in control and development. “If you want someone to do a good job, design a good job to do. Workers have to have the means to control and improve their own work. The work of managers then changes to a cooperative role, working on the system. Working on the work with the worker”.
The measuring of public service should instead be based on the actual local work that is being done and in this way make room for variety and unexpected innovation. Thus, for Seddon there is no good way to set up target standards because they will always be arbitrary and never fit on a broad scale. This means, as we often underline at MindLab, that the complexity of public demands should be taken into account and policy should aim at coping with these rather natural and human circumstances.
This doesn’t mean that governments should stop talking about visions and purpose. As Seddon puts it: “It’s entirely legitimate for the government to talk about purpose, but it must be the managerial responsibility to make choices about measures and method”. This changes the locus of control and puts public workers at the centre of understanding and improving their work. As it should be according to Seddon to avoid a regime “that looks for policy-based evidence, not evidence-based policy”.
Quotes taken from the lecture ‘Cultural change is free‘ at 2009 conference of the Human Givens Institute.
Also read “Systems Thinking in the Public Sector” (John Seddon, Triarchy Press 2009) and check out The Systems Thinking Review.
How to think about change in the public sector: thoughts from the CBS-conference ’Contemporary Issues in Public Management’
The urban city is often presented as a place of significant segmentality which makes self-presentation a complex matter with varied ways of making one known to others. It is not only a place with segregation of roles in different groups and networks. It also segregates moral judgements. In the city people can, at least situationally, slip out of their existing social settings and participate in different groups and partnerships with different expectations and values (see Hannerz 1980). In this respect, urbanity provides an interesting frame of thought when trying to grasp the concept of change in the public sector.
The public welfare sector is often seen as a problematic and unlikely place for significant change and innovation. The way forward is by many claimed to be based on the creation of new partnerships which are able to combine and take advantage of different competences in close interaction and cooperation. This is thought of both in terms of public-private innovation partnerships and public-public partnerships between different public actors.
In both cases, the new organizational setting aims to develop new possible solutions which the different actors otherwise wouldn’t be able to develop. And in both cases, the goal is to enhance what Professor Garth M. Britton at the CBS-conference ’Contemporary Issues in Public Management’ called ‘change capability’. He understood this as an individual’s or organizational group’s “capability to change capabilities”.
Central to his argument was that he saw public value as the basic strategic driver for the partnerships aiming to change the public sector. He argued for an understanding of the relevant units and linkages between them in terms of values, operational and administrative capability, and the authorizing environment. As he puts it: “The interrelationships between formal and informal actors in chains of public value creation (complex and fluid) are a fundamental source of adaptability and change capabilities”.
One of the issues of these interrelationships is the question of agenda and experience of the actors involved. Going into a partnership which has a new, defined purpose gives possibilities in terms of generating new roles and identifications in the particular partnership. However, this process is difficult if existing professional agendas are strictly maintained in the partnership and the individual thus feel a strong obligation to keep certain ideas about for instance work practice. In other words, the interrelationships of one individual can collide with each other when he or she has to take different agendas into account.
This issue was among other things the concern of Adina Dudau who in her presentation at the CBS-conference focused on the interactive identities in welfare partnerships. Her argument evolved around negotiation when public or public-private actors cooperate about the change of welfare issues as it depends on one or more of the interdependent levels of motivation. The catalysts and obstacles of the partnership are to be found in the ‘complex whole’ consisting of individuals, professions and organisations. The most productive and innovative partnership, she argued, occurred when the partnership worked as a new established organization and a ‘cross professional identity’ was created. In comparison, longer standing organizations tended to be more resistant to change.
So that creates a dilemma. On one side you want to draw upon the existing experience of the different actors, but on the other you want to have them forget where they came from in order to abolish existing ties and make worth of their experience in the new organizational setting.
This leads us back to the concept of urbanity. For the urban individual it is legitimate and accepted when he or she separates his or her engagement in different networks and groups without making one known to the other. Whether you are a representative of a company or a public unit you are in the same way participating in different types of network with different levels of importance to your main work place. The difference is that here you are often obliged to keep your main role which make your participation on other networks a complex matter.
To think urban living into innovation partnerships is interesting because it leads to following questions: what if the individual participating in a welfare innovation partnership wasn’t confronted with his or her particular role in that partnership? What if the only parameter of moral judgement was the one inside the partnership? What if innovation in the public sector becomes a matter of temporary roles in new established organizations and cross-professional identities instead a matter of doubt in terms of confronting the new establishment with one’s existing organizational setting?
“We are dogmatic about prototypes.” So says Larry Leifer, a university professor and the Founding Director ofStanford University’s Center for Design Research. Over the past 25 years his institution has produced more than 40 design research Ph.Ds, all of whom are closely cooperating with some of the world’s leading companies to solve specific problems. When you visit the Center for Design Research, as I recently had the chance to do, you are struck by how down-to-earth and practically focused the work of the institution is. The design school is linked to Stanford’s engineering area, and the engineers’ feel for technology and practical problem-solving is contagious. Many of the students have obtained a Masters degree in technology before coming to the design school. A peek into the school’s biggest room reveals 4-5 groups of students working dedicatedly on projects for companies like BMW, Panasonic and SAP. Flat screens are ubiquitous, the walls are all covered with whiteboards, and large notices describing case studies and project descriptions hang beneath the ceiling. Lego bricks lie scattered on the shelves, and in one corner of the room sits the entire dashboard from a German passenger car. On the other hand, there are no partitions separating the various workgroups, and no bookshelf stands more than waist-high.
“We believe that in a knowledge environment, we ought to be able to see each other,” says Larry Leifer. He says that over the years he has become known for “Larry’s three laws”, which describe the work of the design school:
#1: Design is a social and technical activity
#2: Preserve ambiguity
#3: All designers redesign.
What is the significance of the three laws? From MindLab’s perspective they also make sense when you apply them to the public sector’s development processes. Let’s try to reinterpret them:
#1: Public sector innovation involves the generation of a deep understanding of the social reality we want to modify, as well as finding solutions – including technological ones – that are capable of bringing about positive change. Only a minority of public-sector innovators would disagree with that assertion. Maybe we are just not good enough at being at the leading edge with regard to the latest technological advances. For instance, how many public organizations have fully exploited the potential that mobile technology offers?
#2: Public sector innovation requires being willing to stick with uncertainty and ambiguity well into the development process. In our experience, this kind of divergence is essential for sparking off the understanding of a problem, as well as for generating novel solutions. Sometimes you have to take a detour in order to reach your goal. However, this is an area where public development officials, and their bosses especially, begin to lose their nerve. “When will we reach our target?” “Now is the time for us to bring this to a conclusion.” “Precisely how does this activity help us to solve the problem?” Such doubts are understandable, but sterile. The innovation process requires having confidence that it will hit its mark even when it doesn’t seem as though it will.
#3: Public sector innovation requires iteration: being willing not only to design a possible solution, but also to test and redesign it. At MindLab we believe that the learning process that unfolds through experimenting with partial solutions, obtaining feedback from citizens and businesses, and then refining the solutions, is extremely valuable. It merely requires a willingness to get involved with incomplete measures or initiatives, plus the courage to accept the consequences of the feedback we receive.
So where do the prototypes fit into this picture? Well, a prototype – whether of a dashboard or a public sector service process – makes a solution tangible. And unless it has been made tangible it cannot be tested or developed further. At the same time, the prototype is a tool that demonstrates how it is possible to turn ambiguity into something concrete and turn it into a solution that combines social processes with technological opportunities. It is therefore quite reasonable to be dogmatic about using prototypes. Without them we would be breaking all three of Larry’s laws.