Lean in Public Services

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“Lean” methods are now being applied in operations way beyond the concept’s roots in manufacturing industries.  Barton describes in his conference paper “‘Lean’ policing: Initial findings from a study of 5 UK police forces” how Lean is being used as an approach to operations improvement in English police forces, partly triggered by the UK government’s QUEST programme to encourage continuous improvement in the English criminal justice system. Barton argues that his cases show that a Lean approach is valuable in improving police services. In contrast, Radnor and Osborne have recently published a paper  “Lean: A failed theory for public services? in Public Management Review arguing that the version of Lean that has evolved in UK public sector service management has been too focused on the techniques of improvement rather than on linking operations to the needs and values of service users. This paper and Radnor’s other papers on public sector Lean initiatives show that Lean has evolved in the UK public sector into something distinctive from descriptions of its use in commercial manufacturing, and that Radnor and Osborne are arguing that it should evolve even further to meet the particular needs of public sector service reform, which raises the question of at what point in this evolution does it cease to be accurate to call it “Lean”.

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