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Delivering ‘less with less’

‘Charles Leadbeater shared  a number of case studies of practice of inspirational public service leaders who are finding new and innovative ways to tackle problems such as: reducing childhood obesity; reducing the number of young people engaged in violence, and coping with loneliness in old age.

Given that you as public sector leaders will be increasingly charged with delivering ‘less with less’, is educating and engaging the population a practical solution to these intractable social problems?’

Systems Leadership – Local Vision

In 2012 representatives from the Department of Health (DH), Public Health England (PHE), the Local Government Association (LGA) and associated leadership development organisations, including the NHS Leadership Academy, Leadership Centre, The Staff College and the Kings Fund, identified the need for a paradigm shift in public sector leadership.

The underlying thesis is that organisations, communities, and indeed society as a whole, function as complex adaptive systems. Leadership in such systems requires attitudes, behaviours and skills which go beyond more traditional mechanistic ideas about leadership, management and change. Experience suggests that developing such leadership capacity is best approached by focusing on real work, drawing on the multiple perspectives of the participants.

The Systems Leadership – Local Vision programme is a product of those conversations and build on the above principles – a ground-breaking collaboration between Public Health England, National Skills Academy for Social Care, NHS Leadership Academy, The Staff College, Local Government Association, the Leadership Centre, the Department of Health (DH) and local public services in places. The programme leverages £1.5m in pooled funding and in-kind support which is overseen by the Systems Leadership Steering Group, comprised of senior representatives from the sponsoring organisations.

The programme aims to learn and develop what it takes to become a systems leader by using a local knotty issue where solutions are not in the gift of individual organisations.

The programme has three overall aims:

  • To assist in the development of a solution to a local ‘wicked’ / intractable issue through leadership development. 
  • To ensure that the leadership learning locally can be used to help address other issues.
  • By looking across the local projects, draw together lessons and learning about the required leadership behaviours and development that will help resolve future wicked issues.

Applications were submitted from local areas to take part in the systems leadership programme. 25 sites were chosen to take part. The sponsor for each bid is the Health and Wellbeing Board.

  • Birmingham – reducing demand on public services using [big] data
  • Bristol – Integrated approach to health and wellbeing
  • Calderdale – Increase the number of children participating in at least 3 hours physical activity per week
  • Central Bedfordshire – improving outcomes for older residents through a more integrated preventative approach
  • Cornwall – Encourage access to healthy and fresh food within all local communities
  • Coventry – raising levels of physical activity in the city
  • Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole – Supporting the ageing population and gaining coherence across a complex local system
  • Dudley – minimising service dependency and improving community based interventions
  • Gloucestershire – breaking the cycle of obesity within families in areas of urban and rural deprivation
  • London Borough of Hackney – eliminate the risk of female genital mutation (FGM) faced by girls and young women growing up in Hackney
  • Kent – The connectivity between the Kent HWBB, the CCG-based Local WBBs and the District Councils
  • London Boroughs of Lambeth & Southwark – Integrated Care pathways across Lambeth and Southwark
  • Leeds – interconnection between unemployment and high levels of ill health amongst those who are unemployed
  • Luton – addressing the variation of General Practice in Luton
  • London Borough of Merton – integrated health and social care for people with two or more serious long-term conditions.
  • Nottingham City and Shire – integrated health and social care
  • South Gloucestershire – improve local urgent care system
  • Suffolk – Early identification and treatment options to improve mental health outcomes.
  • Torbay – create dementia aware high streets
  • Wakefield – develop an integrated model of care to improve quality for residents
  • West Cheshire – a multi-agency response to social isolation
  • Wiltshire – create a multi-agency 24-7 response for those with urgent care needs
  • Wirral – improve access to affordable, healthy food and influence positive local attitudes towards food
  • York – extending life and disability-free life expectancy for our local population and reducing the gap in heath inequalities

 The words below are how the areas have described how they feel about their challenging projects.


You can keep up to date with progress of the areas as they share their learning at:


Systems Leadership for Effective Services Report

This brief thinkpiece summarises the key features of a model of leadership that is increasingly being accepted as the most appropriate way of describing what Directors of Children’s Services in England do when they are at their most effective. Termed ‘systems leadership’, it echoes the way in which school leadership is being reconstructed by thinkers such as David Hargreaves who writes about headteachers as ‘system leaders’ , and it matches the increasing emphasis in the health service on ‘collaborative leadership’. What all three have in common is that they replace the traditional notion of the leader as the sole source of power and authority, with a version of leadership which reflects the complexity of modern society and the decline of deference, a position argued strongly by Margaret Wheatley who suggests that ‘in these troubled,uncertain times, we don’t need more command and control, we need better means to engage everyone’s intelligence in solving challenges and crises as they arise’.

Systems leadership is a marker of the more general shift in modes of transmission from hierarchical to viral, and, in forms of social organisation, from analogue to digital. Arguably, it is the only kind of leadership likely to survive the advent of social media.

Systems leadership for effective services

Systems Innovation Discussion Paper

Why successful innovation goes beyond products

Charlie Leadbeater – January 2013

Steve Jobs was often late. Apple has not always been first to market with cutting edge technology. Often it turned up when the party had got going but before it was in full swing. Apple brought some of its key products to market only when it knew it could wrap around them a supportive system which would deliver content and services to customers with one hand and with the other collect all their credit card details.

The Apple that started making computers to sit on desktops was a product company. The Apple that has become the most valuable company in the world does something different: it creates products that are entry points to systems. It is a systems innovator…

Click the link below to read the rest of this report.

Systems innovation discussion paper

Leadership Centre NHS Leadership Academy Public Health England The Staff College