Policy analysts and systems analysts

I’ve finally got round to reading a book I have had for a while – the second edition of Beryl Ralin’s book ‘Beyond Machiavelli’.  The first 2000 edition is subtitled ‘Policy analysis comes of age’ and the second 2013 edition is subtitled ‘Policy analysis reaches midlife’.  It is entirely US based and traces the evolution of the policy analyst profession from its inception in 1960s american policy project to the present day.  There’s lots in there that I am mulling over, but I couldn’t move on without noting linkages with ‘systems analysts’ – another US profession that kicked off in the 1960s.  As Ralin says:

The imperatives of war had stimulated new analytic techniques – among them systems analysis and operational research – whose users sought to apply principles of rationality to strategic decision making (p.14) Continue reading

Conceptions of wellbeing

I feel the need to start this post with an acknowledgement of the gap since my last post.  Whilst I don’t pretend to think there are people out there missing my blogs – I’m more worried about the number of streams of thoughts I have had which have come and gone and are unrecorded.  It’s all because  I’ve been busy keeping up with the reading and discussion forum for my PhD modules – and the assignments.  I’ve also worked with two others to plan, design and facilitate the first ever Open University Systems Thinking in Practice alumni and friends get together – which was great.  The formal taught work for my PhD finished today, I’ve got one more assignment to do – and then hopefully can use the summer to consolidate some of the material I have covered through blogs.  It’s been a great journey, just haven’t had time to stop and take stock of it on the way.

Anyway, back to the real reason that I started blogging today.  It was prompted by a seminar I participated in last Monday.  Newcastle University, Sheffield University and NEF have got some funding to run a series of seminars on the ‘Politics of wellbeing‘.  It is essentially people from the discipline of political science coming together to consider what the discipline offers to the ‘shift’ towards wellbeing in policy and politics – both in a critical and a constructive way.  This seminar was the second in the series and I was asked to speak.

Preparing the talk led me to articulate and make explicit something that had been going on in the back of my mind for a long time. Continue reading

Sensitising concepts

It feels as if Arwen and I are having a concept tennis match at the moment.  I write a blog gathering together disparate reading, which prompts Arwen to read, she summarises her reading in a blog, which them prompts further reading by myself, which I summarise in comment or a blog.  And so it goes back and forth, but the concepts are getting better, more useful to what we want.  And Arwen has now found what I currently think of as the ‘holy grail’ – the concept of a sensitising concept! Continue reading

Is this research good?

Need to get to grips with some of those words that are being flung around – validity, reliability, generalisability, authenticity, rigour, replicability, triangulation.  At the moment they seem a bit of a blur of contested concepts – it’s about time I pursue an inquiry to get to grips with these concepts, the debates around them and more importantly – their relevance to MY particular research project. Continue reading

If systems thinking is the answer, what is the question?

May seem a little odd asking this question now, but it strikes me that this is part of that ongoing quest to ‘market’ systems thinking – as per previous posts on the Elevator pitch issue.

But it struck me recently that it is possible – and helpful – to apply the thinking that Ison (2010, 187) uses in relation to the idea of managing….. what is the system to which doing X is the answer (the how)? Continue reading

Paradigm relevant to my research

(T847, Block 1, Activity 2)

Activity 2 asks me to identify an example of a paradigm and related theories and concepts that are relevant to the ideas that I am considering for my research.

The T847 materials summarise a paradigm as “a perspective or point of view affecting what is recognised, known, valued, and done. As such, a paradigm advances both a set of assumptions about the world and a philosophical framework for the study of that world.”

The materials also have a neat way of explaining theories and concepts: “suppositions or systems of ideas, or mental representations or abstract objects intended to explain something, or a set of principles on which some form of activity is based.”

Continue reading

Governance for health in the 21st century

The World Health Organisation (WHO) European Office commissioned a study into ‘Governance for health in the 21st century’.  The primary purpose of the study is to inform the WHO European Region’s new policy Health 2020.  It was carried out by Ilona Kickbusch who I heard speak about the early stages of the study at the WHO European Healthy City Network annual meeting (Liege, June 2011).  The final version of the study formed part of the papers at the sixty-first session of the Regional Committee for Europe and is available here.

There are a couple of reasons why this paper interests me.  Continue reading

Insights into ‘research’ from Schein

I have recently come across Schein’s work which links to research.  I have come across him before – as one of the oft quoted theorists on organisational culture.  In fact it is this work that is mentioned in the wikipedia article about him.

Schein’s work draws and comments on that of Lewin – a ‘thinker’ included in the Systems Thinkers book by Ramage and Shipp.  Given that, I feel happy adding Schein into my interpretation of a ‘systems thinker/practitioner’.

So what does Schein offer to my thinking…. Continue reading


Way, way back I wrote a post on Systems perspective on health and wellbeing where I touched on the problems associated with performance frameworks derived from the concept of ‘outcomes’.  Although the post was ages ago, it’s still something that is current in my mind – not least because my friend who I mentioned in that post is currently writing a paper about this very issue.  I read through an early draft and am looking forward to his next version.

My exploration into projects, which started with this post, has just brought me into touch with some interesting material – you know, when someone else explains really well what you have been thinking but have been unable to articulate. Continue reading


In my last post, I touched on my emerging interest in the concept of design and touched back on the notion of the design turn that I covered in TU812 Managing systemic change.  Since then I’ve been mulling this over and still have a number of browser tabs open in relation to the short diversionary inquiry I took into ‘design’. Continue reading