System Failure, 2nd edition


The current model of public policy making is no longer right for a government that has set itself the challenge of delivery. Improvements are driven by central policy initiatives which assume a direct relationship between action and outcome – but this is a false assumption. Public services are complex adaptive systems which are subject to the law of unintended consequences, so intervention can make problems worse. That is why the carrot-and-stick approach to reform which links increased funding to tougher performance targets will not succeed in the long run. Renowned systems thinker Jake Chapman describes how the government’s energetic attempts to force change from the centre are becoming counter-productive. The alternative is government based on continuous learning. This is increasingly important as the impact of communication technology and other accelerating social trends offers a moving target for public service reformers. Systems thinking offers a better model for change in complex organisations such as the health service or the railway network. Case studies provided by the NHS Confederation show the unintended and often bizarre consequences of introducing new policies without considering their impact on the whole system.

Published in

Publisher: DEMOS

Date added: 07/25/2010

Public Policy    Systems Thinking