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Podcast Article November 15th, 2023

Reimagining Government season 2 episode 3: transcript

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We don't just want to change policies or attitudes, but the whole paradigm. But what on earth is a paradigm? Join us to explore what a paradigm is, hear practical examples of paradigm shifts, and try to solve the mystery of how we can shift paradigms in public service.

Listen to season 2 episode 3

Listen to the full episode below or click here:

SFX: Bob Proctor: So the big question is, how are paradigms changed? And here's your answer.

[00:00:10] Adrian Brown: Hello and welcome to Reimagining Government. My name is Adrian Brown and I'm the Executive Director at the Centre for Public Impact. At CPI, and in this podcast, we tend to talk a lot about change. Whether it's changing thought, practice, or process, change is more often than not our first port of call when we're looking to make a difference in what we do.

And changing governance is often... gradual over time takes a lot of determination in order for it to take lasting effect. And we don't just want to change policies or attitudes. We want to change a whole paradigm. But how do paradigm shifts work? And if we're to achieve a government equipped to tackle modern challenges, how do we begin to shift the paradigms required to make this happen?

Big questions, but thankfully in today's episode, we're joined by our resident paradigm expert, Professor of Public Management, Toby Lowe. Toby, hello.

[00:01:01] Toby Lowe: Hi Adrian, we've come across this idea of paradigms and therefore been fortunate enough to really kind of delve into how paradigms work and how we can maybe begin to shift some of those.

[00:01:17] Adrian Brown: I remember from the very first time we met many years ago, one of the first words to come out of your mouth was something about a paradigm. And I remember also talking to you about Kuhn and maybe Masterman, the father and mother of talking about paradigms as well. Maybe Toby, who are we talking about?

Who's Kuhn and who's Masterman and what were they talking about in relation to paradigms?

[00:01:36] Toby Lowe: So Thomas Kuhn and Margaret Masterman are exactly the, the kind of the father and mother of talking about paradigms. Thomas Kuhn, he, he gave us the original definition of the idea of a paradigm. He said that a paradigm is a grand explanatory narrative for how a bit of the world works.

And he was particularly talking about how a bit of the scientific world works. [00:02:00] So how, how scientific disciplines function. The classic example of a paradigm that he talked about was of the cosmology paradigm. Initially Ptolemy in ancient Greece developed a grand explanatory story that the sun and everything else in the solar system goes around the earth.

And that paradigm lasted for the best part of a thousand years. So people making observations about the kind of movement of bodies in the sky and fitting those observations, that data into that grand explanatory story. All of a sudden the, uh, the paradigm began to shift when Copernicus said: hang on a minute.

I don't think we actually can make sense of all the observations about the movement of celestial bodies if we assume that the earth is the centre of the solar system and everything else goes around it. I think actually a better way to explain what we're seeing is that the earth and everything else goes around the sun.

And that's that grand explanatory narrative of [00:03:00] how the solar system works is a really nice example of a paradigm. Why the idea of paradigms in science was revolutionary was because what Kuhn was saying is that scientific progress doesn't progress neatly. It's not just a case of adding more ideas to a big pile of things we call truth.

It's actually the way that we come to understand the world is through competing stories, these big explanatory narratives and then that we, we have to fit our data, our observations about the world into those stories to see what makes sense.

[00:03:38] Adrian Brown: That makes sense to me in terms of what Thomas Kuhn was saying and seems relatively clear as a paradigm is just a total shift in worldview and understanding.

What did Margaret Masterman add to that?

[00:03:52] Toby Lowe: Masterman's contribution was really crucial here because she followed up Thomas Kuhn's work by saying: thank you, Tom. Loved your work. But do you realise [00:04:00] you used the word paradigm in kind of 19 subtly different ways? Um, but you're using just kind of one word to cover all of that stuff.

And she said: the kind of, the idea of a paradigm lacks precision for, and that means it's much more difficult for it to get, to do useful work. So she gave us a more precise formulation of how paradigms actually work. So she suggested that a paradigm is something that operates at three different levels.

So she said that there's a metaphysical level; a story about what exists and what we should value in the world. A paradigm has a sociological level; the cultures, the processes, the practices which exist in the world and which manifest the stories about what is and what we should value. And then a paradigm also has exemplars; things to point at that people go, that's what we mean by this.

[00:04:54] Adrian Brown: So,that's a really helpful way of thinking about a paradigm. How is that [00:05:00] useful for us when we're thinking about government and public services today?

[00:05:07] Toby Lowe: What I find really interesting and exciting about the concept of paradigms is kind of three, three core things really. A paradigm helps us to understand how we turn data into meaning.

Data doesn't mean anything by itself. We have to make sense of it. And we make sense of the data that we see by fitting it into an existing story or seeing the data actually confounds that existing story. I think it helps us to understand how deep change happens. When we can't fit the data we've got into a grand narrative, it forces us to ask questions about that story.

Does that story really make sense now that we know this about the world? Do we need a different story? Can we adapt and tweak the existing one? And finally, framing that kind of deep change as paradigm shift helps us to [00:06:00] understand that there's power embedded in those grand narratives. These grand narratives have gatekeepers, right?

People and organisations who decide how the story changes or not. Making paradigm shift in the world usually requires change in who those gatekeepers are, or at the very least a radical change in how they think and act. So people with this kind of power are notoriously unwilling to give up that kind of power without a struggle.

See what happened to Copernicus and his friends who kind of challenged the church's right to say, this is the story of how celestial bodies work.

SFX: Bicycle bell ringing

[00:06:45] Adrian Brown: So it's probably helpful Toby, to turn to our first interview, Henk-Jan Dekker, who's an expert in cycling policy in the Netherlands.

[00:06:56] Henk-Jan Dekker: My name is Henk-Jan Dekker. I did my PhD thesis [00:07:00] at Eindhoven University of Technology on the history of cycling policies in the Netherlands, especially interested in the politics and governance of cycling infrastructure.

[00:07:08] Toby Lowe: Indeed. So let's hear from him about... what the situation was like before the paradigm shift that happened in car use and cycling policy.

[00:07:21] Henk-Jan Dekker: The older frame of efficiency, where traffic is all about moving as much people and cars through space in as short a time as possible, without any attention to the negative externalities of this.

I think in the Dutch context, in the 1970s, there were so many traffic casualties. If you look at the number of people dying in traffic at that time, the numbers were really very high compared to before. And so what you get is this very big media campaign around traffic safety and vulnerability. There's this opposition where activists frame traffic in terms of vulnerability and safety.

And so the activists really try to reframe the discussion to make [00:08:00] it not about efficiency, but to make it about safety and inclusivity and vulnerability. And these are of course topics that you can make very emotional and very visible by emphasising how many children, for instance, died on the streets every year.

These are topics that are hard for politicians to disregard, uh, even if you are a fan of cars or you're a fan of efficiency. You cannot be seen to disregard the safety of children, of course.

I think it's important to look at narratives around these practices. In the case of mobility, to make that switch from having a car centred to a bike centred mobility perspective. And to think about what happens if we see the city as a place that is meant in the first place for cyclists and pedestrians and children rather than for drivers. And then you see the city from a very different angle. So this reimagining the city is very important.

[00:08:52] SFX: Amsterdam is not a city to drive in. It's a town for walking or cycling. After all, the bicycle is almost as Dutch [00:09:00] as the clog.

[00:09:00] Adrian Brown: So this is, this is really fascinating, Toby. So I think most people recognise that The Netherlands today is a very positive experience if you're a cyclist.

But perhaps assumed that that was just a public policy decision that was taken at a point in time to say: you know what, we want a private cycling use so we'll just make the necessary infrastructure and other decisions to put that in place. What Henk-Jan was describing there was actually a shift in framing and values from a, from an efficiency framing to one of safety and vulnerability.

And it was that that actually was the difference.

[00:09:43] Toby Lowe: Yeah, exactly. We can hear in what he was saying that sense of what was required was a change in that grand explanatory narrative. What matters? What counts? What is valuable in our public space? Is it moving cars through efficiently? Or is it the safety and kind of enjoyment of people?

[00:10:03] Adrian Brown: So a paradigm shift starts to happen when people feel that there's something kind of fundamentally wrong. With the current framing of the current way that we're actually approaching this

[00:10:18] Toby Lowe: Exactly, it is that kind of fundamental wrongness in his words is is manifesting kind of children dying in the streets and that is a kind of really like powerful way to think about that, that feeling of wrongness that people have that really provides the energy for paradigm shift. Like ,beginning to change those really deeply ingrained stuff requires that kind of energy to make that kind of change happen.

[00:10:43] Adrian Brown: What can people do then if they sense this, this feeling of wrongness?

[00:10:48] Toby Lowe: A first step in that reframing is to try and challenge the dominant narratives to, to set, to highlight the problems with the current dominant story. If the idea of paradigm shift [00:11:00] is changing these grand explanatory narratives, how did that connect with the paradigm shift in the story that the Dutch people tell themselves about who they are?

[00:11:10] Henk-Jan Dekker: From an early start, already like a century ago, there were social movements trying to promote this link and trying to present cycling as typically Dutch. By linking it as being quite a small and cheap and modest vehicle, which was then linked to the national character as being hard working and frugal and, and not, not liking to spend a lot.

And this, this link was made very strong, uh, by cultural associations. For example, the Royal Family, who liked to have their picture taken with bicycles as a way to show that they have remained normal people, basically, which I think is very, very powerful image. It shows how, how prominent the bicycle is in cultural imagination, that this is the vehicle that the royal family chooses to show that they are down to earth and like the rest of us.

[00:11:56] Toby Lowe: He also has kind of interesting reflections on [00:12:00] how to get those different narratives out into the world.

[00:12:05] Henk-Jan Dekker: This can be done if you have good contacts in media, for instance, so I think the activists in the Netherlands in the 70s were very good at employing media to their advantage and getting a lot of attention for their demonstrations and a lot of articles around their viewpoints.

So they spread this new narrative in very wide circles and they found alliances in local government.

[00:12:25] Adrian Brown: It's a fascinating story there that, uh, that's being described in the Netherlands. And clearly communications and, and storytelling is part of how a narrative is shifted. But Toby, right back at the beginning, I think you were saying that a paradigm is also about power, right?

So it's not just about the stories we tell, but it's about those who get to decide. The way we think about things, the way we frame things, and I suppose in this example that the illustration of the royal family cycling is an example of this sort of [00:13:00] representation of power playing out through cycling and how it relates to the cultural identity in the Netherlands.

But was there anything more that Henk-Jan said about power in this situation?

[00:13:10] Toby Lowe: You've heard him talking about the importance of making alliances in this. He also explained more about this idea of who gets to tell stories and whose voice is heard is a kind of crucial part of this kind of paradigm shift.

[00:13:29] Henk-Jan Dekker: It starts with forming alliances between citizens who are trying to promote this kind of cycling and pedestrian friendly infrastructure and policymakers willing to undertake this change. I think if you look at the early 70s, there was quite a lot of social mobility and quite a lot of similar backgrounds between some of the activists and some of the engineers and politicians of a new generation coming into local politics.

And there was this quite short distance between local policymaking and activists and a similar outlook on what the city should [00:14:00] be. So this similar background made it quite easy at the local level to form alliances. And in my opinion, it's very important to build this basis in civil society and to develop the knowledge and the wishes of, of every day users more because at the end of the day, they know best what they need and what they find pleasant. There was this this switch from relying exclusively on engineering handbooks and engineering expertise to broadening this towards lay expertise.

[00:14:26] Adrian Brown: So, Henk-Jan's point there about switching from listening to engineers to listening to citizens, at least in terms of special planning in this example, is really interesting and perhaps a broader reflection on some of the things that you talk about, Toby, which is, of course, there's a place for narrowly defined expertise in public policy, but if we're over indexed on that, we're likely to potentially not make decisions which actually have uh, the broader interests of citizens or the wider [00:15:00] community at heart.

[00:15:01] Toby Lowe: The story that he's telling here about a change in who gets listened to around this stuff, I think is really fascinating. And as you say, it exactly kind of echoes the paradigm shift in kind of public management that we're talking about. Who, who gets to decide? Whose, whose voice gets listened to when deciding what public service is?

Does that get decided at a senior level or a place scale about what services that people should get? Or, or do people get to decide for themselves what service is appropriate for them, what their needs are.

[00:15:33] Adrian Brown: So what have we learned here then Toby that paradigms are about a dominant story about a topic, who gets to contribute to them, who gets to decide what those stories are, but then also how those stories translate into what happens in the world and through public policy or or other decisions.

[00:15:51] Toby Lowe: Yeah, indeed. And this next clip begins to explore that relationship that we were talking about in our definition of paradigms up front that it's not just about [00:16:00] stories, but how those stories translate into what happens in the world.

[00:16:05] Henk-Jan Dekker: If your parents take you to school by bicycle from a very young age, which is typically what is done, you grow up thinking this is the normal way to go.

And then also from a quite young age, you can go to your friends or your sport club by bicycle on your own. And your parents give you this independence. So yeah, I think cycling becomes ingrained into your system from like a very early age. And you do this for 10 or 15 years before you can take driving lessons.

I think it's very important to keep doing this and there is some concern sometimes that nowadays parents become a bit more worried about the safety of their children and do not let them go to school by bicycle anymore. And I think this is a very worrying development because then if you don't grow up cycling at that young age, it might change how you experience it later and what you think about it later.

[00:16:48] Adrian Brown: And I think this is what you were talking about earlier, Toby, about the self reinforcing nature of a paradigm. So once people start cycling, then that becomes part of the cultural norm, and parents cycle with their children, the [00:17:00] children grow up, they cycle with their children, etc, etc. So it does become ingrained within society.

[00:17:05] Toby Lowe: This is, I think, the key point about paradigms, that they're not just stories, they're also practices and ways of doing things. So the practices support the story, the story supports the practices. I also thought it was really interesting to note how it was a conversation around child safety that enabled the previous kind of car dominated paradigm to change.

And if you hear him talking in that last clip, he's now thinking that the child safety conversation, it's creating danger of changing from the kind of cycling focused paradigm. So you can see how those stories and the kind of people's experiences of how those stories operate in the world are continuously either reinforcing one another or offering moments of dissonance and potential kind of change from those current paradigms.

[00:17:52] Adrian Brown: Well, that's been a fascinating example and certainly not, not a story I've heard before. After the break, we're going to come back with an interview with Jessica [00:18:00] Studdert from the think tank New Local, who's going to explain to us how community power can fuel paradigm shifts in governance. So stay tuned.

Hi, Adrian here. I hope you're enjoying this episode of Reimagining Government. Whilst I have you, let me tell you about another exciting project we've been working on over at the Centre for Public Impact, our storytelling webinars. At CPI, we believe in the power of stories. Stories help us understand complex ideas, connect us, and allow us to imagine a better future.

And we support governments and public services to embrace storytelling in their work. That's why we're inviting you to join us for a series of two free webinars exploring story work in government. Our webinars will take place on Wednesday the 22nd of November and Tuesday the 28th of November and are an excellent opportunity to learn how stories can be better embraced and listened to in government and public services.

To find out more search for storytelling webinars on

So, we're back. And as discussed in the Netherlands example, a main factor in shifting paradigms is to form alliances between citizens and policymakers. And it's also important to have the same outlook across these parties on what needs to be changed and the method of how it should be changed.

So another person we spoke to about paradigm shifts is Jessica Studdert from New Local. Let's hear a quick introduction from her about the work that she's been part of.

[00:19:29] Jessica Studdert: My name is Jessica Studdert. I am the Deputy Chief Executive of New Local. We are an organisation that's committed to the concept of community power, giving people more power over their own lives. We are a think tank and we're also a network of councils and organisations that work with local government. And so we have a strong kind of peer learning aspect to what we do. We bring our members together to kind of understand what makes good impact in different areas. And then we take that learning and through our kind of think [00:20:00] tank side, we're quite focused on then what that means for kind of national level policy change.

[00:20:05] Adrian Brown: And we can just hear Jessica describe what community power actually means.

[00:20:09] Jessica Studdert: For us, it's a simple principle that communities themselves have got insight into their own situation. And if they had more power vis a vis the system, they would contribute to much more kind of relevant service interventions.

[00:20:23] SFX: If the government seeks to put a high rise tower block in every town, when people feel that what they really need is a library and a community centre, they're taking away their choices.

And they're disempowering them from making decisions for their community.

[00:20:39] Jessica Studdert: On a strategic level, but also on a kind of practical level, communities know what they need.

[00:20:47] Adrian Brown: So Toby, I suspect that you think of community power as being a representation of a new paradigm for public service, is that right?

[00:20:57] Toby Lowe: Exactly. And New Local [00:21:00] explicitly talk about community power as an alternative paradigm. So let's hear Jessica say a little bit about why she thinks the community power paradigm is different from other public service paradigms.

[00:21:12] Jessica Studdert: So for me, community power, it becomes a very interesting concept because it's about collectively, a group of individuals in the same situation, what power do they collectively have which has a chance of shifting the behavior of the institution?

So for example, a market kind of paradigm response to service inefficiency was: give people more choice. You'd be a customer in a transaction. So if you're ill, you need to go to hospital. You could go to hospital A or hospital B. You as the consumer of this service feel empowered to say: I don't want to go there, and it would be more convenient for me to go here.

And that is the extent of your power. It's determined by the provider. You're given a set of options. You might feel some small sense of, yeah, it'd be more convenient to go there. But actually, [00:22:00] You've not really shifted how the system interacts with you. We talk about kind of choice and personalisation.

Really important, especially for people with kind of really complex conditions, that personalisation is crucial, because there will always be things that are limited to that person, but the idea of community power... really brings together a group of people with collective voice and, and a sense of collective action.

It can be a challenge to kind of formal services, but it's also a real opportunity because it means that you can't, you know, you can't possibly engage with lots of different people in lots of different ways, but you could actually, as a group much more collectively draw on that insight into the system.

[00:22:35] Adrian Brown: So Jessica's using the word system quite a lot there. Toby, when talking about the these different paradigms. What for you, is the relationship between paradigm shift and systems change?

[00:22:46] Toby Lowe: I feel like this is the kind of appropriate point to bring in the thinking of Donella Meadows, who's a one of the most significant kind of systems thinkers from the end of the 20th century.

She describes paradigm shift [00:23:00] as a strategy for achieving the most fundamental and difficult type of system change. So creating change in the mindsets which hold existing systems in place.

SFX Donella Meadows: Where do systems come from? The more I think about it, the more I think that the, the progenitor of systems is, is mindsets, is worldviews, is paradigms, whatever you want to call it.

Toby Lowe: And that way of thinking, seeking to create paradigm shift is a, is a strategy for achieving the more fundamental types of system change.

[00:23:30] Jessica Studdert: This is the key to it because often what we find with these examples of community power is that they are examples, they are people doing different things in different areas.

They're often led by really creative individuals who kind of seen how the current system doesn't work and want to actually change people's lives, which is what drives and motivates a lot of people who work in the public sector. They've wanted to change things. For me, the question then becomes. Why do they have to remain fundamentally sort of [00:24:00] outside the logic of the system?

Why does it have to rely on these individual pockets of good practice? And what would it look like if the system, in a much more fundamental way, incentivised that practice? Um, and so what does it begin to look like when you look at what organisational accountabilities look like? How public sector bodies are funded?

How success is judged? How performance is understood and recognised. If it's the case that people pioneering just wanting to have a different relationship with communities and recognising the limits of their own expertise, if it becomes the case that this is really going against the fundamental system logic, then I think, for me, what's exciting about this is then how you begin questioning the fundamental system logic.

And I think that there's a risk that this practice just exists as interesting practice on the edge of the system rather than deeper system learning for how you might do things differently.[00:25:00]

[00:25:00] Adrian Brown: That point that Jessica just made there feels pretty crucial to me. So that the distinction between something which is outside the system or, or, or coming from a different perspective than the, than the dominant perspective, something which is aggravating the system and, and that being very different to something where it is actually of the system and the system is reinforcing those behaviours.

[00:25:23] Toby Lowe: One of the interesting things to pick up from what Jessica's saying here is that paradigm shift means moving beyond simply creating interesting examples of new practice. It means changing the conditions in which those examples sit. Kind of going back to Masterman's stuff, the relationship between the foundational beliefs of a paradigm and the way that those beliefs are exhibited in practice, the kind of sociological level.

And the point that she makes that the key set of conditions in which examples sit are how systems are governed. So how performance is understood, how accountability works, and particularly [00:26:00] how accountability for resources operates. When those sets of practices change, we know we're seeing paradigm shift.

One of the things we haven't yet fully explored is the different ways that paradigms show up in the day to day. So we've talked a bit about how behaviours are manifestations of paradigms. Let's expand on that idea a bit. Let's hear more from Jessica about how public service paradigms show up in how people understand what success looks like.

[00:26:27] Jessica Studdert: One of the challenges is that the dominant mode, so we call it the, the state and market paradigm, the kind of traditional way that services are delivered in a kind of top down, managed way by, you know, what dominant Whitehall departments and parents to the public service in an area, working to a set performance regime.

And then the market paradigm sort of injects a bit of doing it more efficiently, more for less. I think one of the, one of the challenges is, what success looks like in that paradigm, and in that way of thinking, there's a sense that you need to [00:27:00] quantify numbers of lives changed, things shifted, but in order to do that you have to predetermine what success looks like.

So you're on a sort of hamster wheel already where the institution has to judge success and it becomes not acceptable to just go and have an open conversation with somebody about what might help them improve their lives because what they might come up with doesn't fit an easy way of defining something.

And actually what we're talking about is much more qualitative outcomes, kind of subjective sense of wellbeing, sense of individual confidence, particularly when talking about people with kind of complex or overlapping needs that services in their silos don't quite meet. What success looks like might be beginning to have the confidence to begin to take a different course in life.

But the problem is the current system doesn't really kind of pick that up as, as a value. And we talk a lot about the need to shift towards prevention. There's a wide agreement across the spectrum, really, that we spend too much money and too much of the energy of public services on mitigating failure, on responding to crisis, rather than [00:28:00] kind of preventing problems happening upstream.

But the problem is in the current system. There's no way of really quantifying prevention because, by definition, it focuses on things that don't happen. And there's not the system kind of confidence to take more of a leap to invest up front in prevention. That's one of the challenges of this system is how you think about community power and that kind of wider paradigm shift to much more what the system currently would call early intervention and preventative activity, how you quantify that and how you prove its efficacy in a system that sort of demands results, basically, and demands that kind of quantitative value rather than qualitative.

[00:28:42] Adrian Brown: This is something I've thought about over the years is that within the dominant framing for government and public service, what success is. is defined by that paradigm, so it gets to mark its own homework, if you want to put it that way.

And therefore, to challenge what good looks like, or what success is, is an important part of, of this discussion, but a difficult argument to win, actually.

[00:29:12] Toby Lowe: Our sense of what good is, is, is part of a larger story about what we value. And the way that we measure success is, is all part and parcel of a larger story around what's important in the world.

That sense of changing, uh, our success metrics, it's really crucial. And exactly as Jessica was saying. But you can't change that without changing the broader story about what people value. And again, what we see, I think what we're seeing here is that relationship between, say, performance management as a, as a sociological level of the kind of new public management paradigm and the grand stories about what counts here, what success looks like.

[00:29:57] Jessica Studdert: The concept of a paradigm is a [00:30:00] useful way of thinking about why it wouldn't just be like one single solution and why if you did do one thing, that might still be... inherently massively fragile or prone to being immediately kind of overturned in the future. And actually what we're talking about is more than a series of sort of actions that are sort of two dimensional.

What we're thinking about is three dimensional set of kind of mindsets on behalf of the actors and the people that we're talking about within public services, within communities, and what behaviours they lead to. So for example, communities might just expect our public service will give me that and I'll take that.

They might expect a transactional approach because that's all they've ever been used to, is I'll go down the council and they'll sort this out and then that'll be it. But likewise, people within systems have a mindset that it's on our, it's, you know, we have primacy and we just do it and we're the professionals and we've got professional training that gives us that legitimacy.

And so of course we make the decisions, you know, there's a way in which [00:31:00] that kind of business as usual could carry on, but there are ways in which that isn't actually changing things for people. And so it is not just a set of sort of skills and knowledge. It is also that mindset to being open to say, here are the limits of my individual understanding and experience. Here is our organisation's limits of its understanding and experience.

And from the perspective of government, here is the limits of what a government can do, and what a Whitehall department can mandate, and what legislation can permit. And actually at what stage you begin to try and shift all of those mindsets and behaviours in a different way so that people have a broader range of actions available to themselves, but also a different definition of what good looks like.

[00:31:43] Adrian Brown: So it feels like there's a lot of overlap here with Henk-Jan's reflections on the relationship between changing narratives and changing behaviours.

[00:31:52] Toby Lowe: Yeah, indeed. There seems to be a strong sense of paradigm shift as holistic change. Uh, and Jessica has a really [00:32:00] nice way of putting it that in order to create that fundamental three dimensional change I think she called it. We need to think about how to change both the stories that people use to frame and shape behavior and the practices by which people live out those stories in the day to day So in terms of performance management and things like that.

[00:32:18] Adrian Brown: One thing that strikes me is that given that people who are thinking within different paradigms are using different framings, they're asking different questions.

They're defining success in different ways. Then doesn't that make it extremely difficult or even impossible for people in, who are operating under those different sets of assumptions to have any kind of sensible conversation with one another?

[00:32:44] Toby Lowe: This is one of the kind of the key insights that thinking about paradigms gives us that what maybe looks on the surface like the same conversation that people are having actually are underpinned by fundamentally different assumptions.

So [00:33:00] people are kind of can be talking past each other without seeing that they're doing so. Another of Donella Meadows' insights can be kind of crucial in this respect. So she was saying that you can't talk someone into paradigm shift, exactly for the points that you're making, because they will be asking different questions to you and and treating evidence differently.

And that also means that it can be challenging to evidence people into paradigm shift because the different paradigms treat different forms of evidence, that's important. Donella Meadows took this to quite an interesting but occasionally controversial place. She, she gives a piece of advice that I love, but which some people find a bit, uh, a bit challenging.

She says, when you're working towards paradigm shift, don't waste a single ounce of energy on the skeptics. You're never going to be able to convince people who are stuck in a different paradigm. So, so literally don't waste your breath. And what I think she's saying there is that paradigm shift has to start from that sense of [00:34:00] dissonance that people feel or they don't.

And you can't talk people into a fundamental sense of wrongness. They have to have experienced that in some way for themselves in order to create the dissonance that becomes the energy for change.

[00:34:14] Adrian Brown: So people can really get stuck in a paradigm and it's very difficult to actually think of a way of helping them out of it unless they discover it for themselves I think what you’re saying there Toby?

Let's hear from Jessica Uh, to describe the work, uh, that she and colleagues do at New Local to help people shift between paradigms, given it is so difficult to do.

[00:34:36] Jessica Studdert: What we try to do with our approach is just give a kind of, like a clear framing. I think we're not, we're not the fundamental kind of practitioners, so we, so we try to kind of join the dots between kind of deliberative democracy, um, and participative kind of methods more strategically in, in kind of local governance and frontline practitioner work.

Um, in public services and across, across the [00:35:00] piece. What's really exciting about this is that there are lots of people in different ways asking the same question. And I think that what we want to do is just bring them together as much as possible, but give people a license to say you're not going crazy.

There is a way that the system doesn't work. There is a way that there's a whole set of perverse incentives for you to prioritise certain performance things over what you see you might want to do or what people actually might require, um, and that we just need to kind of go on a bit of a journey of understanding the impact within the boundaries of the current system in order to make the case that it isn't a leap in the dark to do things, to do things differently.

If our kind of, leaders, public service leaders and political leaders had the, had the kind of confidence to, to change how the, the system fundamentally recognised success. There's loads of examples in different countries of people doing things differently. So I think that that practice sharing is really important.[00:36:00]

And I think that for each nation and each individual, there's a history and a kind of mindset that is embedded and is innate. So it only gets you so far. However, it's always really instructive to me as somebody who lives in England, how decentralised other countries can be and how kind of formally centralised we are as a country.

I think it's always instructive for anyone working probably UK wide, um, as well as specifically in England that we're, we're a very particular country in terms of the amount of power that is retained in Whitehall as opposed to in different local areas.

[00:36:37] Toby Lowe: I think there's a bunch of really interesting stuff here about the work of creating, purposefully creating paradigm shift. So firstly, we hear Hank-Jen's point about, uh, framing and kind of echoes of it in what Jessica's saying. To do the work of paradigm shift, you need to offer a different frame to tell that different grand story, which offers a different way to look at the [00:37:00] world.

Secondly, I really like the point that Jessica makes about supporting people who are starting to question an existing paradigm. I think she used the expression to help people see that they're not going crazy. When you start to feel that there's something fundamentally wrong with an existing way of doing things, it can feel alienating and disorientating.

And, uh, people who are purposefully supporting paradigm shift can support people to question an existing paradigm by kind of highlighting the evidence that validates the questions that they're asking and really significantly. connecting them with others who feel in the same way to develop that kind of sense of collective bravery.

[00:37:38] Adrian Brown: Fantastic. I'm reminded actually of Andrew Adonis, Lord Adonis, who was the transport minister in a previous Labour government who famously, I think, spent a lot of time riding around on trains and the London night bus network and other forms of public transport so that he could experience directly [00:38:00] what it was, what it felt like to be on these modes of transport, what the frustrations were.

And then he took that back into the Whitehall department and he read a lot less on the sort of brief traditional briefings and the civil service route to understanding the experiences that people were having.

[00:38:16] Toby Lowe: I actually think that that stuff is really important because one of the things that looking at this deep change through the lens of paradigms helps people to to get to grips with, to understand, is that different people's realities look different because they're immersed in different day to day conversations.

They're immersed in different types of data. So civil servants and senior civil servants, for example, their day to day reality is the abstracted data that they see about things, right? So that's what feels real to them because that's what they're having their day to day conversations about. It is only when their day to day reality of abstracted performance The red amber green thing is brought into contrast with the complex [00:39:00] realities of the lives of people actually being served, that's when that kind of dissonance really can start to be felt.

[00:39:10] Adrian Brown: We've come a long way here Toby. It feels like we've, we've got really into the depths of this and it's been a fascinating conversation but I would certainly benefit, and I imagine the listeners might too, from a simple summary then, given everything we've heard, uh, from the Amsterdam example, from the New Local example, what then is paradigm shift and how does it happen, just really simply?

[00:39:34] Toby Lowe: So I think we've learned that a paradigm is a way of thinking about holistic change. So it's simultaneous change in grand narratives. The examples people use to describe them, it's a change in mindsets, actions, and behaviours. So, we need, if we want to make paradigm shift, it's a simultaneous change in all of those things, because they're mutually reinforcing.

[00:39:57] Adrian Brown: And crucially, it's not just... [00:40:00] an academic exercise. This is about a real power shift, usually, and who gets to decide what about other people's lives. So that makes it very controversial, potentially, and, and likely to be resisted by those who currently hold power, if there are other groups who believe they should be having a little bit more of that power.

[00:40:23] Toby Lowe: Bringing this into the kind of the public service or public management paradigm, we can say that one of the ways that that kind of change in power shows up is, uh, around the governance mechanisms of a system. So particularly around how accountability is done. So one of our partners in changing the public management paradigm, uh, Diana Hekerem from Healthcare Improvement Scotland, who I think was on an earlier episode of this podcast, she's got a beautiful expression for the work to kind of change the governance and kind of finance mechanisms. She says, the good stuff is in [00:41:00] the dull stuff.

It's not the sexiest bit of paradigm shift, but actually for a public management, a public service paradigm shift, creating, changing those governance mechanisms.

I think feels really important.

[00:41:12] Adrian Brown: Well, thank you, Toby. This has been such an interesting discussion. I've learned a lot and really appreciate this conversation. And that concludes this episode of Reimagining Government. Thank you to my co-host, Toby Lowe. And if you're a public servant or a policymaker, we'd love to hear from you.

What areas do you think are in need of a shift in paradigm? And I'm sure if you want to talk about paradigms in any way Toby will be eager, eager to speak to you so do get in touch with him as well. You can tweet us at @CPI_Foundation or email us at

Toby, do you want to say what your email address is in case people want to contact you?

[00:41:49] Toby Lowe: Yeah, people can get me at You can also find me on LinkedIn.

[00:41:56] Adrian Brown: And do let us know if there are any topics that you think we should cover. For future episodes as well, [00:42:00] please remember to leave a review on your favourite podcast platform and let us know your thoughts on the series so far.

Until next time, I've been Adrian Brown. Goodbye.

🎙️ Reimagining Government

This podcast explores radical new approaches to addressing global issues such as the climate crisis, equitable healthcare provision, and rebuilding trust with marginalised communities.

By speaking with public servants and politicians at the heart of government, we’ll shine a light on how to reimagine government so it works for everyone.

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