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Commentary Article May 23rd, 2022
Delivery • Innovation • Health

Human Learning Systems - A practical guide to doing public management differently

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.@CPI_foundation @irissorg & @ihubscot are proud to launch '#HumanLearningSystems: A practical guide for the curious' 📖 Download to learn how you can make learning & relationships central in your work.

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👣 Begin your #HumanLearningSystems journey today! Use this brand new guide 📑 to help you apply the approach in your work, and share feedback 💬 about how it could be improved.

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🤔 Ever wondered what learning as a management strategy would look like in practice? Download 'Human Learning Systems: A practical guide for the curious', try it in your work, and share your journey ✍️

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Partnering for Learning

We put our vision for government into practice through learning partner projects that align with our values and help reimagine government so that it works for everyone.

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Last year, we worked with several organisations to release an e-book - Human Learning Systems: Public Service for the Real World. This had one key message: if we want to achieve real outcomes in the world, then we need to do public management differently. That is, we need to plan and organise public service in a radically different way.

Back in 2016-17, when a few of us first began to explore this idea, this was a distinctly heretical position to take. The people that spoke to us for our first report did so on condition of anonymity. Fast forward five years. Now, not only do we have a good picture of what an alternative approach to public management looks like, we have over 50 case studies of that in practice from around the world. And those who have been at the vanguard of this practice, like Plymouth Council, are winning national awards for doing so.

At the same time, across Scotland’s health and social care system, there is a growing appetite to commission differently, to better focus on creating the conditions for people to achieve the outcomes that matter most to them. That’s why Healthcare Improvement Scotland and Iriss commissioned the Centre for Public Impact to create a practical guide for organisations who want to use a Human Learning Systems approach to public management. 

We’re excited that the guide, Human Learning Systems: A practical guide for the curious, is now ready for organisations to use. But, before we ask you to dive in, we wanted to share a little about the journey we’ve been on so far, the need for this resource, and what you can expect.

Recognising the complexity of our lives

Human Learning Systems begins with the recognition that real outcomes are created by the unique combination of actors and factors, and the relationships and interactions between them, that make up a person’s life.

Sturmberg, JP (2018) Health System Redesign How to Make Health Care Person-Centered, Equitable,and Sustainable. Springer, Australia. p238 Sturmberg, JP (2018) Health System Redesign How to Make Health Care Person-Centered, Equitable,and Sustainable. Springer, Australia. p238

The exact combination of relationships between actors and factors that create a desirable outcome in one person’s life will be different to another person’s. And, it will change over time, as our lives evolve, and the world changes.

Learning as a Management Strategy

Therefore, if we care about outcomes, we need a different approach to public management which recognises this complexity. We need Learning as Management Strategy. This is what our new guide to Human Learning Systems helps organisations get to grips with. Our guide enables those engaged in any aspect of social action or public service to organise themselves to have the best chance of creating genuine outcomes in the complex environments of people’s lives.

Learning as Management Strategy changes the focus of what can be planned and managed. Rather than trying to meticulously pre-plan and organise a programme of activity in someone’s life, it enables public facing workers to learn together with the people they serve. They can learn about the unique nature of each person’s life as a complex system - the key relationships and the driving factors in their life - and how all of those things interact. And then, when they have learnt together, it enables the workers and those being served, to explore and experiment together around what helps to produce better and different outcomes in people’s lives.

HLS Learning Cycle HLS Learning Cycle

All of this exploration and experimentation generates challenges for how systems at other scales are planned and managed - how teams, organisations, places and nations work. And so the managers at these scales need to undertake the same processes of learning and experimentation - to ensure that the action-learning which supports the creation of real outcomes happens rigorously, efficiently and effectively.

Human Learning Systems: A practical guide for the curious

All of these action-learning processes can be planned and managed.

Our new guide is designed to help people understand the practical actions they will likely need to take to plan, organise and undertake these action-learning activities.

The guide incorporates case study examples, written by Andy Brogan from Easier Inc, and Mark Smith from Gateshead Council, to illustrate the applications of the framework in real life. It draws on the richness of their experiences to explore the detailed methods they use, the obstacles they encountered, and how they responded to those obstacles, all while placing learning at the heart of their approach.

The guide was also tested with public sector and voluntary organisations across Scotland who supported us in further iterating and developing it so it can support experimentation in different contexts. 

How can you help?

This is just the beginning. We’re keen to keep testing and iterating the guide and keep asking the question: “what help do people need to adopt a Human Learning Systems approach?” We’ll be seeking feedback from everyone who downloads it - was it useful? How could it be better? Do write to us and tell us how you’re using the guide. With your help, we can truly create something extraordinary.

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Explore the guide

We’ve worked with partners to develop a practical new guide to help you apply the Human Learning Systems approach to your work. Download the guide to begin your journey towards more human public services.

Download the guide

Written by:

Toby Lowe Visiting Professor in Public Management
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Chandrima Padmanabhan Programme Manager, Europe
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