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Friday, 8 January 2010

ESRC/NHS Public Sector Placement Fellowship confirmed

I guess starting off with good news as one of the first blog entries is a good start for a blog.

So I received the letter today from the ESRC. It was a simple letter, deceptively obscuring the challenge the project entails but then only very few people knew how challenging this project would be. Most academics just take on these projects as a way to access data and milk it for all its worth. Me? I had to find an impossible problem to solve.

My interview was with Professor Patrick Sissons (the Regius Professor of Physic - the oldest chair in Cambridge - check this link), Professor Jones (forgot his first name) and Stephen Davies (Exec Director of CUHP). We chatted about the work, they were most puzzled about my 'researcher-at-large' status i.e. being full time employed by Exeter yet based in Cambridge for 3 years (it's a long story) but they were the 2 most inscrutable people I have ever met. I couldn't tell if they liked me or couldn't wait to see the back of me. Patrick chatted about Singapore - links with NUS are strong in Cambridge I gather.

Oh well, so I got it and on reflection, what did I get myself into? Well, the challenge is this - Cambridge University Health Partners ( is a collaboration of University of Cambridge and NHS and the collaboration is funded by government. Each party has its objectives - for Cambridge University, it is research and education, for NHS it is patient care, new treatments and betterment of society. It is assumed that a collaboration such as this would of course be fruitful.

But how do you measure multi-stakeholder collaborations where the system has emerging outcomes and individual stakeholders have their individual outcomes? In short, what is the performance criteria for multiple-stakeholder, multiple-outcome systems? Here's an extract from the proposal:

In collaborating, stakeholders’ value propositions are realized by other stakeholders within a service system. This implies that the stakeholders that receive and realise value are just as much a part of the service system as the stakeholders that propose the value as both parties contribute the resources accessible to themselves into the system to achieve the outcomes. Yet, it is important to develop system-level measures to evaluate the overall performance of the system as well as to ascertain what should be the parameters for system performance. In short, where the ‘whole’ should be bigger than the sum of its parts, what should be in the ‘whole’, how should the ‘whole’ be measured and for what type of outcomes. This is important for stakeholders of the ‘whole’ such as government, who could fund the collaboration, or society, its beneficiary.

Impossible problem right? I have six months to solve it. Why do I do this?

Comments from research colleagues:

From Bob Lusch:
I read over your proposal and it is quite ambitious and needed. In fact if you look over the attached PDF on a fortcoming essay for the Converse Awards (in honor of Len Berry) you will see I challenge Len and others to study the health care service ecosystem. Probably only the last half of the essay is of relevance...the first half comments on Len as a scholar...which was part of the aware ceremonies. In your research you need to pay more attention to resource integration and how this unfolds over time and the fact that it is not so much outcomes or performance but processes and performing. This makes the challenge even more difficult...but that is what you are used to. Think about it in terms of the is not how you have performed but how you are performing and this never stops or does reseource integration...which consists also of resistance removal...since use of a potential resource is often prevented by resistances. Also consider some of the ways to use digital technology and the electro magnetic spectrum to build in sense and respond capability; thus capturing processes and performing.

I like the focus on fuzzy set might have Steve send you some of his work on social judgement theory and latitudes...which have some nice ties to fuzzy math.

Keep up the good work it makes our work easier.

From Steve Vargo:
I am not so much rolling my eyes as shaking my head --in amazement at what you find to tackle...and always seem to pull off well.

I think your stakeholder-alignment thesis, which came across so effectively in your performance contracting work, and seems to be at the core here also, has potential as a major breakthrough for research and practice. The "wicked" problem is of course in the assessment. I think Bob is correct that the critical focus is more on the resource integration (and dynamic context) than the resources (which only gain resourceness in given contexts) but I also agree with you that you have to identify some boundaries if you are going to create metrics to move beyond "perspective" and communicate on a common unit of analysis At some point however, the focus probably needs to return to the dynamic processes if the alignment notion is to be fully pursued. In the meantime, what you have proposed has the potential to make a major step.

Congratulations on your continuing great work and success. Keep it up and let us know any way we can assist.

I think Steve is politely calling me crazy. I do admit being a sucker for wicked problems and the access to great data would help the team and I publish in better journals....besides, if I can work with a bunch of engineers, I can surely work with medical researchers...... right? no, don't answer that.

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