The Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2016 is ‘Post-truth’, an adjective defined as ‘relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping opinion than emotion and personal belief’. The fact this was the word of the year supports the belief of many that we live in a post-truth age. We come across evidence of this in our work when people believe that their opinion is fact and often state as much to imply just that.  No doubt, we have too!

So how can we carry out whole systems working in a post-truth age?

In a recent project with a large City Council we worked on how they do ‘improvement’ using the PDSA methodology originating from W. Edwards Deming. Our work with their organisational leaders showed how this methodology is scalable and can be used at a team/service level, Directorate level, Council/wider system level and includes some clear ‘health warnings’ relating to system dynamics such as sub optimisation and unintended consequences.

There is nothing overly complex here if you understand systems and this type of work. What is interesting is the lack of management knowledge and ability to ‘get the facts’ confused with opinion.

Deming was adamant about the need to get knowledge and proposed his ‘System of Profound Knowledge’ (SoPK). A generation later we are at risk of being guided more by opinion and losing profound knowledge.

One of the 4 key elements of Deming’s SoPK is understanding psychology so perhaps he would be less shocked by the growth of the post-truth age. I am sure, however, that he would be adamant about the need to understand the system and get knowledge (facts). He was, as we still should be today, a stickler for correct and appropriate data.

We work with the 4 Principles of Improvement; Think System, Understand the Data, Understand People, Experiment and Learn and see these as foundational to all improvement work. In the same vein, we follow the 3 key questions of the Model for Improvement; what are we trying to accomplish, how will we know that a change is an improvement and what change can we make that will result in an improvement? To support this, we concentrate on building data around 3 specific measures; Outcome (our aim), Process (work methods), Balancing (system impact).

The starting point must be to study the current situation, whole system, and support this with good data and thorough root cause analysis.  No opinion, just fact; but then begin to theorise and predict as a plan is developed. The room for opinion and judgement is after the facts are established and where change can be measured.


If you are interested in finding out more about improvement and how Tricordant can help you prepare your system, please contact John Taylor