About the book

Tony Kinder & Jari Stenvall

Problem-solving and Learning for Public Services

Springer 2023

The book is about problem solving and learning in public services.

Successful human societies and successful humans are good at, because they benefit from, problem-solving.

 Problem-solving is inseparable from progress since solutions to one set of problems gives rise to the next set: there is no statis or equilibrium in social problem-solving. 

Humans build on general, transferable theoretical knowledge (the result of past learning activity) coupled to context-specific knowledge (subjective and emotional). 

This expands the stock of solved problems, mobilising new capabilities, improved productivity and capacity that help improved wellbeing and quality of life. 

Public services address some of life’s greatest challenges such as education, health, security, communal living, equality; public services aim not only to address today’s list of problems, they anticipate continuous improvement by also identifying tomorrow’s problem list. 

Our social learning model in every case draws attention to how context and culture influence the framing of problems and proposed solutions and their implementation.

Thus, for each set of problems we discuss a context and culture are unpacked and readers are invited to populate our frameworks with their own context and culture.

The book is process-driven, we dig into problems and issues seeking root causes.  As such, the book constantly invites readers to critically reflect on what they know and how their processes of problem-solving may differ from what we offer. 

Finally, the book’s scope is largely qualitative, the quantitative data we reference is straightforward and requires no detailed statistical capability. 

The book draws on theory and relevant research from a wide range of countries, though reflecting our own research background contains a lot of research from Finland, Scotland, and China.  These which we hope offer both analyses rooted in the international problems and opportunities facing PM, while also offering analysis of advanced solutions. 

A wide range of public services feature in the book, noting that the scale and scope of public services vary with stage of economic development, context and culture and opportunity and that jurisdiction and co-terminosity varies between States. 

This international outlook is reflected in the intellectual scope. 

Each chapter critically reviews bodies of research literature, in total covering much of the PM field and citing examples and short cases (we are conscious how readily these age) from across the globe. 

Most of our discussion relates to the local level at which public services are delivered and improved.

  • The book aims to stimulate and support reflective practitioners in public services on user-focused approaches to improving service efficiency and effectiveness by decomposing value-adding processes and deliberately attending to learning from logic-of-practice by providers and service users. 
  • In doing so, readers will be able to apply learning frameworks to problem-solving seriously embedding the results of subjective and emotional evaluations in addition to rationality seeking to involve internal and external experts, providers and service users as active agents in improvement processes. 
  • The rate of learning must equal or exceed the rate of change readers will centrally featuring minds-on active and action learning to incremental and radical service changes.
  • Readers will note that key activists improving services may not be top-management, indeed most often are not and that radicals, people prone to experimenting at diverse organisational level can pay key roles in organising service improvements.  This book celebrate curiosity. 
  • Readers will learn that technology is never neutral and deterministically applied can harm user’s interests, while applied with understandability and accountability can greatly improve access, quality, speed, and efficiency. 
  • Readers will strengthen perceptions of localised service governance as legitimate and the local sphere as one in which all staff and user can make some difference. 
  • Thoughtful readers will perhaps see service systems from afar clearly, emphasising with difficulties and learning from advanced service models and the contribution made by statutory public services providers, the third-sector (3S) and families to public services. Readers will appreciate more the challenges public services face across the globe and how and why transfer of learning can be helpful.
  • Readers will understand and make use of concepts such as commons, commodities, public goods and natural capital as enabling analysis of public services and the natural environment and some of the threats to local natural welfare and opportunities to act locally to protect natural sustainability.