Systems thinking methodology to improve services and reduce cost

Wyre Forest District Council engaged the LGA Productivity Expert Offer to increase skills and capacity in systems thinking and help ensure delivery of projected savings. This case study forms part of our productivity experts resource.

Efficiency and income generation

The LGA Productivity Expert Programme has really helped move us forward, allowing us to tap into expertise and knowledge from within the local government family – and at much lower cost than if we had used a systems thinking consultant. Our thanks go to Rugby Borough Council for providing the expert and to the LGA for funding the programme.

Ian Miller, Chief Executive of Wyre Forest District Council


The LGA’s peer challenge process is a valuable tool for improvement within a council. It can also bring to light examples of good practice that other authorities can learn from as well as highlighting areas of improvement for councils. During a corporate peer challenge at Wyre Forest District Council in November 2011, the peer team noted the council’s intention and early progress to introduce systems thinking as a methodology to improve services and reduce cost of processes through eliminating ‘failure demand’. A significant proportion of the Council’s savings plans were predicated on efficiencies resulting from a programme of systems thinking reviews. With that in mind the peer challenge team suggested the council engage with the LGA Productivity Expert Offer to increase their skills and capacity in systems thinking and help ensure projected savings were delivered. .

Support requested

LGA’s Productivity Expert programme provided 12 days support from Doug Jones, Head of Business Transformation at Rugby Borough Council and a systems thinking expert. Due to the success of this approach the support was topped up to 15 days with the Council funding the additional three days. Rugby Borough Council has been heavily involved for a number of years in the successful delivery of this methodology.

The efficiency target set at the outset of this programme was to achieve savings of £500,000 (five per cent of the base staff budget) by 2014/15.

Expert activity

The support from the expert has primarily taken the form of a mentoring and critical friend role for individuals and teams undertaking a systems thinking intervention, in addition to meeting regularly with the chief executive to review the progress being made.

The expert has challenged the council’s organisational approach to cultural and behavioural change through implementing this methodology, as well as sharing his learning and best practice from Rugby BC with various tiers of staff, including those who have not yet been involved in a systems thinking intervention. The expert supported the council to develop its corporate dashboard of leading measures and ensured that they provided managers with the right type of data for improving the service from a customer’s perspective.

The support was frontloaded at the beginning of the contract with the expert spending one day a month at the authority in order to progress the work quickly.

The council currently has on-going reviews of services in:

  • Revenues and benefits: process change and streamlining of service
  • Depot services: Implementing new and more effective practices
  • Development control: Redesign and restructuring of planning services
  • Leadership review: Management and Support Services review

The expert’s wealth of knowledge and experience has supported a range of key deliverables to be achieved.

They included:

  • embracing the principles of systems thinking methodology and ensuring that redesigned services have the customer at the heart of the way the council works
  • developing a corporate dashboard of leading measures for the council’s agreed purposes and putting in place performance management arrangements for the monitoring and reporting of them
  • improving performance, customer satisfaction and financial savings from redesigned services
  • empowering staff to take informed decisions and improving working practices directly
  • supporting staff and our customers in the cultural and behavioural change arising from implementing the systems thinking methodology
Before Intervention As a result of Intervention
  • Benefit changes of circumstances processed in 52 steps
  • Functionalised service areas
  • 3 – 4 week wait for all new claims
  • 17% batch bills were wasted
  • Changes of circumstances had to be in writing/in person
  • Reduced to 11 steps
  • Joined up teams working together
  • Ability to fast track new claims
  • 0% wastage on batch bills
  • Changes of circumstances taken by phone (reducing in person demand)
  • Increased use of e-forms (reducing time spent scanning & indexing)


Depot Service Improvement

The Depot Services project identified areas within depot services in Wyre Forest where deployment processes could save money, and balance customer expectations whilst maintaining an effective service.

The following principles informed this change:

  • Focusing on managing demand over reactive work; ensuring cleaning is scheduled for the same informed time each week instead of responding to customer reports of dog fouling, spillages, fly tipping etc.
  • Communicating message of scheduled work to customers (e.g. through website access).and ensuring regular educational programmes in place.
  • ‘Quick response team’ to respond to priority cases
  • A co-ordinated ‘one depot’ approach across all processes.

As a result of the service review costs have been reduced by:

Creating a single database for ‘depot’ services for both customers and depot staff

Ensuring consistency in working hours and improved flexibility to response to peak and seasonal work (trial began in May 2013)  Developing a centralised business support/ co-ordination team to respond to customer demand

New structure proposals for management and supervision finalised and being implemented from May 2013.

Development Control Review

The key areas of work have supported the delivery of savings and improved service through:

  • Redesigning planning application and administration processes
  • Reviewing land charges and planning technical support methods
  • Working with Wolverley and Cookley Parish Council to trial new ways of consulting
  • Restructuring the Development Control and Land Charges Team
  • Putting a greater level of expertise on the front line – staff with increased knowledge and understanding of what matters to customers  Maximising the use of technology for making processes as smart as possible
  • Helped staff to embrace cultural change through the critical friend role, and helped improve staff morale through better working practices. 

Overall the expert has increased the capacity and skills of the staff involved in the interventions in the following ways:

  • Helping the council to identify a clear suite of measures on the systems thinking agenda.
  • Working as one team to achieve the council’s priorities. For example, the Depot service’s Review is part of Wyre Forest’s ‘keep my place safe and looking good’ measure.
  • Treating customers as individuals and taking a holistic approach to their needs.
  • Putting the customer at the centre of service delivery, driving out waste and focusing on value
  • Aiming to resolve the customers underlying need to help to prevent them from reentering the system further down the track

Comments from operational staff included:

I have a real sense of value and purpose since being involved in the Systems Thinking Review and get great satisfaction from seeing some of my ideas now forming our new ways of working.

I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to get involved to do so. It is so rewarding not to have to pass a customer to another person for managing a different part of their query.

Cost savings

The council’s savings target is well on the way to being achieved with over £300,000 savings already met in 2011/12. In fact the council are expecting to exceed the estimated savings of £500,000 and save closer to £700,000 by 2014/15.

Savings achieved so far:

  • £174,000 - Revenues and benefits service
  • £80,000 – Depot service review
  • £50,000 – Development control review

The additional savings will be delivered over the next 12 to 18 months through the on-going Management and Support services review and Development control improvements. The Systems Thinking methodology, together with the expert’s support, has demonstrated the financial savings that can be delivered through eliminating failure demand and making processes more efficient.


Productivity Expert Programme manager
Local Government Association (LGA)

Forward Programme manager
Wyre Forest District Council