Failure matters because failure happens. The system of organisation that deliver public services in the UK is complex and it is inevitable that failures will occur. But as recent high-profile cases have shown, when essential public services fail, citizens can be left without essential support or care.

The risk of failure is increasing. Providers remain under pressure to cut costs and reconfigure the way services are delivered. In addition to squeezed finances, the way services are being delivered has been changing. Recent years have seen a push towards more autonomous models of public service provision, with ambitions to expand academisation, take over underperforming children’s services departments and innovate in NHS ‘vanguard’ sites.

While new models of service delivery present opportunities for improvement, the risk of failure is heightened during change and transition. In this context, our research analyses the experiences of four different organisations that endured serious failures – often over substantial periods of time – but nonetheless managed to successfully return to providing good services for citizens.