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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Local Identity – the photographic evidence?

By Henry Kippin

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Last night I was speaking at the mining institute in Newcastle at a roundtable discussing themes from LOCAL – a book my Dad and I published recently.  The book is a mix of photography (based on an artist-in-residence period at Cumbria County Council), and text (an essay on local politics & identity), and the roundtable reflected a mix of interests in the photographic process, the politics of creating a piece of work like this, and its relevance to the current national and local political context.

Lots of discussion centred on the potential impact of spending cuts on the North East – impacts that no-one can really prejudge, but that most people felt would be socially damaging.  Those asking “where is the growth strategy to get places like Sunderland out of the other side?” are asking the right question.  This is where concepts like the big society and the 2020 Commission’s idea of social productivity must have practical impact.  And it is precisely because the public sector is such a shaper of economic trajectory (the University in Sunderland, for example) that social productivity – which suggests a more active role for the state – is more likely to help people think through what happens next.

Back around the table, one participant commented on the ‘pace’ of the photographic content of the book – “feels almost rhythmic, like its own council logic of movement but inertia, meetings, decisions, problems, meetings, solutions, meetings…et cetera.”  What he was getting at was that the pictures carry a sense of the banal, a sense that nothing changes in the machine of (local) government.  Our book was created in 2009, before the current politics took shape.  But I wonder if this is true now. Bradford council was reported to have sent every employee a letter warning that ‘their jobs are at risk of reduncancy’.  This is hardly everyday – and we should be worried if it is the start of a new politics that considers jobs and people as collateral damage as budgets are quickly balanced.

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Posted by Henry Kippin at 4:36 pm
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to create social productivity – think outside the organisational box

By Charlotte Alldritt

Matthew Taylor’s blog on social capital this morning is a good counterexample to the myth that low income families are less able to engage with public services and their communities for lack of the time and energy enjoyed by the middle classes.

As Matthew suggested, there is a lot to be said for government and public services changing their cultures and institutional incentives “to enable managers and front line workers to engage citizens as co-producers of public value”. But I would argue that organisations need to think beyond themselves – their systems and structures – in trying to encourage social productivity. Instead, they need to consider the multiple ways in which people are motivated and live their lives.

The difference between Mario Luis Small’s thriving community and the childcare centre where parents didn’t even show up for a pizza party showed that social capital is created when citizens deciding for themselves that their involvement leads to better outcomes. The article suggests some of the ways they might be motivated to reach this conclusion, including:
• Financial incentives are just one of many reasons people feel inspired to work together; it is cheaper (in pure monetary terms) for mothers to volunteer their time in taking children to the zoo or museum than to pay the $300.
• Reciprocity – the promise of future help/support in return – I’ll pick your child up from school if you can return the favour another time.
• Friendship – social networks and relationships are the bedrock of human happiness – in meeting other parents and families in the neighbourhood we’re building our own, new community in which we feel a close sense of belonging.

Fear of cuts might to act as a financial incentive. We know from behavioural economics that we are ‘more averse to loss than gains’ and a snippet from Liverpool on the Today Programme this morning suggested this might be the case in practice (e.g. community groups buying out local pubs which would otherwise close).

But how might organisations and/or government ‘sell’ the other social benefits of coproduction? (“Come, volunteer – you might meet some new friends!” isn’t such a bad pitch when loneliness is said to be a hidden ‘epidemic’ of modern times.) If we can build social capital on a foundation deeper and more sustainable than financial incentives alone, we might root our principle of social productivity more firmly in the values we are trying to instil for our communities.

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Posted by Charlotte Alldritt at 1:05 pm
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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Equality and Cohesion in an Age of Austerity

By Paul Buddery

Was the Budget fair?  The Chancellor characterised his measures as ‘progressive’ in that the rich stand to lose more than the poor.  But not everyone agrees.  The IFS calls the claim ‘debateable’ http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/budgetjune2010/chote.pdf , largely because it leaves public services out of the equation.  It is poorer households that tend to be the biggest public service users, with in-kind benefits of £6,300pa for the bottom fifth compared with £3,900pa for the top fifth.  There is a clear and serious risk that a sharp reduction in the funding of public services over the next few years will widen social inequality.  

Can we organise our public services differently, so that an age of fiscal austerity doesn’t also become an age of accelerating inequality?  Yesterday we published Equality, Cohesion and Public Services, a research report that asks how to ensure that poor and disadvantaged individuals, families and communities are not left behind.  It looks at some of the many different approaches to reducing inequalities and improving social cohesion that have been deployed in recent years to ask what’s worked, what we should keep, and where we need to do much better. 

Some important strides have been made, but the evidence presented here is a sobering reminder of just how profoundly unequal we remain in many respects, despite years of reform and substantial investment, so that outcomes in education, health and criminal justice, for example, remain strongly related to social background, race and gender.  Public service interventions in support of equality and cohesion take place in a dynamic environment, often against considerable contrary economic and cultural pressures.  Even where gaps have narrowed, it can be hard to pin down what actually made the difference.  It appears both top down and bottom-up service reforms have made a contribution, although quasi-markets have the potential to exacerbate inequalities in some circumstances.   Targeted investment has helped, but targeting in a way that captures all – or even most – of those who need support is notoriously difficult. 

Our public services have focussed on the fair distribution of entitlements.  In itself this has been reasonable and necessary; but of itself it is clearly not sufficient to move us to a more equal society, underplaying as it does the importance of converting entitlements into valued outcomes.  Key to making this ‘conversion’ happen is a system of public services that gives all citizens a far greater say in deciding their own valued outcomes, and enables them to play a bigger role in achieving these.  The 2020 PST trust believes that our efforts to reduce inequality have been hampered by a besetting habit in public policy making which sees professionals defining the nature of the problem to be ‘solved’, finding the resources to address it, and directing how the resources are used.  In 2020 PST language, services have grounded themselves on ‘social security’, where they should be supporting ‘social productivity’, and never more so than with disadvantaged individuals and communities.

Polly Vizard’s chapter in the report is persuasive in this context.  She proposes that the capability approach, pioneered by Amartya Sen, offers a better framework for analysis and action to reduce equality than those in which debate and practice has traditionally been cast – such as resourcism or negative liberties.  It evaluates the position of individuals and groups in terms of their real freedoms and opportunities – the central and valuable things in life that they can actually do and be.  Linked to a clearer and more accessible rights and human rights framework, Polly argues that the capability approach can deliver benefits not only in equity, but in efficiency.

Many communities, activists and professionals have worked hard to put equality concerns at the centre of public service policy and practice over recent years.  The challenge today is to make sure that they become part of a credible narrative of sustainable reform.

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Posted by Paul Buddery at 1:24 pm
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

England’s Promised Land?

By Charlotte Alldritt

One of the most important points raised at this morning’s launch of 2020 Vision was the need to motivate citizens to engage with public services.  If we are to draw upon the broader, social resource that individuals and communities can bring to the table we need to paint a positive vision for public service transformation. As Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell (2020 Commissioner and Chair of the Parliamentary Health Committee) said, the prophets did not lead people out to the ‘wilderness’ but into the Promised Land.

 

2020 PST welcomes the public debate taking place on the need for public spending cuts.    However to inspire change in citizen attitudes and behaviours about the part they can play in achieving the outcomes we want from public services, we need to set out what our Promised Land looks like.  The public debate will eventually need to move from one of ‘fearful’ realisation of the ‘harsh realities’ of ‘tough choices’.  It will need to call upon language that speaks to a positive future, brought about by seizing the opportunities for change that the current ‘period of discontinuity’ (in fiscal, economic and political terms) presents.   Then we can encourage people to help create the service outcomes that we – as a society – want for ourselves and each other.

 

Timing is crucial though.  Last September only 24% of the public agreed that public services should be cut to address the level of national debt (Ipsos MORI/2020PST, 2009).  Seven months later, 54% agree (Ipsos MORI/Economist, 2010).  It is not uncontroversial to say that shift of political parties in framing the size of the problem and the available policy solutions has been critical in steering public attitudes.  The media also plays a part. 

 

And here, on the brink of an opportunity for reform into the Promised Land, we meet an age-old barrier; to paraphrase Alan Shearer after England’s 1-1 draw against the USA on Saturday – the British media is either in a state of abject despair or bursting elation.  Neither is particularly helpful when England puts in an ‘ok, but can do better’ performance. Similarly, the complexities of the UK’s fiscal challenges mean that a nuanced and genuinely ‘honest’ public debate is likely to be reduced to black and white headlines and soundbites.

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Posted by Charlotte Alldritt at 1:58 pm
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A recipe for transformation

By Lauren Cumming

1 cup new opportunities created by evolving technology, 1 cup long-term demand crisis driven by ageing population, ½ cup sense of urgency created by current fiscal crisis… This morning 2020 PST launched 2020 Vision: A far-sighted approach to transforming public services. The report draws on the work of the Commission to date which has developed a positive, long-term vision for the future of public services and analysed the shifts in culture, power and finance that need to take place to achieve that vision. 2020 Vision goes a step further by examining the implications of the Commission’s vision for setting the priorities for public action, redesigning services to create more public value and ensuring accountability. The report then discusses the barriers impeding transformation and steps that can be taken to increase the chances of success.

Working on this project has been very challenging. In many ways, it is not difficult to point to the shortcomings in our public services, or say things like, “Can’t they just ________ (provide good services everywhere, put that online, train people better)?” Even understanding the factors within the system that block change is relatively straightforward. But to find the right levers to unlock resistance to change – well, if it were easy someone would have done it before me. This report does not pretend to have all the answers – transforming public services is too complicated for one report to cover all the ground. I think the biggest contribution of 2020 Vision is to propose a framework for thinking about how to make change, by asking:

  • What is our vision for the future? Where are we trying to go?
  • What conditions need to be in place for that to happen?
  • What are the barriers to those conditions?
  • What are the actions that we could take, in the short, medium and long term, in society and at various levels of government, to remove those barriers and create the conditions needed for change?

As this morning’s discussion made clear, the time for transformation is now. A new coalition government and the fiscal crisis are creating the necessary momentum for major change. As respondent Stephen Dorrell argued, this is not just about deciding how much the public are willing to pay, this is about creating public services that meet the needs of citizens today. These are questions we should be asking ourselves even if we had all the money in the world to spend on public services. Now is the moment to take some risks, be innovative and transform public services so they can meet the challenges ahead.

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