The Future of Local Government Part 2 – Social Enterprise Council

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I want to continue on the theme of my last post on the Future of Local Government and look at how this is shaping up and what we can do in government to enable it to happen more dynamically and effectively for the benefit of everyone.

So to recap briefly in my last post I attempted to outline the drivers and impacts of a number of significant pressures facing the public sector as a whole and came to the conclusion albeit not a radical one that Local Government will only be a conceptual layer of government that will only have a key role in decision-making and accountability – the service provision layer will be a mix of joined up public services, private sector, voluntary providers and some of it hosted in the cloud as part of the wider technology infrastructure.

So what I think I am actually saying is that we will be moving to a “Social Enterprise Council” model – this is not really new or even radical as you will learn as you continue reading this post. For the context of this post social enterprise means – those businesses that create products and services that help people in a variety of ways while staying true to certain moral and social principles.

It is important to remember that when I refer to a conceptual layer – what I really mean is that it will become harder to identify a single organisation responsible for delivering public services in a given area. As long as there are clear accountable links to decision makers and funding (where appropriate) local government will in all essence disappear and will just become part of the community and its capability to provide or support services.

I guess the most practical example for illustrative purposes is Lambeth Council in London who in February this year announced that they would become a “John Lewis Council”.  The article in the Guardian outlines the approach and benefits the council believes will be realised – in particular in states:

…Under the plans, being promoted by Tessa Jowell, the Cabinet Office minister, Lambeth could borrow ideas from the way John Lewis is structured as it becomes a “co-operative council”.  While users of services run by the “co-operative” council would not become shareholders, the people of Lambeth will be asked to get involved in the running of all their services along the lines of John Lewis and other “mutuals”, with the possibility of financial recompense further down the line.

…Greenwich Leisure, an employee-owned company, is already running Lambeth’s leisure centres. Two Brixton housing estates are about to join a national grouping of tenant-run estates. Lambeth already has more tenant-run estates than any other London borough.

The Local Government Information Unit’s (LGIU) Blog made some comments on this approach in comparison to the Barnet “Easy” Council model.

I also have some reservations about the John Lewis model. Citizen involvement in prioritising services is absolutely essential and it is clear that user involvement is a key element of this model, but I am yet to be convinced that citizens would want to be involved in the actual delivery of services.

I do agree that there is a huge assumption that the general public wold be willing to take over services, but i do think that currently we don’t engage people well enough to activate any desire they may have.

To foster and encourage this kind of active involvement requires a major shift in how people see public services, it requires everyday people to start thinking less about “public” services and more about “community” services and how they can get involved directly through volunteering or indirectly by sharing their views on what’s important to them.

I think back to a recent post of mine about the World of GovCraft where I comment on a video of  Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe-inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds….

….So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

So let me try to answer these questions now in the light of this post, I’m not saying that the responses are enough but there is something we can build on and develop further to really engage with people.

Urgent Optimism – The budget cuts in the public sector will mean that some services will no longer be offered or developed – if people (you or I) see these services as important and we want them to continue we will have to start getting involved or risk losing it altogether. The reality of the financial situation will mean that the threat is more real than ever.

Social Fabric – The government has made a big play during the election campaign and since about the Big Society, this is an attempt to unify people to a common agenda and common purpose which previously didn’t really exist in my view.  I do think however we need to go a lot further and start talking and acting more local. 

Blissful Productivity – Social tools are be used albeit sparingly to help mobilise people to get involved and contribute to solving the real world problems we are facing. The government have announced that they want citizens to contribute ideas to how we can save money and which services we should consider reducing funding on.

I think we need to connect the digitally mobile and engaged with the offline folk who traditional get involved to create richer conversations and deeper discussions about how we can shape local services.

Epic Meaning – The mission we have created is to reunite society, reconnect people locally and to provide services which meet the needs of local people. This mission can no longer be just the responsibility of a single local authority.

AS i said earlier the idea of a Social Enterprise Council is not new or radical – The challenge is how we empower people to actually care enough to take direct action, we need to go further and inspire through the 4 areas listed above and dig deeper into peoples motivations.

More importantly we need people to come forward and start asking about managing services -  only then will we really understand what is involved and what the unique local circumstances of each community/social enterprise offers.

8 thoughts on “The Future of Local Government Part 2 – Social Enterprise Council

  1. Great post again.

    I’d like to add to this by saying that you are right to focus on motivation at the end. People’s motivations is of course an age old theme – ultimately I think you need to have an optimistic view of human nature for this idea to work but nothing wrong with that.

    Except of course that the majority have the pessimistic view that people are essentially private and selfish beings – they will want all this stuff done for them at the minimum cost. You can still motivate them but you have to play on their ‘selfishness’ – not sure this is the ethos that sits beheind this idea.

    Of course it’s more for me to recycle over at my blog so expect to see the Social Enterprise Council appear there before long!

  2. Interesting post, and I like the gaming theme. But a note of caution. The quest for savings might not be quite so blissfully productive when people start to understand that jobs and livelihoods are on the line. And there are issues of conflict and equity that shouldn’t just be swept under the carpet.

    What if. for example, the outcome of public involvement in decisions on spending priorities is that there’s a backlash against providing any kind of services for Gypsies and travellers? Or what if it’s decided that it’s inappropriate for local authorities to produce planning frameworks? Or employ enterprise architects?

    While we’re blissfully nominating other people for redundancy or a precarious future in social enterprises (and I’m a great fan of social enterprise, but look at the business failure rates) we need to take into account the effect on their lives and the lives of those who use their services.

    Yes, let’s have a cooperative/ social enterprise ethos in local government. But let’s remember that most local services are provided for good reasons and have a bit of a think about the consequences of removing them or scaling them back before we get carried away by urgent optimism.

    • Carl Haggerty

      I certainly agree that accountability is critical and that is what I see remaining. We will still have a layer of decision making and democracy which would have to underpin this new operating model otherwise inequalities will creep in and social injustice will inevitably prevail.

      Whilst I agree that people’s jobs (including mine) will be on the line, we simply can not hide the facts that many people believe there are huge inefficiencies and duplication in the public sector.

      We need to start entering into more adult conversations about what we can and can not provide – the financial situation has brought us to this point, where we go next is really up to us all.

  3. Agree David. Generally folk don’t want to get involved unless you deprive then of some amenity or service.

    A good example of this was the proposed library closures a few years ago. No one was using them – but faced with closure local folk rallied and turned them around into thriving community hubs by forming ‘friends groups’ to support the service.

    It”s sad that it takes something like this to refocus peoples’ attention on the important things in life but that is how it is.

    Bad things have to happen in order to bring about the good.

  4. Apologies Dave for calling you David. Have just spent a week with a friend who is called David and doesn’t like to be called Dave. Clearly I know have a block on Dave.

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