How can we apply cybernetics to public service transformation

Benjamin P. Taylor
2 min readMay 7, 2024


Join the discussion on LinkedIn: If I asked you ‘what do you imagine would be the core things that would make public services work’, what would you say?

It’s less complex than it might seem…

@Mitali Deypurkaystha set me this ‘exam question’.

I’ll start with management cybernetics — what it says about organisation (in an organisation or across a ‘place’, theme, or ‘mission’). Then talk about transformation per se — and then touch on the wider ideas of cybernetics.

Management cybernetics reveals five key meeting points and challenges in organisation — and gives us tools deal with them:

  1. Are our services able to deal with the complexity of needs in citizen world? Can we actually listen to what people need to intervene in ways that get them back on their track?
  2. Are we able to co-ordinate effectively in service world — does one service trip over or trip up another? Or do the gaps between services stop us giving what the citizen needs?
  3. Can our management systems actually understand enough of the complexity of what is happening in service world to put the money where it is needed and to create effective systems of accountability?
  4. Are we able to develop rich learning from all of this, and from the way the world is changing, and actually apply it?
  5. Are we able to maintain consistency of purpose — and the legitimacy to survive — in this complex world?

These are the challenges we have to meet to deliver effective public services — and these apply at the unit level, at the organisation level, and across ‘place’ and ‘mission’.

To transform, we have to build in and build up the capacities and capabilities to do this while managing and growing the change and governance capacity of the system — a lot of which is to do with responding effectively to the fears and concerns of those in charge.

Wider cybernetics opens up thinking about the feedback, control, and learning loops inherent in this whole process, and, I believe, would have us think about the stories we believe we are in and how they prompt action.

The attached slides are my ‘five worlds model’, a simplified version of the Viable Systems Model which connects to other methods I use, to try to help with explanations.

If I asked you ‘what do you imagine would be the core things that would make public services work’, what would you say?