S1. E11. Susan Harrison

Susan Harrison works with individuals and organisations to express themselves more fully as living systems (LinkedIn, Twitter). She held a number of senior NHS positions (including Head of Health and Homelessness across London) before retiring. As you will hear, she now applies her skills in various voluntary and consulting roles, mainly to the NHS and civil society.

Now that she is retired, Susan takes a responsive approach. She brings her expertises on delivering services in complex environments to different situations, as the need arises, and always trying to be aligned with her values, especially of respecting others’ dignity.

I was more than a little inspired by that.

We spoke on Wed 9 March, just under 3 weeks from the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.



None this week.


0:45 – Q1 What are you doing now? And how did you get there?
4:15 – Q2. What is the future you are trying to create, and why?
11:31 – BONUS QUESTION: What do you mean by ‘governance’?
20:55 – Q3. What are your priorities for the next few years, and why?
25:50 – Q4. If someone was inspired to follow those priorities, what should they do next?
28:22 – Q5. If your younger self was starting their career now, what advice would you give them?
Q6. Who would you nominate to answer these questions, because you admire their approach?
30:54 – Q7. Is there anything else important you feel you have to say?

Themes and quotes

Applying experience of delivering services in complex environments with many unpredictabilities and with policy constraints that may not be helpful.

“What I bring is the ability to be flexible in this context, to be able to support a workforce in in dealing with the reality as it is, as we’ve had to do during COVID”

My experience was of Susan having good intentions, of being committed to community and the sustainability of the planet at all sorts of different levels: interpersonal level, a community level, a societal level. She is hoping for (and exemplifying) a future that is collaborative, and where people are engaged with each other and doing the right thing.

Unpacking ‘doing the right thing’: “The right thing has to be discerned in the moment in the context informed by norms, by dialogue by understanding of the direction of travel that I think we’re headed in…I’m resisting is having a set of rules that I follow about what is right or what is wrong. But perhaps rules about procedure: how do we discern together? How do we talk about what what is the right thing to do in this context, for this person at this time, or these people at this time, in this community?

There are some principles about how we behave in the moment. That will lead to wherever it leads, but will lead to something better than if we didn’t behave in those ways. All informed by data and a kind of meta awareness of what’s happening in the world.

To act with to respect the dignity of others, especially when making decisions that affect them but perhaps they have limited input or control.

Part of my part of my life and work journey has been to try and understand how ideology and dogma of our ideas, which supposedly govern what we do, are they born out in what we actually do is the way in which we we relate to other people, in our families, in our communities and more widely in society? Are our actions consistent with what we say our values are?

And for me that practice requires discipline, reflection, dialogue with others: am I really living up to my principles?

A particular strategic stance: we will do better from where we are, by working with a potential in the moment, aligned with our values (like treating people with dignity) and not getting trapped with trying to be perfect.

Priorities: in the places where I am located, offering service. To continue to offer my expertise and insight, as the opportunities arise, and to stay networked, so that people know that I have resources to offer.

I just want to continue being engaged and present — offering what I can from my experience to the world as it unfolds.

Advice for younger people: educate yourself as much as you possibly can, not just formally but by being curious about the diversity of opinion.

Be curious about the difference between dogma and practice. If you observe people saying one thing and then not walking, then be curious about that.

Be an activist, where that is right for you (and you feel that you’ve got a community that’s supporting you). Take opportunities to challenge the status quo, if you feel safe to do that community that supports you to do it.

Building a community around you who can provide you with a sort of resource of belonging, and a resource of peer support is something which you can all we can all do (even if we have limited access to financial resources).


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