Headlines: August 20th, 2009

Now is the time to change public service leadership. New thinking should be promoted and ways found to build up capacity in a changed culture. This is the message from a new report from the National School for Government ‘Whole Systems Go’.

The catalysts for the change include the current economic crisis which has produced a target to deliver £15b in efficiency savings and working in an integrated way across the whole public service system. Integration is being spearheaded in the Total Place initiative where 13 pilot projects across the UK are exploring how barriers to efficiency such as organisational frameworks, professional boundaries, ring-fenced budgets and targets related to defined functions, can be overcome. The pilots are seeking to bring together elements of central government and local agencies within a place to promote innovation and to reduce bureaucratic burdens on the frontline.

This changed situation demands a re-think of leaderships says the report. It argues that public services should no longer be thought of as machines or physical structures, with levers and silos, but rather as complex adaptive systems and organisms. Thinking in this way requires a radical re-design of provision for leadership and management development, in order to stimulate continuous self-improvement in performance across the whole public service system.

Moving to a whole systems thinking, which is an essential part of Total Place, means that leaders have the capacity to analyse and understand the interconnections, inter-dependencies and inter-actions between complex issues, across multiple boundaries and between different sectors, services, and levels of government.

Leadership development programmes need to join up to address whole system challenges, and Whitehall needs to support this with new organisational and financial architecture.

Rod Clark, Principal and Chief Executive of the National School, said: “This is a timely contribution to innovative thinking about leadership across all levels of government during the current cold climate. The radical recommendations within this report are highly relevant both to our longer term thinking about the changing relationships between government and citizens, and between different levels of government, but also to more immediate concerns with the leadership of local communities.”