TU812 is structured in a way to help me to to conduct a systemic inquiry into my own systems practice for managing change. I have commented on this in An inquiry into my systems practice for managing change.
However the module also encourages me to identify a situation of concern that I can also apply systemic inquiry to. I have really struggled with identifying a situation of concern – narrowing something down from just a generalised ‘my work’ into something that is more subject to investigation.
Part of the reason for this is outlined in my post Writer’s Block – telling sticky stories in which I am a player does not come easily to me.
But I have I have finally had the – aha – moment. I have realised my situation of concern has been staring me in the face all along – I have even posted about an occasion when I took purposeful activity to act in this situation of concern (Elevator Pitch).
My concern is….the lack of systems thinking and practice in my work context.
It is a meta-concern, something that runs through and affects everything I am involved in at work. It exhibits itself at all levels from the individuals I relate to, to the practices I see, to the organisational norms about how to do things.
It is a concern that is on my mind all the time when I am studying as well as in my workplace. It is where both my frustration and my passion lies.
So why does this situation of concern matter? I think we are about to go through one of the most significant changes to the UK public sector that I have known in my working life. It seems like a huge opportunity to do things in a new way, rather than do the current things better. I can think of so many occasions where we are missing opportunities or being less effective, but the bottom line is – other people don’t know they don’t know.
Occasionally I see glimpses of systems thinking amongst my colleagues – for example, if someone is struggling to describe something systemic in ‘regular’ language and I know that systems language would help them. With peers, I have taken to telling them about systems thinking and practice and then lending them the odd book or sending the odd website link. I have tried it a couple of times people more senior to myself – in response to more specific issues. Not much success so far, in part because other people don’t necessarily learn through reading in the same way I do.
In my first assignment, I said one of my motivations for studying TU812 is to develop my confidence to introduce Systems ideas to my colleagues and into the partnership environment I work within. How better to develop my confidence than to use the course to conduct a systemic inquiry which will help me identify actions that are both systemically desirable and culturally feasible.
So my first Systemic Inquiry (S1) is into my own systems practice. And my second Systemic Inquiry (S2) is into the degree of systems thinking and practice in my work context. I hope that does not get too confusing!
My account of the meta-narrative that characterises the context in which I think and act follows:
The meta-narrative plays itself at a number of levels – globally, the western world, the EU, the UK, the city I work within and then organisations themselves. Perhaps the most useful level to start is the UK. The field of work is ‘making policy happen’ and we are carrying that out in an era dominated by the notion of New Public Management (NPM) – essentially using management ideas that (appeared to) work in the private sector and applying them to the public sector. This has manifested itself in a number of ways – privatisation of utilities initially and then ‘performance management’ of what remains – targets, inspection and so on. There are some indications that we are coming out the other end of NPM at a national level – none more significant that the notion of localism in our new coalition government’s approach. However, many public sector workers have only worked in this regime and don’t know how to think or act in other ways – I know one person who has said that they don’t know how to do anything other than follow government ‘guidance’. And, people are struggling for a new language and way of relating to the people we should have been accountable to all along – the locals we serve. We are at a point of change but it is not clear what will replace NPM – I fear we will get the ‘freedom’ of localism but only know NPM.
As a partnership coordinator, I work across organisations so I experience this general picture manifested in different settings, most particularly the strategic NHS function and the local authority setting. I spend more of my time in the local authority but this has multiple ‘characters’ depending on the department’s role and sometimes lacks overall coherence. I hear some people say that the local authority is quite insular in that many senior managers have worked their way up through the ranks in this council – this means that in general new ideas don’t come into the organisation as new people join it.
This setting does not seem to know about systems language – let alone have the opportunity to value it. But I can’t help thinking that I cannot be the ONLY person, thinking and acting a little differently. How do I find the others?
Update 16 December 2010
The meta-narrative continues with a story about the type of change I hope for in this situation:
I hope that more colleagues become ‘exposed’ to systems thinking and practice in what they do. I hope that they value using systems approaches and in so doing they develop their systems literacy. I hope that they, like me, gain in confidence and ability to do their job
I would know if the world was transformed if I could use systems diagramming as a routine form of communication because others’ use them too. I’d know because I could more routinely use the language of Systems. I’d know because more people would be ready to question our existing social technologies and be prepared to consider new ones.
And I’d know because we are collectively more effective in addressing ‘wicked’ social problems.
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