Mr Brendan O'Donovan

Research project: Understanding nominal value in people centred services


My research explores how the concept of nominal value can be applied to people centred services (Hood et al 2020), and how this might change the design and management of those services. Nominal value is a systems concept taken from manufacturing (Taguchi and Clausing 1990) and translated for services by Seddon (Seddon 2003). In public service organisations, demand from citizens is frequently funnelled through pre-packaged and standardised service provision, which can only be accessed through meeting eligibility criteria. Some organisations are experimenting with a systems approach in order to understand the important aspects of ‘nominal value' to citizens, through encouraging care workers to build relationships and then design more bespoke solutions that address the aims of those they are caring for (Wilson 2014, Gibson and O'Donovan 2014).My PhD employs qualitative methods to explore the concept of ‘nominal value', and examine specifically how it is being applied in practice in an adult social care setting.

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: Understanding nominal value in people centred services
  • Research supervisor: Professor Rick Hood


For fifteen years, I was the Head of Research at Vanguard Consulting where I researched systems thinking within different types of organisations. I lectured part-time on a Kingston University social work (post-qualifying) credit-bearing short course. I have taught students about the theory and practice of applying the Vanguard Method in various types of public service environments including health, housing and social work. I now work part-time employing systems thinking ideas in a financial services organisation.

Areas of research interest

  • Systems thinking
  • Nominal value
  • People centred services


  • Master of Science (MSc) in Operations Management, Cardiff University
  • BA (Hons) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, University of York
  • Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA)


Hood, R, O'Donovan B, Brady D & Gibson J (2020) 'Using the Vanguard Method to explore demand and performance in people-centred services' Public Money & Management DOI: 10.1080/09540962.2020.1815367

3 articles in Seddon, J. & O'Donovan B. (eds) 2014, special issue of the journal Systemic Practice and Action Research (SPAR):

  • O'Donovan, B., 'Editorial: The Vanguard Method in a Systems Thinking Context'
  • Dunnion, J. & O'Donovan, B. 'Systems Thinking and Higher Education: The Vanguard Method'
  • Gibson, J. & O'Donovan, B. 'The Vanguard Method as Applied to the Design and Management of English and Welsh Children's Services Departments'

Seddon, J. & O'Donovan, B. 2013 'The Achilles' heel of scale service design in Social Security administration: The case of the United Kingdom's Universal Credit', International Social Security Review 66.1, 1-23.

Zokaei, K., Seddon, J & O'Donovan, B. (eds), 2010 'Systems Thinking: From Heresy to Practice' Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.