Systemic approaches to managing across the gap in the Public Sector: results of an action research programme

Bell, Simon (2008). Systemic approaches to managing across the gap in the Public Sector: results of an action research programme. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 21(3) pp. 227–240.



This paper tells the story and conclusions of a 1 year research project which took place over the calendar year of 2006. It was undertaken within a local government authority (or Local Authority–LA) in the UK. The specific research question to be answered was: 'Can the application of systems methods in the LA aid Authority staff in developing and enhancing their professional practice?� A supplementary question arising was: 'Can such learning be of wider value to other sections of the public sector (for example in other regions of local government or the health sector)?� In the process of the year 91 separate action research interactions took place. The research comes to three systemically linked findings: Firstly, LA middle managers are often caught between two realities ... strategic initiatives and operational demands. In the gap between these two realities they experience change in many guises but most critically in terms of government directives, ICT initiatives and restructuring. Despite this complexity managers did not appear to always have adequate tools to deal with issues arising in their context. Secondly, an assessment matrix developed originally at the Open University is a valuable tool for assessing the systemisism and reflective capacities of staff and, thirdly, a new, blended hybrid training programme to develop systemic reflective practitioners able to manage across the strategy/operations gap was developed and pilot tested in 2007. This programme shows signs of providing enhanced professional practice and, at the time of writing, is being further piloted with a view to establishing its wider applicability within the public sector.

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