As part of our work modelling future local public services we are seeing a number of emerging issues. I would like to highlight a couple because they are genuine cause for concern and potentially difficult to allay.
The first is the loss of creativity and innovation as a result of a relentless drive for productivity. The second is how short term departmental decisions taken in isolation have the potential to close the door on genuinely transformative medium term solutions.
Reconciling both is difficult for those organisations which are particularly cash strapped. One executive colleague from a leading creative council suggested the best advice for organisations starting on this now would be “to start two years ago”. It also doesn’t help when a chief officer’s rationale for his organisation’s poor performance is that the people who work there “are all s**t”.
Whilst that isn’t helpful, the lessons learnt from many of those organisations can be. Examples include Monmouthshire county council’s “fail fast, fail forward” governance model, Calderdale council’s work on shaping demand, Carlisle city council’s cultural change and Oldham’s Co-operative Council. From workshops and events iNetwork have had with all of these organisations in the past 12 months it feels that the main features for others to emulate are need for leadership to be a) bold b) good listeners c) pro-risk d) action orientated. I would add that these organisations are also outwardly looking and adept at absorbing ideas they see elsewhere to fit their context. Our observations align closely with the excellent “People Helping People” report from the Centre for Social Action.
To illustrate the point, some councils are undertaking separate and disjointed library, transport and children’s centres service closures which may ultimately result in higher costs longer term, lower community resilience and poorer outcomes for people. A collective approach might instead engage the community in a holistic discussion that ensures or builds resilience with services being consolidated into one building with continuing public transport, possibly with multi-agency investment from a housing association.
Wigan councils work in this area is particularly groundbreaking with their strong focus on confident places, confident people and confident council and we had a very stimulating Local reThink session with them and 35 colleagues in the summer which is described on the iNetwork blog.
Departmental target setting and capacity constraints can be a key factors at play. Targets that set one department against another cause retrenchment and those organisations under most pressure have lost the central change function that might have coordinated this activity across departmental functions.
We are also seeing the risk of greater fragmentation of public sector information and intelligence. This is of huge concern as it flies in the face of the need for better intelligence led early invention, joined up mobile working and lower transaction costs. Fragmented information only leads to fragmented services.
For example, outsourced services that will not use the corporate information architecture because a) they say it stifles innovation and b) because they know they will be able to renegotiate a better contract if they own the information.
The purpose of this blog is not to blame under pressure staff, it is encourage leadership to reflect and to make the case for using partnerships like iNetwork to connect “what works” between colleagues.
A quick plug – iNetwork’s Innovation Awards are open and are there to give recognition to good work and encourage that sharing process. If you’d like to find out more and make a submission please see www.i-network.org.uk.