A Christmas list for collaborators

henrykippinSarahBillialdcroppedPolicymakers dream of a clean slate. But we live in the real world, and if starting from scratch – zero budgeting, zero path dependency, zero politics (with a small ‘p’) – is a modus operandi that is off the table for all but the most extreme leaders, what should be on our Christmas list instead?

Here are our top five wants for 2015:

1. A new focus on ‘services to the public’

Debate on the future of public services feels limited because it starts from the wrong place. So instead of public service reform, we want 2015 to be the year of building ‘services to the public’. The difference? The latter signifies a much more fluid range of institutions, resources and networks – focusing on the collaborative value that can be created when government, business and civil society work together effectively. Three quarters of 1,000 UK adults surveyed by Ipsos MORI for Collaborate in 2014 felt that government had a responsibility to help provide a secure livelihood, a place to live and maintain a decent standard of living. These are issues against which government must collaborate across the broader economy to make a difference, and government needs to get better at doing so.

2. A lasting shift from supply to demand

J.M. Keynes may have noted that in the long run we are all dead; but in the meantime, we need to get on with finding a better balance between supply and demand in public policy and economics. In 2015 the Collaborate team will be deepening our understanding of demand management, shifting attention to how local authorities and services can get beyond a cursory use of ‘nudge’ techniques to start really helping them re-shape the mechanics of delivery. This builds on pioneering work in places like Oldham, Coventry, Calderdale, Sunderland and at a city-wide level in Manchester. The rationale is clear: we are at the limits of supply-side cuts, so any long-term strategy for cost reduction or economic growth with a human face must look first at building the capacity and resource base of communities.

3. A re-set in our approach to outsourcing

The evolving science of outsourcing and public service contracting continues to throw up examples of questionable practice. From the straight-up bad behaviour of some big contractors to the limited ambition of the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation plans, there is a clear need for deeper thinking about the operating principles by which we outsource public services. Wishing away private (or conversely, public) sector delivery is pointless. We need a range of resources and expertise, and we need everyone in the room when design principles and ‘public values’ are created. A majority of our survey respondents felt that being treated with dignity and respect was just as important as the outcome of service interventions, and this will be the starting point for a commission on the future of outsourcing that Collaborate is convening in 2015.

4. Collaborative leaders in health and beyond

Whatever emerges from political horse-trading over NHS crisis funding, the direction of travel for local health services seems set. Both Better Care Fund plans and NHS England’s Five Year Forward View emphasise bottom-up collaboration, with fixed functions of current health and care system working differently around the identified needs of individuals and communities. This is welcome, but making it happen will require serious attention to the ways in which often inward looking institutions engage the public in service design, commissioning and delivery. In 2015 we will be focusing on the emerging leaders – the unusual suspects! – who can build a more collaborative local health economy over the next 10 years as we kick off our Health Collaboration Lab with a range of partners.

5. More creative models of devolution

The devolution genie is well and truly out of the bottle, but we cannot ‘lift and shift’ the Manchester model so need more creative thinking on what will work elsewhere. In rural, two-tier localities this will hinge on effective collaboration between county and district level government, and a richer dialogue between public services and civil society. The strategic intent should be to co-create models of integrated local services that can manage demand collectively and free up resources to invest in inclusive growth. Suffolk’s Lowestoft Rising initiative points the way, and we will be supporting the deepening of this work within the county in 2015. In putative combined authority areas like the north east, local players with distinct identities will need to build a shared vision that includes a positive but reformed role for public services as an engine of productivity and job-creation.

Science fiction writer William Gibson wrote that ‘the future is already with us, its just not very evenly distributed’. It is also true that more than one future is available – a result of the changing context within which we work, but also of the active choices we make. Collaboration is now the buzzword du jour. But to make any progress against the Christmas wishes in this article, we need to do more than just talk about it. For communities to notice the difference we need a commitment to building readiness, real sharing of power and control, and a laser focus on improving outcomes for people that need services the most. That is the type of collaboration we were established to support, and we should all raise a glass of sherry to that.

  • Henry Kippin is executive director and Sarah Billiald is managing director of Collaborate


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