Looking to the future – A 30 year prediction

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Back in December the LGiU published an interesting document looking at how local government might look in 2043 to coincide with their 30 year anniversary titled “The Future Town Hall“. It is full of very interesting predictions, hopes and aspirations for the future and I’d recommend reading it.

I thought I would write my very own prediction here as a virtual contributor to the publication.

In 2043 I’ll be 67 and most likely still working, probably still sharing random nonsense and I’ll probably have some kind of internet connection built into my body or at least on my body, integrated into my clothing providing me with up to the second information about my health, wellbeing, finances, activity, my appointments, work, and my friends and family’s activities.

My kids already grow impatient when the playstation, Wii, or laptop shows a “loading” sign…the ever increasing expectations, always on, multi-device, multi-connected world we already inhabit is likely to change the way we live, work and see ourselves to such a point that we will have to revisit what it means to receive and fund local services

If the demands and expectations of my kids are anything to go by, then these predictions are not far fetched or even radical enough to meet the potential demands in the future, when I was a kid I grew up waiting over 90 minutes for manic miner to load on a ZX spectrum and was in awe of the 8bit world even though it didn’t always load or work – As a citizen of 2014 I simply want something that works and is reliable…in 2043 I will demand more (rightly or wrongly), I’ll want something very personalised, very responsive and always on…I will want to decide when I switch off and most of all I will want ownership of my data.

I say this because all these things will have a profound impact on local services and local governance as the one thing I will say is that if local government is to have a future it needs to stay connected with local people and local places to stay relevant, even if this means reinventing itself.

First and foremost I see the purpose of local government being about one thing and one thing only. The Health and Wellbeing of people in its communities. Everything else is secondary and an added value.

I’m going to consider the future in relation to the following three areas of local government as I see it.
1) local government (local services and commissioning)
2) local authority (planning and strategic influence)
3) local council (accountability and decision making)

1) When it comes to local government and local public services, the data that I’m collecting will be mine and available only to those I choose. I will give permission to local providers of services to access relevant data sets to help me make informed choices around the services to ensure I stay active, healthy and in work. I will see the service providers as partners, enabling and supporting me and my family.

2) In relation to strategic influence and planning in the local area I live and the communities of interest I participate and belong to. The local authority will have a key role in ensuring that key infrastructure projects are pushed forward, that the area I live is championed on a National, European and Global scale, however I don’t see the same structures existing, I suspect and hope that this will be a mix of hyper local and sub regional activity as local places redefine their strengths and explore the global potential of the social capital that exists to support health and Wellbeing.

3) From a local council and a democratic perspective the ever connected citizen will demand more and more openness and transparency and will want more of a say on a range of issues. This would likely be facilitated through some kind of online micro participation / engagement platform where I connect my identity and choose to associate a range of personas and identities to allow me to vote, contribute or debate Local, National, European or International issues.

Looking back to look forward

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Triggered by a range of experiences recently I thought I would reflect on my learning journey. So over the last few weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of my blog posts from the last 5 years and thinking about how things have or haven’t changed or even if some of the things that I thought would happen are happening.

About 3 years ago I started sharing my thinking around the future of local government from a range of perspectives: what it might look like, how it might operate, how we might address the challenges we are facing now and also how we might help shape services…

This post “The future of local government” from June 2010 seems to reflect and hint at the situation I find myself in now – I wrote:

So we could get to a situation (I am making some big assumptions here but after all I’m only sharing some thinking)  –  I don’t believe it will be that long before we see it – where the only aspect of local government which is truly local is the actual service delivery and decision making. The organisation behind it all could well be a mix of local, regional, national and cloud based services all supporting an individual worker (who may not actually be employed by the council) to deliver a service to someone in a community.

To me this will mean that local government is purely going to be a conceptual layer – with greater transparency and openness, radical approaches to service delivery and support services, this will all mean that the only aspect of local we really need to focus on will be the People in the Community. In my view this will be a great outcome, albeit very painful and a political hot potato in some areas. But this approach in my opinion  would drive out the inefficiencies in local government and offer greater local involvement in service design and creation.

The following week I posted a second post titled – “The future of local government – social enterprise council”  – I wrote:

I do agree that there is a huge assumption that the general public would 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.

These two posts resonate with me right now and reflect a lot of the topics and conversations I have with people

I’ve also previously blogged about the World of GovCraft where reframing some of the conversations and providing connections for people to engage would help trigger a set of responses and actions. I previously wrote:

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.

I think in so many ways the councils Tough Choices programme is starting to address these areas…ok it isn’t in the spirit of a game – as suggested in world of govcraft – but what it does is start to provide a level of urgency, it surfaces connections to existing social fabric, it suggests connections to tools and existing productivity and of course the epic meaning around why we need to come together to collaborate around new models of achieving outcomes.

The real question which remains unanswered is : will it work?

The beauty of blogging and sharing thinking and observation is that we can revisit this post in a couple of months or years and reflect on whether we started to trigger social change and achieve better outcomes.

Public Service Daft Punk Style

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I’ve read with interest the recent Policy Exchange publication, which sounds a bit like a daft punk song :)  Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger – remaking government for a digital age and was reassured to read  that there is a similar view of the future in relation to Digital and Local Public Services.

The publication in a broad context looks at government, central and local and makes a number of recommendations which I can’t argue with, nor would I want to. It is an interesting read and one which I’d recommend for those who are working in and around the digital agenda in the public sector.

The bit which aligned with the Digital Framework the most was the second part of the Executive Summary called The future awaits, where it outlines the climate and conditions which need to exist in order to see and enable the level of change and transformation required across the sector and beyond into our communities themselves.

It specifically refers to the ubiquitous climate and some of the capabilities that need to exist in order to support the paradigm shift in thinking and being Open by Default as opposed to simply being digital by default. It also eludes to the outcomes of growth and well-being but this is a no brainer really.

I’ve copied the section below but you can read the full publication here > Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger – remaking government for a digital age

The future awaits
Over the course of this decade, two fundamental trends will cause us to radically rethink the way government works, with major implications for both policy and policymakers alike.

The first is the acceleration toward ubiquitous availability of general purpose digital technologies. This will make it possible to completely rethink how government organises itself, how it learns and adapts, and how it fosters innovation.

At the same time, a population that is always connected and at ease with a digital world will make it possible to entertain radical changes in the way public services are delivered without compromising on quality, engagement or accessibility.

The second is the shift toward openness as the default, not just in technology but across our economy and society. A genuinely open government that responds to the growing demand from citizens for accountability and participation will deliver better policies and foster stronger communities. And in an open, networked world, we will discover that many of the things that were once the sole preserve of governments are, in fact, sometimes better done by someone else entirely.

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.

The Future of Local Government Part 3 – A Critical and Trusted Friend

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I’ve blogged previously on the subject of the future of local government but some posts were very scattered and half-baked, like most of the posts I write :) however I have written two previous posts which I’d like to associate this one with:

Part 1 – Future of Local Government

Part 2 – Future of Local Government – social enterprise council

In Devon there is a group of people from across the council who are coming together to talk about, challenge and discuss what the future landscape is for local government – It all kicked off back in June/July…

It is a bit like having a constant Open Space South West event but without the awesomeness of the external challenge and great food! That doesn’t mean that my colleagues aren’t awesome because they are…everyone has been on a journey and the issues and challenges that the groups have been discussing have been a struggle to get to grips with, but the important thing is – we are starting to make sense of some of this stuff now and there are some very good outputs and the level of thinking has increased dramatically.

We have six groups altogether – People, Systems, Customers, Commissioning, Spend and I’m in a group which is looking at Demand.

The group was initially charged with looking at 3 overarching questions but these were a guide and we were given freedom to explore all the issues providing we could come back together later this month to report our learning.

The questions were:

  • How can we move away from the current approach of ‘rationing’ provision to influencing and managing demand?
  • How can we better understand demand drivers so that we can deal differently with demand e.g. community resilience, building up skills??
  • How can we change behaviour so that expectations are better managed and others can make a bigger contribution?

To say that it was all good would be a lie, the conversations were challenging at the very beginning and it took the group some time to find its own rhythm and for the members of the group to find a consensus and for us all to break out of our current thinking modes.

For me the fundamental action that is required moving forward is a shift in the relationship between the state/public services and citizens. We also need to acknowledge that we need to have better and more aligned relationships with private and voluntary sector…

There is a little bit or irony about some of the conclusions I’ve personally come to in that when the county council faced the issue of local government reorganisation and the possible threat of not existing – we started to really articulate our core value and purpose in levels that I hadn’t seen before or unfortunately since – until now that is…the challenge and issue is that we clearly haven’t created a learning culture otherwise the conversations we have had would have developed the thinking of a few years ago, but in fact we have almost hit the same point but from a different angle…which is also OK…at least it reaffirms the previous thinking…

Anyway let me share some of the thinking about Demand, well the key starting point for us as a group was what demand isn’t.

We considered the issue of managing demand to definitely not be about:

  • Tightening or changing eligibility criteria so that fewer people are able to access a service who have legitimate needs to do so.
  • Altering, changing or restricting access or opening hours of services to reduce costs and pressures on budgets
  • Stop investing in or delivering non-statutory services – just because something is non-statutory doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable service. Most preventative services are non-statutory and are key to reducing demand on statutory services over time.
  • Passing on costs to partners – no more to add to this one…

It is important to recognise that these approaches simply take what we currently provide and either reduce the numbers of people accessing them, stop them completely or pass on costs elsewhere. None of this supports communities and individuals to meet their needs, the very people that we are here to help.

We also acknowledged and spoke about the differences between “needs”, “demand” and “wants”.

  • Need happens
  • Demand is manageable
  • Want is a perceived need

Whilst everyone has needs, demands only happen when those needs are within the current remit of the council or public service provider

One of the challenging conversation was about how to manage demand and what options and strategies we could adopt now and in the future to either reduce or increase demand depending on the service.

The following is not a comprehensive list of what we discussed but are some of the more fundamental ones as we saw them here.

Pre-empt and Prevent

This requires us to plan strategically – we aren’t talking about the next 3-5 years but we must look at the next 30-40 years especially when it comes to social care…the example we used was what are we doing to-day with our 30-40 year old population which will reduce demand on our social care services when they hot there 70’s or 80’s?

Outcomes

A lot is mentioned about outcomes but rarely do we actually refer to the outcomes we are trying to solve…still so much of the conversation across all of local government (my perception anyway) is that we are service and target driven.

If we are really clear to the outcomes we want to see we can plan better and be more holistic and strategic in how we design services, so that poorly designed services don’t generate additional demand on other services – an example I used is school transport. Now as a parent and a school governor it was something which struck a chord with me.

Parents and families have a choice what school they can send their children to and this in itself isn’t a problem and is a good choice, however when a family chooses a school which then subsequently requires school transport the council is expected to cover the costs. One option might be to say as part of the choice for your school if your preferred option falls outside of your public transport network then the council is not expected to fund your transport. This could then perhaps spark a service which looks like the carsharedevon scheme but for parents and families to resolve school transport issues.

Capacity Building

It is an obvious thing to say but we really need to work across all sectors or society and build capacity into communities and individuals so that we can actually realise the change.

Some of this will be through facilitating connections between networks and networks of networks so that solutions can be solved locally without the need for the council or public service body to get involved.

Cultural and Societal Change

We need to shift and transform our dialogue to one which facilitates connections with others first before suggesting that the council could or is able to provide a service.

This is where I consider the role of a council shifting to a trusted and critical friend as opposed to the traditional parent child relationship which exists now.

A critical and trusted friend, in my personal opinion would offer good advice and challenge me to act for myself and support me when times are good and prepare me for when things could go bad. What they certainly wouldn’t do is to do all those things for me and make me less independent. This is a major shift in the relationship and when you throw in the democratic relationship into this mix we can see the scale of the challenge ahead – it is kind of exciting when you think about.

In my personal view, if I were to sit here and write that Devon County Council will exist in 8-10 years time, I would be very naive – however what I do know is that a public service body of some kind will exist, which will have a particular set of responsibilities for example:

  • needs assessment
  • agree outcomes
  • vision
  • influence
  • coordinating funding
  • commissioning
  • evaluation and review

So for me the future for local government is that we must accept that it won’t look like it does today, second that we must work across all providers to come together around shared outcomes and lastly we must transform and shift the relationships between citizens, public services and the wider ecosystem we sit within.

There is an interesting article in the Guardian today about behaviour change which outlines 6 goals for a local authority and this very much echoes the conversations we have been having in the demand group and in wider conversations as well.

I shall leave you with this as it very much reflects the thinking we are doing here – the article states:

1. Set a medium-term vision for place in partnership with other organisations in the public, business and third sectors, and through informed and honest dialogue with local people.

2. Based on this vision, adopt strategic objectives for the local authority itself.

3. Review all current expenditure and actions against the strategic options. Be willing to do different things in different ways, funded in new ways to secure the desired result. Set clear outcomes targets; stop doing some things while starting other new activities to meet new and contemporary needs. Where possible, switch resources into prevention.

4. Develop place-shaping and community leadership. Look to influence and bring into play all the available resources in the area, not just the council’s own coffers.

5. Ensure that local people, the voluntary and community sector, businesses, suppliers, contractors and staff are engaged in decision-making.

6. Adopt behaviours and processes that enable the authority to collaborate, partner and share with and where appropriate cede power to others – other local public sector agencies, the VCS, neighbourhoods and citizens.