The RSA/2020 Public Services Summit

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The RSA/2020 Public Services Summit highlighted the opportunities and challenges ahead for public services after the spending review.  Front-line professionals, managers and decision makers are facing up t extremely difficult decisions.  Our summit was a shared affirmation of the need to make these decisions with openness, creativity, and a deep commitment to the needs and values of citizens.  Those working in public services must be ready to innovate, explore new resources, and find new ways of building the capacity of local communities. 

Even under the shadow of cuts, many are enthusiastic about the opportunities that could emerge from shifts to a less centralized, more outcomes-focused and more plural model of public services.  The 2020 Commission's idea of social productivity calls for an approach that builds on the value from these shifts - engaging with citizens, encouraging collaboration, integration and mobilizing the ‘hidden wealth' of communities'.

But both social productivity and the big society can only be sustainable with an understanding of the risks and barriers involved - something that conference participants were keen to debate.  New technology provides a transformative platform, but access to it is still fragmented.  Decentralisation offers the chance to innovate, but also the risk of inequitable outcomes.  Debates threw up important questions: Greater local autonomy can free up decision making, but how far can councils go without more financial control?  Employee and mutual ownership offers a chance to re-shape the delivery market, but how can we make sure that community needs - not just provider interest - are reflected?  And, ultimately, will such re-organisation and innovation be the priority as public budgets are squeezed?

Our summit showed how much work there is ahead to turn the spending crisis into an opportunity to reshape services and support communities better.  There is a real need and immediacy to develop creative alternatives to cuts, especially in areas where public space and community assets are threatened.  Building on the work of the 2020 Commission and the energy of our participants, this is what the 2020 Public Services Development Hub is focusing on next. 

What Next? The 2020 Public Services Development Hub at the RSA

The 2020 Development Hub will now begin turning policy into practice.  We will work with a range of local authorities and other partners to define what social productivity means in their localities, and how they can begin re-designing public provision around the needs of citizens, and the new realities they face.  We will draw together emerging evidence from research and practice nationally and internationally, building the case and capacity for socially productive public services. 

If you would like to get involved with our work, explore service re-design, share policy and evidence, and be part of our new 2020 public services learning and innovation network, we would love to hear from you.