A new way of designing and managing services based on design thinking and systems thinking
The Human Learning Systems approach offers an alternative to the “Markets, Managers and Metrics” approach of New Public Management. It outlines a way of making social action and public service more responsive to the bespoke needs of each person that it serves, and creates an environment in which performance improvement is driven by continuous learning and adaptation. It fosters in leaders a sense of responsibility for looking after the health of the systems, and it is these systems which create positive outcomes in people’s lives.
HLS takes the practice of service design into the realm of the triple diamond as a methodology, and it takes service design into the application of the whole service
Is there something wrong with public services?
Do you have this sense that we struggle to realise why our public services don’t seem to work very well, and why we keep implementing change programmes every few years? Why some citizens seem to be having a more difficult time? And why demand and costs of delivery are always increasing?
There were people in the 1980's (Margaret Thatcher) who (rightly) thought that the public sector should move from its bloated bureaucratic paradigm, to one more defined by the success from the private sector, called New Public Management (NPM). They thought that it should (wrongly) embrace:
Who would not disagree with this? The public sector was the butt of jokes, and there were stories of waste everywhere. Something new was needed, and quickly.
The Outcome Today
Now, decades later, we know the outcome of NPM. We understand far more about complexity and service design than we did then. We can see what has happened to our communities and health services:
New Public Management (NPM) is based on the scientific paradigm of designing an organisation as a pre-determined machine. Staff all have their roles to play, managers manage the service through measures. Senior managers use measures to tweak mainly financial based actions.
It is interesting that today the private sector is having issues with this paradigm. It is struggling to remain moral in the face of rampant shareholder returns, and to create good working careers for workers. They have to put in safeguards to mitigate the worst of the scientific model of management, but that that is simply papering over the cracks.
And most importantly, NPM is designed for products and service selling in an open marketplace.
We also know much more about the theory of public services. We know that the public sector is generally a place that is full of complexity. Interestingly NPM is based on the opposite; on a transaction and compatitive based design that contains defined departments that have procedures that can be standardised, repeated and audited. As soon as we place a NPM design over complexity, we get a service that is unable to absorb that variety that is inherent in the system. Those who do not fit into the standard, are rejected and have a very difficult time trying to get support. In most cases they give up, and their lives take a turn for the worst.
Digitalisation is a great example of how the NPM paradigm and consistent Digital design fails to adapt to the reality of the variety that is the public needs. In local authorities, installed Digital designs often have to be bypassed if we truly want to achieve what is needed. In public services, we need flexibility rather than standardisation.
Designing for Complexity – Human Learning Systems
If we design services against the characteristics of the service we need:
What are the approaches that move us into the land of a new way of working, free from the problems of our current management and service design? Design Thinking and Digital Service Design have come to the forefront in recent years. This is despite the fact that they have been around for many decades. But what is different this time that makes then so popular? Well, it comes with a new paradigm, that is a break from New Public Management. GDS has been very effective in its development of highly transactional central government services.
In local government and healthcare, there have been ongoing prototypes of new ways of working that have been quietely developing for years, and recently a group of those people decided to put these together, and examine the framework that makes them different.
Launched in June 2021, Human Learning Systems has been created by a collaborative of public service workers, managers and leaders who were fed up with the way that targets and markets create dehumanising, fragmented and wasteful public service, divorced from the reality of the lives of both the people being supported and the people who support them.
Human Learning Systems
Lets start with the belief that public service exists to enable each person to create good outcomes in their lives. To do this, we believe that public service must embrace the complex reality of the 21st Century world. This means being human, continuously learning and nurturing healthy systems.
refers to creating the conditions in which people can build effective citizen relationships. This means understanding human variety, using empathy to understand the lives of others, recognising people’s strengths, and trusting those who do the work. It allows for new management competencies to develop.
It also means that staff bring their whole selves to work, recognising that we as people in work need; challenge, learning, autonomy, and achievement.
In complex environments people are required to learn continuously in order to adapt to the dynamic, ever-changing nature of the work. In complex environments, there is no simple intervention which “works” to tackle a problem. “What works” is an on-going process of learning and adaptation. It is the job of managers to enable staff to learn continuously as the tool for performance improvement. This means using measures to learn, not for reward/punishment. It means creating the conditions where people can be honest about their mistakes and uncertainties. It means creating reflective practice environments between and across peer groups.
THINKING AND DESIGNING SYSTEMS
The outcomes we care about are not delivered by organisations. They are produced by whole systems – by hundreds of different factors working together. The final job of managers is therefore to act as Systems Stewards – to enable actors in the system to co-ordinate and collaborate effectively - because that it was will enable positive outcomes to emerge.
How do we do this?
The principles of Design Thinking are the antidote to the machine based command & control paradigm.
We need an approach that contains these principles, and is based on proven practice. The HLS framework has been created from researching the approaches used in the HLS case studies.
The Triple Diamond Design
We all use different variations of the framework. It is flexible enough to be able to adapt to change in organisations.