The Future of Local Government Part 2 – Social Enterprise Council

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.


Moving from Attention to Engagement to Participation – More World of GovCraft

Continuing my thinking on the World of GovCraft, I’ve started to think about what the real challenge is for government, various comments suggested that Government is so disconnected that it is unlikely that we will start to bridge the gap. But i’m starting to wonder whether this just an illusion and we are only creating this gap and reinforcing it by not doing anything practical about addressing it in ways which will reduce the gap and simply not patch it with sticky tape and string that will break after any sustained use.

When I hear people talking about using social software or social media to connect to communities or networks, there is often a focus on “grabbing attention” and “starting a conversation” and “building relationships”. These are all good things to focus on but we also need to actually figure out what we really want to get from these relationships and conversations. It simply isn’t good enough to just grab someones attention in these spaces, we actually need to have a plan on how we will encourage them to engage and participate.

It comes back to a recent post of mine where i started to question whether we actually focus enough on outcomes and creating value instead of thinking that Twitter or Facebook are cool and or sexy to use.

Jane McGonigal who is now a big influence on my thinking published back in 2008 Engagement Economy by the Institute of the Future, this publication – recommended reading by the way – states in the introduction:

The inability to turn members into active contributors is an important signal of a new kind of challenge facing any organization that seeks to reap the benefits of crowdsourcing, collective intelligence, massively scaled collaboration, or social networking. For these groups, they must do more than merely “grab eyeballs,” register members, or collect ratings. To effectively harness the wisdom of the crowds, and to successfully leverage the participation of the many, organizations will need to become effective players in an emerging economy of engagement.

In the economy of engagement, it is less and less important to compete for attention, and more and more important to compete for things like brain cycles and interactive bandwidth. Crowd-dependent projects must capture the mental energy and the active effort it takes to make individual contributions to a larger whole.

But how, exactly, do you turn attention into engagement? How do you convert a member of the crowd into a member of your team? To answer these questions, innovative organizations will have to grapple with the new challenge of harnessing “participation bandwidth.”

There will inevitably be increasing pressures to balance the amount of time someone has available with the number of “requests” someone might receive to “take action”. Clay Shirky mentions in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, “With many more possible groups competing for the average individual’s time, the speed with which a group can become unglued has also increased.”

The World of GovCraft idea is about tapping into the gaming culture and in creating elements of “fun” when participating and engaging with Government.  A question we really need to ask is how serious are we about bridging this gap and are we prepared to engage people outside of the government sector to help put the fun into Government. In the publication Jane states:

…organizations should look to hire researchers and interactive designers with backgrounds in online gaming and playful social network design. Any mass collab project, whether internal or public-facing, will require the strategic input of experienced “fun engineers” and “fun economists.” Whether as permanent IT staff or in key consulting positions, these individuals can help ensure that resources are being invested in projects that have a high likelihood of engaging crowds.

Organizational leaders should find out what kinds of communities are drawing the participation bandwidth of members, and create conversations about what employees get from their “fun work” that they may not get at their “real work.” This dialogue can provide valuable lessons about introducing fun flows into the organization’s primary business practices.

There are huge lessons here for Community Engagement, Internal Communications and Employee Engagement professionals in understanding the motives of people and how game design could help inform and shape engagement and participation activities.

The UK needs to start making progress and look at how we can involve people who are really passionate about social change, but also have knowledge of gaming. In the USA they have something called the Serious Games Initiative. It’s goal is:

to help usher in a new series of policy education, exploration, and management tools utilizing state of the art computer game designs, technologies, and development skills.

As part of that goal the Serious Games Initiative also plays a greater role in helping to organize and accelerate the adoption of computer games for a variety of challenges facing the world today.

Why do we not have something like this in the UK? Or do we? Who would actually drive this forward – Could Martha Lane Fox and the new Digital Public Services Unit play a role in creating or supporting this kind of initiative?

One comment made to me was that the game series “Sim City” is one example of a game where people make similar kinds of decisions to Government. However, I’m thinking we want to go further then just the traditional “Education” approach to what Government does to actually creating solutions that improve peoples lives directly.

Moving away from gaming, we need to also understand what presence we are creating and how this approach and decision will contribute to the overall outcomes we want to achieve, this should also be considered when thinking about whether you simply want to grab attention or want to develop and build a level of engagement or participation with people.

Scott Gould, has posted an excellent presentation about Social Media Presences which i think can help inform people who want to move from simply attention grabbing to engagement to full participation.