Newcastle University Business School

Event Item

Driven to distraction? A slow stroll to help local government re-connect with what matters.

Join Catherine Hobbs, social scientist and systemic thinker, in the latest of our Little Heresies series.

Date/Time: Thursday 8 June 2017, 18.00-19.30

Venue: Partners' Room 8.10, Newcastle University Business School

A sequence of local government reforms imposed over several decades has driven a restrictive focus on ‘proof’ of performance; a frustrating distraction to the main business of local government.

This main business is not only about a financial balance sheet of ‘efficient’ public service delivery, but also about effective stewardship of a local area. A stewardship approach demands a variety of different skills relating to collaboration, social learning and systemic leadership. Drawing on her recent PhD at the Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull, Cathy talks about the possibility of slowly creating capacity to address complex challenges through focusing on people, rather than the more usual fast-paced siloed number crunching and 'proving' results quickly.

A range of established approaches drawn from complexity, systems thinking and management science could help, thus energising systemic capability.  It's about how we think together, learn and work together, derive intelligent and useful data, restore our professional practitioners and combine forces to steward people and place effectively. The oft referred to 'fast pace' must be challenged, reference to a 'problem' of complexity must be challenged; where human values are concerned, the acceptance of spurious data must be challenged. It's time to slow down to a stroll and create capacity for joined up adaptive action which is tailored to the locality.

It’s a choice between perpetuating a myth of tidy and simplistic silos, or taking time to think more authentically about what matters, through a designed leadership of social learning. This slow learning-based approach could become a more thorough basis for effective action in the longer term.

About the speaker:

Following early career research (Birmingham and Loughborough Universities) and 29 years’ service in local government, during which she completed an MSc in Local Governance at Birmingham University (2008), Cathy has just completed her PhD about systemic leadership in local governance at the Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull. She is a member of the Operational Research Society’s Public Policy Design special interest group and was a member of the task group which devised a ‘Shaping Choices in Public Policy’ event at the Royal Society in 2014. She wrote a chapter about local government service design skills for the Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy, edited by Robert Geyer and Paul Cairney in 2015.