Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 23–37 | Cite as

Systems Thinking and Higher Education: The Vanguard Method

  • John Dunnion
  • Brendan O’DonovanEmail author
Original Paper


Reforms to the higher education sector in the UK are only increasing competitive pressures between institutions. Universities are therefore looking to gain competitive advantage over their rivals both in terms of student experience and through administrative efficiency. This paper will present an alternative view of how to transform the way that the higher education system delivers service to students in an environment where ‘student choice’ will be viewed as of paramount importance. The paper will argue that the prevailing ‘command and control’ (Seddon 2003) management logic, which can be found at work throughout both the public and private sectors, is the primary cause of inferior, expensive service. As an alternative, this paper will explore the benefits of working in a systems thinking way, whilst comparing and contrasting this with the flawed thinking which currently prevails. The Vanguard Method (Seddon 2008) is one particular form of systems thinking which has been developed for use in service organisations (Jackson et al. 2008) and which has been applied to many public sector organisations (ODPM 2005; Middleton 2010; Zokaei et al. 2010). Using a case study methodology (Yin 2009), this paper will address what has been learnt by applying the Vanguard Method in an HEI environment for the first time.


Higher education Systems thinking Vanguard Method Seddon Flow Failure demand 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vanguard ConsultingBuckinghamUK

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