The question of whether an activity should be centralised or decentralised is often contentious – in organisations, it is common to see functions such as HR and IT services switch between the two regularly. Put simply, there is an unavoidable tension between the efficiency and reliability of centralisation and the responsiveness and flexibility of decentralisation.
In this Imperial Future Matters webinar, Professor Nelson Phillips and Professor Carol Propper discussed how to decide on the degree of centralisation by drawing on the NHS’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The webinar focussed on examples where getting the degree of centralisation wrong contributed to high profile failures (e.g. track and trace) and where getting it right helped the NHS to succeed (e.g. Nightingale hospitals).
The webinar also discussed how these examples helped us to better understand the challenge of centralisation versus decentralisation in organisations generally, and provided some rules of thumb for making better decisions about this key organisational choice.
Carol is Professor of Economics at Imperial College Business School, London. Her research seeks to increase understanding of the factors that affect the production of public services and outcomes for users of these services, with a particular focus on healthcare. Her publications include papers on the effect of market incentives on the quality and productivity of healthcare, the impact of environmental factors on health, the effect of competition on public service production, equity in health and healthcare and understanding the links between environmental shocks and health outcomes. Her current work examines the effect of information on the suppliers and demanders of healthcare, the role of networks in innovation in healthcare, the impact of management on healthcare production and the impact of recessions on health.
She has twice been awarded the Arrow Award for the best paper worldwide in the field of health economics and received the American Economic Association 2016 prize for the best paper published in the American Economic Journal: Policy. In 2010 she was awarded a CBE for her services to social science, in 2014 she was elected as a fellow of the British Academy and in 2018 she was appointed as an International Fellow of the National Academy of Medicine. She is the current President of the Royal Economic Society.
Nelson Phillips is Professor of Innovation and Strategy, Co-Director of the Centre for Responsible Leadership, and the Associate Dean of External Relations at Imperial College Business School in London, UK. Professor Phillips’ research interests cut across strategy, innovation, and leadership, and he has published widely for both academics and practitioners. He is currently the co-editor of Innovation: Management and Organization, sits on the board of governors of the Academy of Management, and is on the advisory board of the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies. Professor Phillips teaches leadership, strategy and digital business on the MBA and EMBA programmes at Imperial, as well as delivering executive education for a wide range of corporate clients.