Posts Tagged ‘public services’


wouldn’t it be better if?…

May 18, 2009

so today sees the announcement of a new Innovation Council under the auspices of Liam Byrne in the Cabinet Office. The Council will act as jury on the range of ideas that everyone is being encouraged to submit about how things could be better. You can have your say here.

I like this idea a lot – and it’s a nice site (as we’ve come to expect from the good people at mysociety). I am still really interested in how the Cabinet Office and others are going to succeed in taking the many hundreds of little ideas that hopefully this site will generate, and incubate them enough to let them grow into truly radical, system-changing innovations. I don’t think we know a great deal what this process looks like, and particularly given the current political climate, the pressure will be on to pick out the quick wins and the ones that are easy to implement without major change.

That said, good luck to the Council (see who’s on it here), and watch this space to see what emerges after their first meeting at the end of June…


polly toynbee on the tories and charity

January 11, 2009

picture-2while I’m on the theme, there was a great piece by Polly Toynbee in yesterday’s Guardian about the impact of the recession on charities. One of the points she makes is about the role of charities in achieving social outcomes. As I mentioned before, the Tories talk of their role as some kind of alternative to state provision. In fact, as Toynbee argues, in recent years, government has been the single biggest ‘donor’ to the third sector. In other words, it’s not the state vs. the third sector; it’s how they work together that matters. This is a theme we spent a lot of time on when I was at Demos – you can read an excellent pamphlet, still relevant despite being ancient in thinktank terms, by John Craig and Paul Skidmore here.


capability-based public services

October 21, 2008

I went to a talk too early on a Monday morning by Hilary Cottam (my boss of some years ago, and now director of Participle) and Annie Shepherd, the Chief Executive of Southwark Council. They were talking about the work they’ve done in Southwark on a future social care system that is based on many of the coproduction principles I talked about in a previous post. I liked Hilary’s use of capabilities (based on the work of Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen), and her argument that the key capabilities public services should be growing centre on relationships, work and learning, and environmental factors. She is doing this work with Charlie Leadbeater, and they have eye-catching ambition of writing the Beveridge report for today’s world.

But the work they have done to make better use of all resources in Southwark to enable people to live independently (for example, the latent desire to do more volunteering Cottam and co believe they’ve found, or the 80% of monetary wealth is in the hands of people over the age of 60) is not easy to connect immediately to the grand narrative of ‘a new Beveridge’.

More intriguing are the steps along the way to this brave new world. These steps raise some serious questions and tensions about a more participative model of public services. Beyond the fascinating issues that Annie talked about – of how to manage a moribund system of social care at the same time as developing a new system, all on existing resources, there are two tensions that I think are really significant:

First, as Hilary said, the biggest challenge for the new service they’ve developed with Southwark will be to get the wealthy older people in Dulwich to use it. They need to participate to cross-subsidise the participation of poorer people. And yet they have few incentives. This reminds me of something we noted in Kent with the low income families work too: that the poorer you are, the more you have to participate to get services. Is there a risk that all these middle class policy makers go all rosy-eyed at the thought of more volunteering, more participation, whilst never imagining that they would do it themselves?

The second tension is a really big deal, I think. It is about whether this agenda is treated as simply the next wave of managerial reform, or a new form of politics altogether. For me, unless it is the latter, it is meaningless. Talking about coproduction necessarily implies a willingness to shift power and share it more equally; however it also demands that we recognise the value of the ‘core’ economy (i.e. the non-monetary economy) – and that means that our politicians must begin to lead the way in questioning our unquestioning adherence to the notion that paid work is the best route out of poverty, and ultimately the key way in which we define the health of our society.


innovation schminnovation

October 17, 2008

OK, OK, so I pay my mortgage currently through some bizarre niche work on public service innovation – and even more niche than that, how to support innovation. ie i don’t even do it myself. The more time I spend in these roles, the less I feel good about it. The more I read the word ‘innovation’ in government white papers the more I feel like I’m on some kind of gravy train that’s picking up speed and people and heading off to the destination obscurity…

Anyway, as part of this work I’ve been editing a collection of essays on innovation and local government. This has been really refreshing and thought-provoking for me, given the anxieties I have about whether we are really making any *actual* difference through all these social innovation projects. My next task, which I have chosen to accept, is to produce a short thinkpiece as a taster for the full publication which is due out in the new year. Today I am thinking about what I’ll say in the taster. I think it will cover:

Radical innovation – contrary to what we imagine through using the word ‘radical’ – does not happen overnight – in fact it can take years to bring about wholesale change. Knowsley Council, for example, have taken a decade to transform their educational system – and they’re still not there yet.

Partnerships are uncomfortable – unlike the rather warm and cuddly partnerships of CLG publications, ‘deep’ collaborations that lead to innovation are not always nice places to be. They involve conflict, discomfort and challenge. Sadly that in turn requires a degree of maturity and emotional intelligence – not things that are necessarily encouraged or developed in local government staff.

It’s not enough to innovate in service delivery – really radical innovations require councils to be willing to innovate in terms of whole systems of services (i.e. the range of services that families receive could all be improved individually, but in fact the real innovation might rest with changing how they work together). And indeed councils need to see themselves as ‘constructive disruptors’ to Whitehall regimes, using their insights to challenge policy frameworks too.

Leadership – there are a lot of people at the moment arguing that old-fashioned leadership from the top is not important any more, and that it’s all about empowerment and distributed leadership. I disagree. For local councils, with a democratic mandate (technically) they must build leadership at *all* levels – political and community, but also managerial. People need some inspiration to keep going. Innovations need engagement from the suits at the point at which they try to scale up.

And on this note – innovation work is much easier at the creative and generative end of things. It’s in the implementation phase, and indeed the work around diffusion, scale up and dissemination phases, that things often get tricky. We have a much shallower understanding of these later phases and how to make them work.

Finally, something on risk and value. Things can sometimes feel impossibly risky because we lack any way of articulating the cost of not doing anything, or the cost of continuing to do whatever it is we are doing now. Finding ways of describing value in new ways is really important as part of a pro-innovation approach to dealing with risk. In other words: hunt down all those accountants and lawyers who know the rules, but who are up for breaking them. Weirdly in the commercial world, these professions see themselves as the duckers and divers, finding ways to subvert ‘the system’. Too often in the public sector, they become the law enforcers.


jargon alert: co-design and co-production

October 10, 2008

So I spent yesterday morning at a Guardian roundtable on co-design. Around the table was a mixture of academics, thinktankers and public service people (Paul Hodgkin who runs patientopinion, Lyn Macdonald who is running the Tell Us Once scheme, Harry Cayton who is running community health projects in Newham). What struck me most was the degree to which a language and a set of principles have emerged over the last 2 years or so: we were definitely no longer stuck on making the case for co-design.

I thought there were three really interesting issues we covered:

First, about the themes of co-design. There seemed to be remarkable consensus that these were knowledge (co-design is only effective where user knowledge is as valuable as expert knowledge) and power. On this latter one we spent a lot of time talking about the scale of the shift in mindset that’s required in most public services to share power – as it also involves sharing risk.

Second, about the importance of showing cost and benefit in new ways to help make the case for investment in co-design approaches, and to demonstrate their value. Current metrics are so centred on formal services, and they are trapped within silos – in other words, we cannot measure a saving that comes through in health if the improvement has been made in a social service. This needs to change.

And third, that it is too tempting to treat co-design as a managerial tool to improve service experiences – through involving patients in improving their treatment journey, for example. Of course this kind of work can reap huge benefits and leave people feeling like they have been treated with dignity and respect. But it is only through looking at co-design alongside co-production that its true potential comes to life.

I’ve been playing around with a diagram that seems to be helpful when explaining the rather jargony notion of co-production to public service managers and, as I keep coming back to it, am beginning to think it’s a neat way of summing up what it means in practice…

The goal is therefore first, to see and value all three points of the triangle, second to seek approaches that make the most of all of them, and third to explore how all three can be brought together or aligned most powerfully. Dealing with long-term health conditions brings this to life: formal services via the NHS represent £60bn, and 80% or so of hospital bed days are for people with chronic conditions. Equally significantly, the informal care economy has been valued at around £57.5bn – not far off the NHS budget. And of course, the individual patient will spend far more time self-managing their condition than the doctors will – just think of the 3 hours you spend at the surgery as a diabetes sufferer each year, compared to the 364 days and 21 hours you spend looking after youself…


social care system stuff

September 4, 2008

i’m doing a small piece of work on opportunities for innovation in social care at the moment and have come across some jaw-dropping figures today…

things like – it would cost £6 billion to make social care a universal service like health or education. This might seem like a lot – until you realise that roughly 40% of the £30 billion budget for social care is spent on administration, finance and management of a fragmented, disjointed string of different funding sources.

or how about the discovery that the charging system – there to assess what contribution, if any, a person makes towards their care – is utterly unconnected to the benefits system. So you might find one official working their socks off (if you’re lucky) to ensure you get the full range of benefits you’re entitled to, only to discover that this increased support then raises the charges you have to pay back to the state.