The Future of Local Government Part 4 – Influence and Insight

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I seem to be doing quite a bit of thinking about the future recently which has naturally sparked a few blog posts in my mind, so I’m going to continue the future of local government theme and build on the previous posts:

This week has been a really interesting week in many ways and yesterday we had a feedback session on our future Devon programme which went very well. The energy and passion in the room was reassuring and it reinvigorated lots of people. It was also refreshing to see our corporate leadership team embracing the challenge and ideas from the group of about 70 people who were able to make the session.

They even managed to provide a video feedback session which was fantastic as it showed and shared individual journeys of a cross-section of the group and all of them basically said the following things:

  • Meeting and connecting with people from across the council was a great benefit and should happen more often
  • Having the time to think and move out of your day job even for a few hours a day to think and unpick the really big issues is empowering and also hugely beneficial in terms of personal and professional development
  • Nobody wants the experience to end and are keen that this experience is broadened out to a wider selection of people

The event itself was a great opportunity to glimpse how a future culture could work and how it would feel, the atmosphere and energy of many people from different parts of the organisation coming together and sharing ideas, challenge thinking and questioning everything was a joy to behold and be part of. A simple challenge is how do we maintain this…i’m personally confident this will happen but it is still a challenge.

There are many individual learning points for me from the session but I wanted to use this post to pick up on two specific issues which I think as local government we sometimes forget.

INFLUENCE

In a local government context influence exists and manifests itself at many levels – at officer level, at senior mgt level, in teams, across team, within partnerships, at political levels and it can affect the very local issue right up to the big national issues.  The key thing to acknowledge here is that at some point in this complex influence web – something has to try to make sense of it all and find consensus.

Communities will exert influence up to a local authority which has a responsibility to co-ordinate across a larger geographic region. In doing this consensus is often negotiated so that the best outcomes and interests of all is progressed.

Moving forward it will be essential to ensure that something exists in some form which can maintain the influence at the right level to ensure the best outcomes across an area. This is likely to coincide with where the insight and intelligence is collected and where commissioning is managed and evaluated.

So should a local authority exist in the years to come then a key component of that will be to maintain and grow its influence to ensure that it facilitates the best outcomes for its population.

I think back to a previous 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.

My thoughts now are about how can we use our influence as individuals, communities, networks, organisations etc to actually harness the possible and potential capacity that Jane eludes to existing…

To recap she suggested that gamers have 4 super powers:

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 and influence people.

Urgent Optimism – The wide scale budget pressure in the public sector has meant that in some areas local services are being stopped and in most cases these are preventative services which would have longer term benefits. Instead of sitting back as citizens we will have to rethink how we see the outcomes we articulate being met.

Social Fabric – We need to be honest and shift our dialogue to one which is adult to adult and start opening up and being more transparent about how and why we make decisions as well as how we plan for future services. We need open access to all the intelligence and insight so everyone can query it.

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. Lots of great examples are already happening around the country – this week Casserole from FutureGov was launched wider and promoted as an example of community based action

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 facilitate services which meet the needs and outcomes of local people. This mission can no longer be just the responsibility of a single local authority – we are all in this together and we need to use our influence to extend that across all stakeholders in Devon and beyond.

INTELLIGENCE / INSIGHT

In the commissioning cycle it is absolutely fundamental to ensure that you have evidence and data which helps you understand needs today and those that are likely to be predicted over a period of time, so that preventative measures can be put in place and therefore reduce future demand on services.

This intelligence and insight is another key component in a future model – It should all be open by default and digital by design so that communities and individuals are able to identify their own needs and maybe create local solutions on top of that.

However the link to influence is crucial here as this level of insight and intelligence will be at the heart of what something would be using their influence to ensure the outcomes are met for the local population.

It will be critical to recognise that regardless of the organisational boundaries the influence of what we refer to now as local government must and should reach beyond those boundaries and ensure that its influence is focusing on achieving the best outcomes for all citizens and all needs within a local area.  Some of those needs will naturally fall within scope of the authority to commission services, however some will be outside and therefore it must use its influence over a wide ecosystem of private, public, voluntary and community organisations to ensure needs are met and communities are empowered where possible.

I think back to the guardian article referred to in my last post – however for me upon reflection that merely reinforces the current model and structures of government and doesn’t fundamentally re-imagine how things can be done from the ground up.

For me whatever emerges has to recognise that influence and insight are key components and building blocks of a future local governance model.

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