Open Thinkering


TB871: Archetype 4 — Drifting goals

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category

This fourth archetype is, I think particularly germane to public services (Activity 2.25):

Failure to meet targets or aspirations suggests two options: keep aspiring for the same goal while accepting it may take some time to achieve, or lower the target. In the drifting-goals archetype, the latter option is adopted. It is an uncomfortable fact that sustainable improvement takes time to achieve. Often this time delay is not built into the target setting.

(The Open University, 2020)
Diagram of system dynamics with two balancing loops named "Archetype 4: drifting goals," illustrating the feedback cycle between goal setting and the actions taken to meet conditions.

I can definitely see this happening in a public services context. With enough time not taken into account between the goal being set and the impact of the actions improving the situation, then goals are likely to be shifted downwards. In fact, I’ve worked in places where the goal is then reimagined (“if they go out visit the toilet and come back in again, shall we count that as two visits?”)

 Management feedback loop diagram titled "Archetype 4: target visitor numbers," showing interlinked balancing loops with actions such as increasing visitor numbers, marketing adjustments, and a delay, with plus and minus signs indicating the nature of feedbacks.

As with all of these, the concern is that the fundamental root cause is not dealt with, hence a slow decline and death.


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