Saturday, August 21, 2010

Obituary and background material for Russ Ackoff

Russ Ackoff was a significant influence on those responsible for organising Systems teaching at the Open University (UK) in the early 1970s.  'Messes' and 'difficulties' became key concepts in almost every Systems course.  As educators these concepts were very useful pedagogically, but like all neologisms, after time they tend to become reified as 'things' in the world, rather than as useful constructs with which to engage situations.
Some recent books and reports advocating systemic understandings and practices

Val Brown and colleagues have put together a very useful book: Tackling Wicked Problems Through the Transdisciplinary Imagination with some challenging conclusions.  It would be good if we could embed more of this thinking and practice in our Universitys and policy circles.

That said a spate of recent reports recognise the need for policies and practices that are more systemic.  These include:

The book 'Resilience and Transformation: Preparing Australia for Uncertain Futures'  is now available from CSIRO Publishing. The book 'explores what factors contribute to Australia's resilience, what trends are apparent, and what actions are required to better prepare us for the immediate and longer term future'.   Edited by Steven Cork, with a foreword by Brian Walker, the book contains 21 chapters by authors that include Theresia Citraningtyas,  Richard Eckersley,  Peter Newman and Susan Nicholls.  There's a chapter from Graham Marshall called 'Governance for a surprising world'.
The UK's National Program for IT in the National Health Service

Anyone following this Blog will know that I have made several posts about the state of the £12 billion National Program for IT (in England & Wales).  This saga has run and run but perhaps it is to run no more?  A group of 23 accademics back in 2005-6 pointed out its many systemic failings and to a large extent their concerns have been justified as the following article exemplifies:

'The National Programme for IT in the NHS is set to end in its current guise, with plans tabled for further deep cuts, and the name NHS Connecting for Health to be dropped. E-Health Insider understands that a far-reaching review of the National Programme and Connecting for Health was completed by the coalition government last week, as part of a wider review of all public sector IT major projects. The recommendations of the review was due to be evaluated today by a panel chaired by government chief information officer John Suffolk. Assuming it is approved, a ministerial announcement expected to follow within the next two weeks. 

Sources indicate that the binding nature of the LSP deals with CSC and BT mean they will not be axed, but instead allowed to run down or expire. In the case of CSC - expected to be pushed hard to deliver further savings - its current contract runs until 2016. Savings beyond the £600m required by the previous government - which included an agreed £100m from the BT London contract, and a yet to be agreed £300m cut from CSCs three LSP deals - are expected to be announced. EHI has been told that further cuts will come from CSC and perhaps London, together with the unspent monies in the south. One source told EHI that the situation was still in flux, with it not being clear where final decisions would be taken. The drive for savings, however, is being led by the Cabinet Office, with the DH said to be playing second fiddle. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude is said to have begun negotiations with CSC by demanding 30% savings from CSC's £3 billion NHS IT contracts, or up to £900m. EHI has been told that CfH will disappear as a brand and the already much reduced agency will be dramatically scaled back. Over the past month an exercise described as "hold and let go" has been going on to identify what core responsibilities the DH Informatics Directorate should retain and relinquish. Far more emphasis will instead be placed on local decision making, interoperability, shared records, clinical portals, and best of breed. "The national programme will become 'a' programme, rather than 'the' national programme," said one source. In effect trusts are being given greater choice, though with little central funding to help them exercise it. 

An indication of the swinging nature of cuts to come has already been provided in the last month's termination of the Microsoft NHS enterprise licensing deal. One EHI reader described the end of the Microsoft deal as: "Dumping cost out from the centre", pointing out that trusts had already set budgets "and now is certainly not the time to get new local funding".

Many of the responsibilities of CfH are expected to be taken on the Department of Health Informatics Directorate, particularly its Technology Office. This will focus on standards and interoperability, together with ongoing management of contracts.'
Systemic failure in action?

Today Australia goes to the polls.  Will the outcomes of today epitomise all that is failing in our current governance arrangements?  Or will  the result, built on the back of a campaign best described as a theatre of the absurd, mark a critical turning point towards change which is better fit for circumstances? In a CPD essay I outline why we need to reinvent our system of governance.  Six months ago few would have imagined that Tony Abbot had a good chance of becoming Australia's next PM.  Unfortunately the unimaginable has become imaginable.  As the future is essentially unknowable then perhaps the emergence of  something new, a conversation based on an emotion of hope, rather than fear is as likely as a descent into three years of 'treading water' as a nation while all around us events beg for imaginative, responsible systemic leadership.