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Lancaster Complexity Network - David Hoyle, Wigan Council

Date: 7 March 2007 Time: 1.00-2.00pm

Venue County South D46David Hoyle, Strategic Manager: Change for Children and Young People Wigan Council"Stories from beneath the surface of public services in England: insights into outcomes for children and young people offered by complexity thinking"


On the basis of fieldwork carried out into what happened to a group of young people referred to services in a large metropolitan local authority in northern England, I will suggest public services appear to be organised to provide services for individuals in ways that are grounded in, and legitimated by, particular metaphors and ways of thinking:

- A belief that organisations and establishments in the public sector are organised - and expected to operate - as though they are machines that work in linear processes in stable, predictable circumstances with precise, standardised inputs; and

- 'Scientific method' and the tools of traditional science provide a means for discovering 'facts' about individuals and their circumstances - as the basis for making accurate predictions about them, their behaviours and situations.

I will argue such metaphors and thinking underpin service delivery structures, systems of social relations and 'situated moral reasoning' by members of the children's workforce, which produce outcomes for children, young people and families that appear both differentiated according their social identities (ethnicity, Faith, sexuality, gender, disability, age, class) and dysfunctional for particular individuals and groups.

I will use the stories I identified beneath the surface of public services in Textown (the local authority) as a springboard for suggesting - amongst others - the following implications of complexity thinking and approaches for public service organisations, for users of public services and for the research strategies through which we come to know about individuals and their circumstances.

- A need for public service organisations and establishments to utilise complexity thinking and approaches in their sense-making about the multiple and often conflicting challenges they face:

o A 'command/control' architecture created by Government - including target setting, inspection regimes, media collusion - which engenders a fear amongst many Chief and Senior Officers in public bodies of 'being caught being 'wrong"; and,

o Machine thinking (mechanism) legitimises 'risk averse' approaches immanent in which is a stifling of originality and creativity in working with service users and across sectors and disciplines to develop solution-focussed approaches.

- Programmes of services for users (for example, children, young people and their parent(s)/caregiver(s)) that are not grounded in moral categories informed by an individual pathology or deficit model, grounded in a deserving-undeserving dichotomy.

- Developing diverse, robust strategies in how we come to know about individuals and their circumstances in the context of their interactions and social (and political and economic) relations within complex systems.

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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
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