There are ‘only’ seven ways to make savings and improvements in service organisations

  1. Shape and manage demand: effect behavioural change, reduce failure demand
  2. Create economies of flow: match capacity, capability, contact points to demand
  3. Reduce waste: re-engineer processes or develop a lean whole system
  4. Optimise the use of resources: buildings, IT, vehicles, other assets, people (scheduling, downtime, contracts and management), income generation
  5. Effective organisation: appropriate grouping and sharing of activities and services, organisational structures, role and task clarity
  6. Optimise procurement: procure volume, shape the market, reduce or standardise specification or achieve multiplying effects, share services, social value
  7. Change policy: stop, ration, reduce eligibility, delay, charge, develop policy to better meet organisational purpose, demand and underlying need, outsource, mutualise, use the third and social enterprise sectors

Do you agree? (We do, now, have an eighth way to save and improve – what do you think it is?)
Which do you think is the biggest opportunity in your organisation?


The Force in organisational life: how dominant/other cultural patterns create system fragility…

Naturally and instantly, like a reflex, human groups connect — and part of their connection is to see themselves as different from some other group. As soon as the concept of Otherness is introduced — and one group has superior access to resources, rule-setting, and opportunity — the dynamic sets in.

The Dominants see the Others as not quite right. The Others feel themselves to be off-base, slightly insecure in this world shaped by the Dominants. And we get a locked-in, stable (but destructive) cycle of each side preserving and protecting what they consider to be ‘special’ about their group, and even allowing and adapting to the (slightly ‘wrong’) attributes of the other. This stability feeds the Dark Side of each group — and undermines the capability of the Whole they are both a part of to cope, adapt, survive in a complex and challenging world.

How do you see this Dominant/Other cycle playing out? In your life? In society? In your organisation?


The Dark Side of human responses – The Force in organisation, part VI

Human responses in organisation tend to produce patterns of separation and resentment which destroy partnership.
It’s natural, instant. And it builds more… more separation,
more resentment. Less and less partnership.

As we begin to work in partnership, with good intentions,
something turns up. One party takes on the burden, the other is grateful. As
the burdened party takes on more burden, power, responsibility… the other is
alienated, ‘done to’, disempowered. Or, increasingly entitled and demanding. 

Worse – we put a third person in the middle, their job:
to meet the needs the empowered and disempowered have of each other – to be in
the middle.

These dynamics are real – but we don’t see our instinctive,
reflex response making it worse.

The Force is at work, the easy path to Burdened Tops,
Oppressed Bottoms, Stretched and Torn Middles, and Righteously Screwed Customers.

The Jedi resists this pull, creates the independence of
mind to act not reflexively, but in service of the system.

Do you recognise some of these patterns in your
organisation? Uneven distribution of burden, responsibility? What would it mean
to act in service of the system?


An invitation to the RedQuadrant tool shed

Originally published on Medium: Feb 28 · 5 min read

Over more than twenty years of public service transformation, 15 as a consultant, and ten years of running RedQuadrant as a network consultancy, I have developed a rich multi-methodology approach which is highly applicable cross-sector for anyone who wants to transform organisations and their results.

This been shared in several iterations over time, from ‘seven ways to save and improve’ to the 24-module blended learning programme ‘Leading Transformation’ — and is in a continual process of improvement and development.

The offer

I’m offering small group cohorts the opportunity to join together and share in multiple learning mechanisms, over a period of time, to become more effective at what they do by having access to a larger and more integrated tool shed and peer and coaching support. This is for change-makers, consultants, facilitators, ‘systems changers’ all over the world.

The offer, for £395/month, includes:

  • Small facilitated co-coaching cohorts / circles of four to six people, mixed internationally, by sector, and by propensity, with Managing partner Benjamin Taylor by Zoom, twice a month — 90 minutes each
  • Access to the ‘tool shed’ on Google Drive and Trello — the large unruly list of diagrams/slides of all the current models, multimethodology but integrated (see below) — a goal is to develop your sensemaking around all the approaches/methods/tools/perspectives, with support
  • Access to the RedQuadrant Leading Transformation programme (two modules a month — see below)
  • Direct mentoring and support ‘on pull’ — ‘shadow consulting’ to support consultancy engagements and approaches
  • Contribute your own methods, case studies, learning (as we develop this idea)
  • Community of practice support with cohort and coach (mailing lists, discussion fora, WhatsApp etc depending on group preferences)

To be part of the RedQuadrant tool shed or hear more about it, email me —

Image for post
The tool shed in physical form at RedQuadrant HQ

Additional information:

The Leading Transformation programme is a blended learning course about delivering transformational change — — this is a based 24-module ‘mini MBA’.

The requirement to participate is the two 90-minute zoom calls a month and to look into two of the Leading Transformation modules as much as you would like to each month. We aim for everyone to look through two modules each month. Each module contains a roughly one-hour slide lecture, also downloadable as audio, pdf, transcripts, plus there are additional documents and materials and links to follow up further if interested.

The motto of the tool shed is no exams, no homework! — you study at your own pace, the purpose is to apply the learning in your context, and pull on support from me and your cohort.

Why ‘tool shed’?

The RedQuadrant way is a mix of curated content, things inspired by other ideas, and original work. We call it a tool shed because, though generally the concept of ‘tools’ is not an attractive one (bringing to mind the famous hammer-owner who sees the world as primarily nail-based), the point is to be able to select the right approach, method, model or practice to advance the work in the context at any given time. I’ll help you to get into a dialogue with your tool-shed! The idea is not to have a bunch of independent tools or a formula for application, but to have requisite variety in your practice to meet the near-infinite variety of client needs, with a focus on what can cut through to real transformation

This is, therefore, explicitly a meta-contextual approach: a better response to neat-and-complete, conceptually closed consulting models, and one that explicitly sees the multiple dimensions of variation in the client/consultant situation — different locuses of work, different motivators of change. At a basic level, one example of this is that there are lots of amazing leadership consultants — and lots of amazing operational consultants. But few who can bridge and work across the huge divide between what is seen as ‘leadership’ and what is seen as ‘operations’. There are many other examples of where we seek to bridge divides, connect different concepts and ‘worlds’, and use multiple frames, approaches, and perspectives. The RedQuadrant ‘five worlds’ model, which encourages thinking about the different ‘worlds’ of customer / citizen, service, management / leadership, and the world of learning and change — and the communications and connections between them — is one example.

Image for post
The RedQuadrant Five Worlds model

Key influences and sources to be found in the tool shed

  • Meta-contextuality
  • The Viable Systems Model
  • Barry Oshry’s Organic Systems Framework
  • Systems leadership theory (along the lines of Jacques and Macdonald et al)
  • Systems, cybernetics, and complexity in general
  • OD, interpersonal, team methods, self-as-instrument, and personal and adult development
  • Outside-in, customer centred, process-as-system approaches (from Deming, Joiner, lean, etc)
  • Iterative service design (agile with mostly a small ‘a’)
  • ‘Flawful consulting’ and strengths-based and community-led approaches (after Peter Block)

Who am I to lead this work?

That’s a question I’m busy asking myself. I don’t claim to be special (see my ‘quadrants of thinking threats’ at for the attempt to steer between simplification and exclusivity, ‘power to’ and ‘power over’). What I do have is a real passion for both consultancy and the thinking approaches behind it, massive enthusiasm for sharing, and many years’ of experience of trying to make this really, really hard thing work. And I’m keen to share — to develop a way this can be communicated and branded effectively across the world, to create a sustainable income source based on doing what I’m passionate about, and a learning community which adds value to all participants and to the world.

You can see a little more about me at and curated systems thinking materials at

Look on the local government fees and charges, ye Open Data people, and despair!

Originally posted on Medium: Oct 2, 2019 · 5 min read    

Or… I didn’t need flying cars, but is a coherent and consistent data schema really too much to expect?   my frustrated tweet

Well. I have literally not got words strong enough to explain my sincere and deep dissatisfaction at the state of local government data. It’s, not to put too fine a point on it, a fucking disgrace. Of course, it’s nobody’s fault, but that’s rather the problem, isn’t it?

A colleague got in touch wanting guidance on getting comparative fees and charges data for an authority we are working with — should they organise an FOI campaign, of the sort they have been so used to responding to within local authorities.

So, my instinct was to say no — definitely not FOI — waste of officer time, and because it’s public data, they’ll only direct you to their publications schema anyway. And anyway, if the data’s to be gathered by FOI, it will all be out there anyway. And anyway, it’s bound to be available centrally — even if you have to pay a CIPFA benchmarking fee…

This is exactly the sort of thing we have open data for, it’s exactly the sort of thing we have data schemas for, it’s exactly the sort of thing we have benchmarking clubs and comparative data for, it’s something every single local authority has to do every year, it’s something that has to be public information, it’s something in the public interest to know and be shared, it’s exactly the sort of thing where we need to #fix the plumbing.

And not to hark back to that misguided but ultimately well-intentioned pickle situation, this is exactly the kind of thing that would be valuable to ‘armchair auditors’ and concerned citizens as genuinely comparable data across local authorities.

So, that’s easy, I thought… this is the sort of thing local government got a grip on in the first few years of the century…

– can’t find anything about the CIPFA benchmarking club (benchmarking info gone and search on the cipfa website doesn’t work)

– nothing sensible on the LGA (shocked)

– nothing on (not even ironically shocked)

To be fair, there are some actually useful bits on element of charging *policy* from the LGA:

Then I went back to the Electronic Service Delivery toolkit, now known as LG Inform

The local government transparency code doesn’t cover it

Building control and development control are there, as is ‘total income’ from, umm.. archives, heritage, foreshore (that one is going in the RedQuadrant Christmas quiz), and all kinds of other areas (including Public Conveniences) — but it doesn’t specify what the fees and charges are for, or how much…

Still, I suppose they are a sort of benchmark — but it’s just a single fee for all English authorities…

The dataset ‘income from fees and charges as a percentage of total spend’ is there buuuut… discontinued in 2017

The processes and website navigation lists (which could have given coherence to the web search, at least — have been — sob — discontinued…

The good old ESD power and duties list might be a starting point for what councils can charge for…

I sent the folks at Porge a message on their webchat… I’m sure they’re as frustrated as me.

But I do see that in 2016, Nesta ran a research programme — ‘identifying opportunities to help local authorities use data better’, (their final report, ‘Wise Council: Insights from the cutting edge of data-driven local government’ sheds no light on my problem) and ‘Between 2014 and 2016, the LGA facilitated some £2.64 million in grant funding for local government through the “Open Data Breakthrough” programme and the “Open Data Incentive Scheme”.’

I found e-learning, video and written case studies, lots of positive friendly stuff…

And whatdotheyknow doesn’t have the goods from publicly searchable FOIs either:

Results page 2

Printed from …

…but I suppose even when it is asked, they’re just referred to the publication schema… which is different for each council

Because I’m truly a massive nerd, I then tried Room 151 ( , the only place to go for local government Treasury, Technical, and Strategic Finance in-talk… nothing.

Even the legal guidance is as disparate as the services local government provides — a case in point of how local government starts from the point of trying to make coherent what is essentially incoherent.

So, yeah. Long story short, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere it should be. Nor is there any consistent guidance or information (outside individual small technical niches)…

The good news is, every LA has to publish this, both in its budget/committee papers, and accessibly online. But, of course, there’s no longer any coherent website structure or reliable schema, there’s no way to consistently find them. The bad news is, it’s buried in appendix xii in the papers, and for public access it’s in a random mix of pdfs and html, sometimes with a whole list, something by category (and you’ll have seen on twitter, there’s a mysterious pdf from Lincoln called ‘social inclusion fees and charges’ which turns out to be a badly-formatted automatically-ouput table for annual landlord charges for housing benefit enquiries…).

Image for post
Complete contents of Social inclusion fees and charges.pdf from Lincoln Council

And sometimes you get directed to the FOI fees and charges page, just for fun…

So it’s a very boring, slow, methodical putting together of the data, requiring someone who can interpret it well enough… but if that was done, it would be a major public boon to make it public!

So, do I really have to have someone download about 650 pdf documents, and go through them and type into some home-made database? Or am I missing something here?

Well, I’ve tweeted CIPFA — there might still be a benchmarking club, which would be a good deal. I’ve asked a friendly S151 officer if she knows more — and I’m getting a lot of confirmation on twitter that it’s nutso…

There must be some better data somehow. But I’m pretty good at web search and local government and nerdy stuff.

Really, really, something needs to be fixed here. It is such a mess…

Making Change That Matters

Originally published at

September 2, 2016

by Benjamin Taylor

“You never understand a system until you start to try to change it.”

— Lewin

“It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting.”

— *(See Footnote)

These two quotes rounded off the interview I got to do on The Human-Current Podcast and they are RedQuadrant favourites, tracing back to my former business partner, Dennis Vergne, doing the excellent coaching and consulting for change course at Oxford Saïd/HEC Paris business schools. More importantly, they chime so well with my experience, and some of the bigger lessons I have learned in my career.

I started off studying philosophy, as we discussed on the podcast – however I also studied politics, and was involved in politics from a very early age, doing leafleting with my mum from the time I could carry a bundle of leaflets, and joining a political party at the ripe old age of 16. Back then, I believe that policy was the main driver of change, and even though I edged more towards social movements and ideas at university, I’m glad that I had two experiences which started to knock that idea out of me. First, straight out of uni, I had two very operational jobs – admin for a youth development charity, and co-ordinator for an advice centre. So I saw something very different – the critical importance of ‘operations’ to make a difference in the world – the primacy of the quality of service and the experience of the organisation, both for the customer (or citizen) and for the employee.

Still, when I got a fancy job as Adviser to Leader of the Council (or Adviser to Mayor – the title changed a bit, but the bloke I worked for stayed the same!), I was still convinced that politics made a difference. And it did – but I also saw the compromises, and more importantly the many, many times when not acting was the only way to reduce risk and maintain power and influence for the future. I was a non-political council officer, but working directly for political leaders with a thin majority, both in the electorate and within the ruling group. It was paralyzing.

Still, when I moved on to a fancy consultancy (PricewaterhouseCoopers, as it was then called – PWC), I still thought that the power of my intellect and insight could change the world. Working with a sublimely talented, competitive, and capable team of colleagues in an organisational structure I ultimately wasn’t comfortable with, we produced brilliant reports. Clients were (sometimes) duly impressed. However, it slowly began to dawn on me that… nothing was actually changing. Either we were hired to perform some organisational ‘pantomime’ – a great display of effort for change, without the actual pain of change – or the intentions of our sponsors just weren’t enough to mobilise change. We did some great work, don’t get me wrong. But more often, we produce high-quality shelfware.

The rest of my career has largely been a downhill spiral – the reports got shorter and shorter, the action plans rose to prominence, rapid improvement events were the focus, then the action plans faded a bit too and we started to primarily just focus on real action – have a look, make a hypothesis (predict something that will improve things!), make a change, regroup and learn, and do it all over again. And keep doing it. Some dismiss this as tinkering – not theory-led or vision-led or big-bang enough. But I’ve never learned more about the actual organisational systems, and never got bigger change done, than now. We still sometimes write reports – sometimes nice ones – and I get to talk about big ideas. But the real work is making change that matters…

So when I was asked what action, what next step, I would recommend, I jotted down: ‘Learn! Explore! Think! Have a laugh…’ The final step is doubly important – a huge risk in all of this is coming to take yourself too seriously, and coming to lose your joy in the work.

And you couldn’t learn more, and make a bigger change for the better, than making an experiment on your culture: in your organisation, try to find the stories that encapsulate the gut reactions people have had to organisational systems, symbolism, and leadership behaviours. Try to predict what change in the latter would change the former positively. And predict what the response will be – and how you’ll respond. If it’s in your power, do it, and see what happens.

*this quote is attributed to so many people I’ve given up looking, though a Facebook friend kindly traced it on Google Scholar to Albert Mehrabian (he who didn’t prove that non-verbal communication makes up 93% of the meaning), in his 1970 Tactics of Social Influence. He’s a cool dude so I’m happy to leave it there unless anyone has an earlier citation!

You can listen to the HumanCurrent podcast here and don’t forget to subscribe in iTunes. This blog was written by recent guest, systems thinker, and business evolutionary, Benjamin Taylor. Benjamin is a Managing Partner at RedQuadrant, Chief Executive at The Public Service Transformation Academy, and a non-executive Director at SCiO. He is a frequent contributor on, an online forum for system thinkers, and a moderator on the Linkedin group System Thinking Network.

What is Control? Do Leaders Have It?

Originally published at:

September 2, 2016

by Benjamin Taylor

Control is probably an ‘essentially contested’ concept – which is to say that not only does it mean many different things to different people, these meanings are grounded in concepts of rationality, human communities and practices, which may make it impossible for proponents of different meanings to really communicate with each other.

But we can try! We tend to want to talk about one form of control as bad, evil, mechanistic, crushing. This is the mindset which systems thinkers sometimes liken to being trained to throw stones – reductionist control. If you’re good enough at it, and you know the weight of the stone, strength of the wind etc, you can predict where the stone will land. But if you’re suddenly presented with complexity, in the form of a live bird, this nasty sort of control can only think about applying known thinking. So you make the live bird more like a stone, which prevents the nasty habit it has of behaving unpredictably when thrown. It does lose certain essential, birdlike qualities – but it becomes as predictable as a rock (because, now, it’s much more like a rock… or potentially tied to it).

Then there’s another type of control, which we desperately want – a control which is somehow creative or enabling. Another way of putting this is the distinction of two types of power in Scandinavian or Germanic languages (which I learned from Jonathan Horwitz, a very good teacher). So you have macht, or might, or power over. And kraft or the power to create, power with.

So forget about arguing over words, if you can. What do we want control to mean?

I bring it down to two other words – responsibility, and constraints. I don’t think you can have freedom, or creativity, without them.

Organisational leaders might not have as much control as they think (sometimes I work with chief executives who are not amongst the most influential in their organisations). But they absolutely do have responsibility. For me, that responsibility comes down to accepting that the results that come out from their behaviours and the way the organisation affects people – and peoples’ response to those things – are the results they have created. If you really want to lead, first find out what you are responsible for, the actual results. If you can deal with that – confront yourself with that – you’ve made the first step. If you can learn from it and try to change, you’re on the way.

And constraints. In any organisation, it’s about giving people clear boundaries to their work and freedom within those boundaries. There’s room for improvisation and instant variation in these constraints, once you’re in the swing of it – but freedom without these constraints, freedom which doesn’t take account of experience, capability, relationships with others, knowledge of the work to be done – well, that’s meaningless. Note that this absolutely doesn’t rule out ‘self-organisation’, collective organisation – but it reveals that any of these, to be effective, must have a control system embedded somewhere – in collective agreement, in rules and procedures, or even in the work itself. And, if leadership is to be meaningful, the leader has to accept responsibility for the emergent outcomes, for the experience of the people in the organisation and outside the organisation, for the whole thing.

“Creativity and innovation, like freedom and liberty, depend not upon the soft pedalling of organisation, but upon the development of institutions with the kind of constraint and opportunities that can enable us to live and work together harmoniously, effectively and creatively.”

— Elliott Jacques

You can listen to the HumanCurrent podcast here and don’t forget to subscribe in iTunes. This blog was written by recent guest, systems thinker, and business evolutionary, Benjamin Taylor. Benjamin is a Managing Partner at RedQuadrant, Chief Executive at The Public Service Transformation Academy, and a non-executive Director at SCiO. He is a frequent contributor on, an online forum for system thinkers, and a moderator on the Linkedin group System Thinking Network.

Commissioning is dead.

The idea, first seriously introduced in the UK around 2010, has been associated with the ‘purchaser/provider split’, competitive tendering, and outsourcing.

The integrated care white paper removes the NHS reforms which were most symbolic of this, so it’s time to acknowledge that the long-heralded event has come. It is a dead parrot.

But the idea that it’s the job of government to:

  • spend money…
  • for services…
  • to meet needs…


This puts the ‘commissioner’ and their budget at the centre of the universe. It assumes the solution is to provide services. And it focuses on needs, deficits, problems.

We need to replace it with

  • experimenting and learning…
  • how to influence complex systems…
  • to achieve better outcomes for citizens and communities.

It’s the difference between contracting for a street cleansing service, and trying to work out how to achieve clean streets.

That’s what, since at least 2010, we’ve been helping people to grapple with, and it’s the mission of The Public Service Transformation Academy

Commissioning is dead, long live commissioning!

Well, what else can we call it? The work is still needed.

The video of my recent presentation is here:

#commissioning #procurement #integratedcare #publicservices

My piece ‘commissioning is an approach to transformation’ sets out our concept of transformation:

It also acknowledges that the brilliant ‘clean streets’ example comes from Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE.

And that effective, strategic procurement – the quality of thinking, of contracting, contract management, marketing shaping and market engagement needed to buy the street cleansing services that are needed as part of that – is still important and valuable.

The core approach that characterises the sort of commissioning that I believe now needs to be seen as just part of a much bigger picture has most recently been used by The King’s Fund, the identify needs/specify requirements/purchase/contract manage/learn cycle which was introduced in the World Class Commissioning programme in 2010 (predating the Lansley reforms).

And the model of thinking about the real outcomes that people get in their own lives, and the way commissioners can play a humble role in the complex system that creates those results, was also being talked about by Richard Selwyn at exactly the same period.

Of course, all these ideas have a much longer heritage, and are still being explored deeply, and not just in the UK. For thinking about commissioning’s long history and the significant contribution it still has to make, I recommend the work of Professor Gary Sturgess in Australia, where the word still has enormous value, perhaps because it was never simplified and standardised in the way it was in the UK.

RedQuadrant are planting a tree for every person in every meeting (and carbon off-setting, and doing both on behalf of the Public Service Transformation Academy)

The long headline says it all really 🙂

We are happy to partner with Sustainably.Run to plant a tree for every person at every meeting.

Here’s a little video they made on what we are doing to help our meetings, and our organisation, contribute better to sustainability.

For more on this and what else we are doing, go to…

we also contribute to​ To sign up yourself, go to…