We at MAC love Caroline Oliver and not just because she is so complimentary about our new website and our strap line ‘At the Heart of the User Experience’. Caroline has been the energetic pioneer of a system of governance which we believe can bring new and valuable insights into the way organisations are run which benefit both those who own them and those who use them. So we asked her to contribute to our blog-based discussion on themes and theories of organisational ownership which politicians have recently seized upon, generating headlines about John Lewis-style public service organisations. We believe as she does that you cannot expect good service for users and consumers from organisations that are badly run. Engagement and participation by definition are activities that have to involve everyone – owners, managers, staff and their customers. So read on for how this can happen…and thanks Caroline
Users and Owners United
The Moore Adamson Craig (MAC) Partnership’s beautiful new website bears the proud by-line “at the heart of the user experience”. Fair enough, except that, as individual partners I know most of them have been stalwart believers in “public engagement” since long before Jane Fonda pulled on her first set of leg-warmers. Which means that I cannot help but see MAC as operating from the heart of the “owner” experience too.
Let me explain…. Public sector organisations both serve the public and are ultimately owned by them. In other words, for public sector organisations, members of the public are both ultimately responsible for the architecture and funding of public services and the consumers or users of them. What I want to argue is that we all need to start focussing on the public’s owner experience quite separate from the user experience if we are really committed to getting meaningful public engagement.
As public service users we all want everything we can get when we want it and how we want it. Ask most of us to talk from our user experience of health care and we will tell you about how long we had to wait, how helpful the receptionist was, how clean the loos were, what we did and didn’t learn about what ailed us, what the doctor’s chair-side or bed-side manner was like and how we thought and felt about all the foregoing. But, ask us to talk from our owner experience of healthcare and you stand to get a very different kind of input.
As an owner I am interested in the bigger picture at the national, regional and local levels. How much of our money is going into healthcare and why and how do we decide how much of it should go where in terms of geography and need? How do we know that what we are spending is achieving the desired effect? How could the design of healthcare be made more effective in getting more and better outcomes for more people? What are the critical choices we need to make given that we can’t be everything to everyone all the time? And so forth.
MAC partner Valerie Moore and I have known each other as colleagues and friends since just around the time Jane Fonda was getting into her stride. In recent years, I have been very honoured by the fact that she has not only shared my interest in an approach to working with boards developed by Dr. John Carver (the creator of the Policy Governance® approach to board leadership) but also become a fellow pioneer in its practice in the UK. One of the main benefits of this approach for public sector organisations is that it clearly identifies the role of the Boards of those organisations as derived from the need to represent the public as owners, and to translate that perspective and task into explicitly stated expectations that inform and guide executives in their task of responding to the needs of the public as users.
I hasten to say that this does not mean that board members should not care about the user experience.What it means is that the way in which the board should express that concern is in how they guide those they employ. It also means that the people to whom the board should be accountable for the adequacy and impact of that guidance are all of us – as owners.
What We Want
You know that saying “be careful about what you wish for”? It applies here. Say my neighbours and I all got what we wished for as users of the services of our local hospital? Personally I would love to have a number of items that some nit-picky scrooge-like physicians might choose to label as “cosmetic” fixed without demur. I would also like instant service on demand, a private room should I need to be hospitalised and thirty minutes of exclusive attention from every consultant I ever see. Assuming my neighbours’ demands are not unlike mine, how long would it be before our local hospital had no resources left for any of us, let alone our children or our children’s children?
What We Can Get
So how are the demands of my neighbourhood user group to be kept in check? I would suggest it has to be from the owners’ perspective. And what would that perspective say? Let’s sit in on a meeting of my group of patient representatives which a member of the PCT Board has asked for the opportunity to address, saying:
Thank you all for seeing me today. As a member of the hospital board I understand that many of you have individual and shared personal concerns that you would like the hospital to address. However, today I am going to ask you to put those concerns on hold until we have first discussed how you believe the hospital should go about addressing the personal concerns of everyone in the area it serves i.e. those of several million people. Let me give you some background, some of the options we see for the future and get your opinions on how we should proceed.
Now wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation and a conversation from which the board member would be able to take back some concrete ideas for the kind of policy expectations the board needs to set in order to ensure that their hospital creates the best possible user experience?
Bribed by Sweeties?
Of course you could say that getting owner input is really the job of the government of the day and that boards are more about being watch-dogs on the government’s behalf but I believe that is to short-change ourselves immensely. As we move into an election how satisfied do you feel that your ownership view of UK Inc. is going to be accurately reflected by whichever party gets in? Are they really informing us about the kinds of choices that need to be made and seeking and responding to our ownership input? Or are they just trying to buy our votes, user-group by user-group with promises of sweets and treats?
Not Just At Election Time
In any case, I do not believe that real democracy in public services whether at national or local level should operate only at election time, do you? To me having public sector boards that are continuingly and actively involved in the organisations we own in pursuit of all our best interests is vital to keeping our public services accountable, relevant and forward-thinking. So MAC – if you are listening – and I know you are as you have kindly allowed me to take up some space on your beautiful new website (have I mentioned that before?) – please, please, help us get to the heart of the ownership experience and see you at the next user group meeting.
MAC adds – if you want to hear more, Caroline can be reached at: email@example.com or contact Valerie Moore here. The third UK Policy Governance Academy is to be held on 24-28 May 2010. Comments welcome as always.