Contact Us

For more information regarding the conference please get in touch.

Newcastle Business School
City Campus East
Newcastle upon Tyne



Background to the Conference

Who can remember a more challenging time to be a public servant?

From global heating to demographic change to entrenching social inequalities, a growing cast of wicked issues demands bold new policy agendas stretching years if not decades into the future. Sudden ‘black swan’ shocks from climate emergencies to global pandemics demand the opposite: immediate, game-changing adaptation. Fiscal retrenchment in recent years has reduced the capacity of many nation-states to respond to either challenge while declining trust in governments and public organisations now sets citizens at odds with the institutions designed to serve them. Looking forward, the only thing we might accurately predict is yet more uncertainty.

This conference seeks to tackle a problem animating policymakers, service professionals and academics alike: in an increasingly complex world, how can public services and social interventions create and sustain positive outcomes for the people and populations they serve? There is increasing pressure for a radical change in the form and function of public administration, management and governance. Genuine social outcomes – those high-level conditions of societal wellbeing like quality-of-life, health, criminal behaviour or educational attainment or responses to climate change or energy shortages – are simply too complex to be delivered by top-down policymaking, target-driven management and contractualism, or more rigorously-evidenced social interventions. Outcomes across the human and relational services are better achieved and value better created by investing in the capability of public service systems and to engage meaningfully with the complexity of people’s lives and the communities they live in.

Through our own work, we have been involved in the development of responses to these issues: two pragmatic and accessible practices currently engaging academics and researchers: Human Learning Systems, a leading collaborative endeavour into complexity-informed public service reform, and Learning Partnerships, an action-oriented model for research and academic engagement in complex settings.

We seek to provide a space for the accessible examination of complexity and outcomes in the policy and management arena to provide a firm ground for change-oriented service professionals, policymakers and researchers alike to collaborate productively, proactively, and critically with an important service reform trajectory.

A variety of partnerships, alliances, and networks have developed in response to these challenges both within and across the business, government, and civil society sectors. In a world of increasing interdependencies, driven by real-time information provision, a globally interconnected economy, pressure on vulnerable ecosystems, and complex flows of people, ideas, and resources, local problems can take on geopolitical dimensions, and the decisions of multinational corporations can directly affect local populations around the globe.

The complexity of drivers, processes, and outcomes at any given place and time makes for wicked problems that confront us with profound uncertainties as to what exactly is happening and where we are heading, and with considerable ambiguity resulting from the broad variety of perspectives brought to bear on these wicked problems. All of this provides sufficient rationales for engaging in multi-actor collaboration and investing in joint knowledge creation, in interactive sensemaking, in the integrative negotiation of interests, in adaptive planning etc.

At the same time collaborations can be understood as experiments in social innovation, which are greatly complicated by these uncertain and ambiguous conditions.

While a certain rate of failure is a common and accepted occurrence in developing innovative products or services, for many government-sponsored projects (even pilot projects) official failure is often not an option.

Relational approaches to public services raises questions such as:

  • What are key issues affecting relationships that produce outcomes?
  • How can new methods such as Human Learning Systems and Learning Partnering recognize and ameliorate problems in relationships?
  • What and how can we learn and innovate whether from success or failure?Are there innovative ways approaching the designing/re-designing of organisations and collaborations to support improvements in outcomes?
  • What are the appropriate roles for measuring and measurement in responding to the challenges of relational public services?
  • What role do information systems and data have in supporting the development of relational approaches?
  • How do stakeholders innovate their relation and relationships in specific contexts, and with what effect?
  • What role does public engagement and deliberation have in the innovation of public services and new forms of relations between governance, management and delivery of public services?
  • What are the role of institutions such as Universities in supporting innovations, brokering partnerships or learning in relationships (as engaged scholars) in areas as diverse as the co-production of the care of older people, community development to climate change?