Rewilding Public Services: taking a design turn with 7 Starlings CIC

Lesley Rowan
22 maart 2021

At the September 2020 SCiO Open Day Ray Ison and Ed Straw drew on their newly published book ‘The Hidden Power of Systems Thinking’.  They presented a case for the importance of Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) for addressing a range of current crises including the climate emergency. They argued for a theory of change from within civil society and a need to move from understanding to action. 

In 2018 Somerset County Council (SCC) gained a national reputation for drastic cuts to services for the most vulnerable. Yet Somerset were arguably at the forefront of a national financial crisis in UK public services resulting from political austerity choices. A plan to close or move a library serving the small market town of Shepton Mallet and surrounding communities was just one fragment of £28 million of planned SCC cuts. Yet in 2021 SCC are preparing to invest in a comprehensive refurbishment of the Shepton Mallet Library, expand professionally staffed opening hours and outreach work and give 7 Starlings Community Interest Company (CIC) the keys to run a new model of community development from this town centre venue. 

This presentation focuses on how a new civil society organisation, underpinned by systems learning and practice, gained the support of the community and then a wide range of organisations and benefactors. Taking a design turn with 7 Starlings CIC is a second-order, systemic, reflection on a three-year action research case study. It works with the theory and models developed by Ison & Straw and proposes a development of their Social Learning in Integrated Management (SLIM) heuristic.   This is presentation will be relevant to practitioners in a wide range of organisations, including public services and civil society. 


About Lesley Rowan

Lesley combined studying Environmental and Management Sciences at the University of Stirling and working in local government. She went on to complete a Doctorate in Sustainable Development Indicators and Local Government alongside teaching MSc, MBA and BSc courses and consulting for the University of Stirling School of Management. She also founded local and national, local currency based, community development organisations. This was all juggled with raising three children. 

Lesley returned with her family to Somerset and focused on Local Government roles. Initially as Sustainability Officer for Mendip DC, then in Waste Management roles leading pioneering whole-system reframing of services in Somerset then Dorset. She was Programme Manager for the highly-successful public sector elements of the Olympics and Paralympics in Weymouth & Portland. Followed by a role as consultant Programme Director for the Dorset Councils Partnership leading multi-local authority organisational and business transformation.  Lesley is a Director of SCiO and is currently finishing a STiP MSc with the Open University focusing on practical applications of critical social learning systems. She is a founder Director of 7 Starlings CIC and is heavily involved in delivery of community ‘habitat creation’ activities in Somerset.