Decommissioning: The art of exit


Commissioners need to become adept at decommissioning. At a time of significant and sustained reductions in public spending and rising demand, commissioners are tasked to release funding for investment in effective models of service by actively challenging and taking resources out of less effective approaches.

Drawing on examples of decommissioning and innovation from across the world, The Art of Exit looks at how to decommission what is already in place.

The case studies … are not all stories of success, nor blueprints for how this is done well. We have come across many examples of brave efforts that have encountered huge opposition or delivered limited change. We have met teams left exhausted by trying to bring about sweeping reform too quickly and without adequate planning.

The survey sample

The report is based on the findings of a survey of 202 senior decision makers with knowledge of how services are provided or commissioned by local government and health organisations. The survey, published as Technical briefing note, was conducted by Ipsos MORI in June/July 2011.

Survey findings are complemented by a qualitative analysis of over 60 cases of decommissioning in public services including interviews with key stakeholders, and interviews with informants with a range of perspectives on the issues.

The lifecycle of creative commissioning – a new model for transformational change

The authors depict the critical components involved in the lifecycle of creative commissioning – an iterative, and non-linear cycle that can be applied in different contexts and at different levels, offering “a new model for truly transformational public innovation and includes lessons for practitioners and policymakers on how to navigate this difficult and contentious space”


While the challenges of design, development, implementation and spread of new ideas have attracted attention in recent years, this has not been matched by an equally careful and creative approach to disinvesting from older, less effective solutions.

Given the adverse effects of closure, exit and decommissioning decisions – the costs of redundancies, risks to service users and consumers, the impact on providers and communities – this aspect of innovation has been neglected.

The case studies here provide insights into how decommissioning can be managed more creatively. The report points to tools and techniques that can be used to shift resources out of less effective approaches towards better ones.


Bunt L, Leadbeater C. The art of exit: In search of creative decommissioning (PDF). NESTA, March 2012

The Art of Exit. NESTA/Ipsos MORI Survey of Public Sector Leaders Technical Briefing Note (PDF), March 2012





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