Hmmm, interesting times ahead

Note: i was going to title this post “ride the wave” but thought against it, due to the increasing  levels of conversations around google wave, i didn’t want to confuse anyone as to what i might be talking about.

So here goes my retitled post….

The future of local government certainly looks like an interesting place to be over the coming months and years, considering the economic climate and the pressure on councils to explore new ways to deliver services and to release the efficiencies that the national parties are pointing to.

For me this is an opportunity for the whole of the local government sector to stand up and to engage with local residents and to redefine what the “local” social contract is between citizen and public service provider. It should also consider the difficult issues of what services we should be providing and how those services could be provided in the future.  We should also consider whether or not we are actually the best people to be providing these services to our local communities.

A recent example in Barnet, albeit small scale, focuses on an unused piece of land that a local community turned into a prize winning garden. This shows exactly the kind of opportunity we in local government ought to be encouraging, promoting and celebrating around citizen provided services.  The Leader of the Council sums it perfectly on his blog

A couple of gardeners from the council might, just might, have produced a garden as lovely as the local residents have done here. They would not however, have produced the community spirit, the sense of neighbours, young and old, working together to transform their street.

via Barnet Council – Leader Listens Blog.

This type of approach, where communities are coming together and deciding to provide support services for their own communities are far better able to respond and are flexible enough to adapt to local demands. I also believe that the local knowledge and community spirit within these local networks and service based communities are so rich and dynamic that we would struggle to compete even if we had significant funds to spend in these areas.

Nothing in my opinion beats the power of community spirit and social capital.

Another example of this approach is the Southwark Circle

Southwark Circle is a membership organisation whose members stay sorted, connected and lead the lives they want to lead. It does this by introducing members to each other and local, reliable Neighbourhood Helpers

via Southwark Circle

There is so much opportunity in this area and the above examples on are really the tip of the iceberg, however it does require local government to be a bit more ambitious in how it deals with the future and it needs to start allowing communities and groups to take more control locally over some services. This could be the only way forward for really local services. But and to quote a surfer friend of mine “i’d rather be riding this wave then ducking underneath”

Finally I would recommend visiting, buying and or downloading a copy of Social by Social it is a great read and is well worth getting and dropping on some of your colleagues desks or saving into a local shared drive.

A return to the “old skool” – Social Media challenges in the Public Sector

I have started to realise much more now (better late than never i always say) is that one of the greatest challenges to the public sector engaging in social spaces is “does society as a whole really want us there?” i suspect on face value the answer is No. But if you look at this from the viewpoint of Public Sector Reform and considering the future budget position Local Government needs to consider this as a matter of priority in my eyes.

The recent post by Paul Clarke over at HonestlyReal talks about changing focus and understanding the real purpose of local government.

There is the opportunity if we allow it to happen for the public sector to consider a completely new model of business. One which enables local people to determine how best public, private, voluntary and community resources should be defined to deliver local services.

Now one of the challenges presented here is the concept of “local” (offline and online) becomes slightly more complex and requires us as service providers to think about and acknowledge the complex lives people lead and the way in which they live them.

What we are really talking about is challenging the way society itself works and how it can be supported to provide leadership to its own communities alongside Public Sector organisations. We are in effect challenging society to develop more fruitful and more meaningful relationships to enable them to support themselves. Social Media has started to enable people to reconnect in more convenient and timely ways.

An interesting article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago Charles Leadbeater which argues that relationships and mutual self-help rather than the reforms, such as those in Government’s “Building Britain’s Future”, are the key to more effective public expenditure.

There is a project called Southwark Circle that does this kind of thing, a quote about this project on the Particle Website states

This is a social reform challenge, not just a public service reform challenge.  The question is not just “What can public services do to improve quality of life and well-being for older people?” but rather “How can a locality mobilise public, private, voluntary and community resources to help all older people define and create quality of life and well-being for themselves?”

For me this just reminds me of what my Nan and other older people i talk to used to say to me about when they were young:

“Communities helped themselves back in the day, neighbours would support each other and would help each other out, we didn’t have or need the same kind of support you lot have today”

Are we seeing social media facilitating a return to traditional and “old skool” values around community and neighbourhood support.  I see the main difference being the “community” and the “neighbourhood” that people relate to is more complex and far reaching (offline and online) than ever before.

If this is the case, then the Pubic Sector truly has a huge task ahead, not only support itself to transform the way we engage with people and our own staff, but to acknowledge those communities who are already engaged but also nurture communities (offline and online) to become part of the wider public service delivery model.