Rosamund Chester Buxton: Continuous improvement in UK public service organisations
In a time of constrained public spending in the UK, there is a greater emphasis among public service organisations (PSOs) to use methods such as continuous improvement to use public resources wisely, and to provide value for money to service users and customers. Continuous improvement is a process by which all staff within an organisation ‘work together on an ongoing basis improving processes and reducing errors to improve overall performance for the customer’ (Fryer, Antony, and Douglas, 2007, p.498).
In August 2017, Dr Nicola Bateman, Professor Zoe Radnor and myself published, The status of continuous improvement in ICiPS members in 2015 report with the Institute for Continuous Improvement in Public Services (ICiPS). The report examines the status of continuous improvement (CI) in ICiPS members in 2015, and covers seven case studies of six ICiPS members and one affiliate organisation.
The report focuses upon the particular challenges that PSOs in UK, face in using CI to deliver service improvements in a time of tighten resources and budget cuts. Many of these challenges and themes are well known amongst practitioners and researchers as widely occurring in organisations undertaking CI. This includes, the success of CI projects and the resistance or lack of support at top and middle management level, as well as some sections of staff. Other themes are particular to PSOs, for example, the major motivation for CI is driven by a desire to maintain quality of service in an environment of budgetary constraint. In addition, more emerging themes are substantiated by the case studies in the report. This includes an awareness of where the organisation is in terms of CI maturity, allied to this are changes to organisational structure, and strategy to accommodate CI, and the ability to deliver in-house training.
The themes and analysis arising from the report not only provide useful best practice cases for ICiPS members, but other PSOs in the UK and internationally. Section 1 of the report addresses CI strategy, and section 2 considers how CI sits within the organisation. Section 3 addresses CI training, and section 4 reflects the specific techniques used in our cases. Sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 consider overall implementation looking at successful projects, problems and issues with implementation, and the overall maturity of the organisation in terms of CI. The final sections of the report explore the future of CI from the case organisations view and insights from the authors.
Fryer, K. J., Antony, J., & Douglas, A. (2007) Critical success factors of continuous improvement in the public sector: A literature review and some key findings. The TQM Magazine, 19(5), 497–517. https://doi.org/10.1108/09544780710817900.