Consolidating the gains, liberating our imaginations and investing in the journey and transition ahead of us, to build better public services for the 21st century.
Welcome, good morning and thanks for choosing to spend your Monday with us. Welcome to Transitions, I’m your host Dominic Campbell.
Hopefully by now you’ve done the school drop off, made yourself a nice cup of tea and are ready to settle down and hear from some of the best in the business to bring some inspiration to the start of your week.
As you can see we’ve been busy during lockdown moving into the TV business. Welcome to the FutureGov studio — where today I get to live the dream of all fellow geographers and pretend to be a weatherman for the day.
Before I start I wanted to say thank you. So many of you on the line right now has been fundamental to getting the country through its toughest year for a century. We have some hard months ahead still, but as we can now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, this morning feels the right time to pause, come together and take some time out to think.
Today’s event is themed around transitions, to give us an opportunity to reflect in this time of major change. You’ll hear from people who have lessons for us all about organisational change, societal change, stories about managing change as individuals and as teams, supporting communities and places as they face up to a range of challenges and opportunities.
I’ll introduce my fellow speakers as we get into this morning’s show, performance, conference — whatever we want to call it. Don’t forget you will also get a chance to meet more informally over the first two Fridays in December where we’ll be holding the follow-up breakout sessions covering everything from climate change to community action, organisational redesign to the future of health and social care.
Before I pass on to my fellow speakers, I wanted to frame today’s event with some initial thoughts.
For those of you who don’t know us, we’re an organisation passionately committed to the rather untrendy idea that strong modern public institutions remain a force for good in our communities. Now more than ever.
Yes, communities have acted fast. They’ve acted in hours and days to help respond to the crisis, but alongside them have been strong local public institutions acting in days and weeks to help take us forward, supported again by central government to scale the level of response we’ve all needed. For us, this is what makes great public services. This brilliant partnership between communities and the organisations around them.
That’s why earlier this year we launched our mission around organising for change. It’s no longer enough for us to just think ‘what makes the best public service institution’. Those institutions still need to change and change fundamentally. In many ways, more this year than in the last twenty years. But alongside that, we need them to stand strong with communities; for the two to weave together and learn from one another in order to get the best from all of our strengths in local areas and national government.
For us, today is about managing transitions. We’re in this period of change. Obviously, there is a lot to learn from this year, and many of you out there are consolidating those gains, which is fantastic.
Whether it’s starting to talk to your GP on video calls, whether it’s implementing Microsoft 365 and being able to attend events like this where many of you wouldn’t have been able to before. That’s a fantastic move forward. But alongside that, many of you are starting to dream and open up your imaginations around how the world might look beyond this current pandemic. Again, really important work and I applaud many of you who are starting to prompt really important questions as we transition into the future.
But importantly for us as well, there’s this period of change over the next one year, five years, ten years. How do we help ourselves, our leaders, our communities and our organisations think about the world ahead of us? How do we build capacity and capability into our work in order to be much more resilient, responsive and effective as we need to respond to similar challenges like climate change going forward?
Communities connected virtually
In many ways, you agree I’m sure that the future has revealed itself slowly; you know we’ve talked about the 21st century for 20 years now. But ultimately, it’s come in a rush in 2020. How do we take advantage of that? How do we reflect, how do we think about what we can learn and make the most of it?
It’s really important that we don’t just think in a linear way when we’re thinking about change. Yes, we’re in this period of response still. I know many of you are up to your eyeballs in terms of thinking about how to make the most of the resources available to you in order to respond to this ongoing crisis. Many of you are starting to see the chinks of light into recovery. But again, that’s quite difficult to think about when the response is incomplete and resources are hard to find. It’s important that we also think at the same time about how we reimagine our services and our organisations, our systems and our local communities.
In many ways, our organisations and partnerships just don’t exist in the way they used to. We’re floating in the cloud, as much connected by pixels as we are purpose and place. How do we actually think about that very deliberately as an elastic force, possibly called the vaccine, comes into our lives and snaps us back into the world that we once knew, but in a slightly different form? How do we welcome people back into this different world in a welcoming, different way to how we’ve left it.
We can be radical
Obviously, we’re building on radicalism. It’s not like we don’t know how to be radical in public services, whether we’re talking about co-op councils, Easy Barnet’s or housing delivery vehicles. These are major structural reforms and radical policies that people have led the delivery of previously. But so much of it has been led through governance and structural change without thinking more broadly about what truly can radicalism mean.
Take for instance the pledge that John Lewis published in July. You can only imagine they had it up their sleeve before April, otherwise, they managed to pivot extremely quickly into the crisis. But as a community of partners, which is very similar to the work of many of you working with citizens, they’ve invited in their partners, their employees, to co-create a new vision for John Lewis, to go beyond being retailers to think about their operating model, their business model, fundamentally think about where they go from here based on the assets and strengths that they have. How do they move some of their stores into social housing rather than retail is top of their mind right now.
How do we learn from that in the government sector? First, we have to think about what makes 21st-century organisations. Tom Loosemore, who was part of the founding team at Government Digital Services, coined this great phrase around applying the culture processes business models and technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations.
Many of you reflecting honestly on your organisations will probably recognize that yes, we’ve moved forward significantly in terms of our technology, this year more than most. We’ve thought about the business process and increasingly around service design. Culture is starting to get there, but I think many of you will agree it’s starting to strain after six months of homeworking, and there’s more we can be doing to design purposeful elegant organisations. But the thing that we’ve hardly started on at all is our business models. How do we think differently? How do we think about what 21st-century, truly digital age organisations work, what their operating model is and how we can start to deliver much better, much cheaper public services?
In order to do that, in order to implement the type of service design that we’re seeing, most of which is digital service design, how do we actually think deeply about organisation redesign in order to house fundamentally different service delivery within public services?
Making the transition to 21st-century public services
The challenge we have is most organisations have never been designed. Never purposefully at least. And they certainly have never been designed for the internet age, let alone for the pandemic age. How do we actually learn from our experiences going through this era to consolidate and move forward, but deliberately design our organisations as we move forward?
This is all about the transition to 21st-century public services. How do we consolidate the opportunities in front of us?
Many of the leading local authorities that we see around the country and around the world are starting to do stock takes. Trafford Council, for instance, is starting to think fundamentally about the wiring of their organisation — the culture, the ways of working, the technology, the relationships, the governance, fairly untrendy things like political legitimacy and democratic engagement — how can we think fundamentally differently about how we do our business and leave behind those things that have held us back in the past? But equally some of those quite top-down, centrally driven initiatives like local government reorganisation, regionalism and devolution, how do we see that as an opportunity rather than a risk? Not just to save money, but to think fundamentally differently about the relationship between different levels of government and our communities.
Alongside that, we’ve seen the re-emergence of the narrative of place. How do we actually take those things that we’ve talked about for my entire 20-year career in the sector, like place-shaping and place leadership, total place, whichever policy agenda you wish to remember, and actually make it meaningful? Things like the Towns Fund and the Bloomberg Philanthropy work across the European Union and its capital cities work.
So the Towns Fund — what is it? MHCLG in the UK has decided this is a great time to start thinking about the future of 101 towns that circle our great cities within the UK. To think about how can we support through £3.5billion those towns to both define and deliver on their future aspirations for place. How do we help them move forward and create a vision for this new age? But in order to do that, how do we build the capability between towns and within towns to be able to share learning, share the vision, share strategy, share capability and capacity to deliver?
Equally, Bloomberg Philanthropies has an ambition across the world, mostly founded in the US so far but now in the European Union as well, to help political leaders, mayors in particular of our great cities across Europe, to think about what 21st-century city halls look like. How can we help them think not just about service and technology redesign but fundamentally around democratic legitimacy and the role mayors within our cities play in re-engineering our organisations? They’re working across 20 cities around Europe, those marked in pink are the ones that FutureGov has the privilege to work with over an 18-month period. Remotely now, having had a team geared up ready to travel Europe for the last 18 months or last year. How do they now remotely start to re-engineer their organisations, and again, invite back their citizens into a fundamentally transformed, city government experience?
We can be even more radical
The really important thing is that we don’t just stop there. While all of those things are vital — consolidating the gains, moving our places forward, thinking very differently about our organisations — we believe we can be even more radical.
As Naomi Klein says, many of you this year more than ever have turned the impossible into possible. It’s no longer just a mind trick or a concept to be able to think beyond the immediate. But actually, how do we not lose our nerve and think fundamentally differently about public institutions in the 21st-century. From first principles, greenfield organisations if you like rather than brownfield organisations that have to pull with them the legacy of Victorian age city government.
We want to really be inspired by the work of people like Mariana Mazzucato, who has talked about how many of the investments of government, whether it’s the internet itself, the technology behind the iPhone or whatever else that has been developed through government funding and government stimulation. How do we draw on such innovation to be able to move forward in the world and bring it into public services right at the heart of the most important work that you all do for the world?
How do we take inspiration from things like SpaceX? And while obviously, we don’t want to outsource public services necessarily to people like Elon Musk — we want to draw on the best democratic legitimacy, funding, governance and experience of fantastically entrepreneurial civil servants — there’s a lot to learn from the way that SpaceX has taken what was a legacy service from NASA, delivery of humans to the space station, and actually reduced the cost by 80%, improving the experience and improving the outcome, as you’ll have seen on TV in recent days and weeks. How can we learn from that?
We’ve been working with eleven chief execs and their teams around the UK this past year, even before COVID-19 entered our lives, to think very much about how we move beyond maxed out incrementalism into radical innovation at scale. We’ve been working with these local authorities, who I give a great big thank you today for helping us imagine the impossible, to create this concept of the Institute of Impossible Ideas. To think back to first principles of how we deliver our public services and imagine how they could and should look if they’d been started today in 2020. In order to do that, how do we move them outside the gravitational pull of much of the bureaucratic barriers, governance and hierarchies that we find in all of our institutions, for good or bad, into a space where they can have the freedom to be reinvented from the outside in but remain within public ownership, for the people with the people.
At this stage, we’ve reached a point of fundraising for three ventures, fully owned by the public sector — IP, the whole lot remaining within the public realm — put together in a way that inspires people. That makes them think of ventures in their lives that they may use elsewhere outside of government. That has the elegance and the co-production baked into the heart of it, whether we’re talking about older adults’ care, whether we’re talking fostering and adoption or whether we’re talking social housing. How can we really think about cheaper is better and truly digital era public services?
Making the impossible possible
The thought I’ll leave you with before passing over to speakers is that after this year, after 2020, surely we can never say again “it’s not possible because…”.
You’ve all made the impossible possible this year. You’ve all done things that I bet you can’t quite believe you’ve achieved.
So how do we move forward, how do we consolidate those gains, how do we liberate our imaginations to imagine a world ahead of us that we can aim for and aspire to, but importantly, how do we invest in the journey ahead of us? How do we put back the capacity that has been taken out from public services?
How do we invest in modern ways of working, modern technology, in a new culture and new business models to think forward, to enable that imagination to become real and give us a platform for change as we start to build public services for the 21st century? Thank you very much.