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Five good habits for better public services

Posted on 6th July 2015 by

The magazine New Start has been looking at alternative approaches ot create economic vibrancy in a number of uk cities, including Birmingham and the West Midlands.  They asked me to write something ….


Senior leaders in the city know that they need to help their teams focus on the values that shape what they do. It’s hard to do though, hard to lift the head from process to values. Here some simple ideas from the people we have worked with and the experience we’ve had over 10 years at Podnosh:

1. Be useful and helpful:
This is a statement of the obvious, This is the whole point of public service, isn’t it? So often we meet people embroiled in public services that simply seem to be a process. If the process is useful to anyone it often feels like it’s the people who designed it. Have you created a service which allows the people on the coal face to say what’s the most useful thing I can do now? And then they can do it? Can they ask themselves how can I help here and have the permission to do the next most sensible thing? If not who is it for and is it likely to be wasting public effort ? So less like a mobile phone operator trying to prevent you closing your account and more like a neighbour who’s sharing their oven when yours is broken.

Good examples:

Pregnancy Outreach Service

2. Act like citizens:
Citizens tend to spot bullshit where bureaucrats don’t. Citizens tend to do what makes sense for their community, not their organisation. Citizens tend to get active about complacency or waste, not wearied by it. Why can’t workers also think and behave like citizens some or all of the time?

Cotteridge Park *
B31 Voices *
NHS Change day*
Young Rewired State*

3. Keep it simple – where you can:
Complex problems often lead to complicated processes to help solve them. We can easily get bogged down in the complicated. So how far can you get by doing simple things that can just be done?

Social Media Surgery*
New Optimists*
Hyperlocal Bloggers
Casserole club
Greaves Hall coffee mornings
Big Lunch
Park Run

4. Good relationship make for better services:
Collaboration is a product of good relationships, so concentrate on the relationships.

Community Policing
21st century public service*
Creation of a regional super council?
Birmingham Open Spaces Forum*

5. Be Generous:
Give so you can receive. If you want to collaborate with people in Birmingham to create public good start by giving what you can. Co-production is born from relationships, not wishful thinking. Open data is a generous act, it is trusting that, if you share, people will do good with this stuff.

Nat West/Entrepreneurial Spark
Birmingham Data Factory
Makeshift in Wolverhampton – supporting community activity, mentoring

I don’t pretend that this will solve all problems and the analogies I use won’t apply to all people. But I do think that framing public service using these principles more often will free up more resources for the very difficult or very complex problems.

Tranparency: The examples included here are just that, there will be many more and some you might dispute. Where there is an * asterix us lot at Podnosh have either worked on this or been involved with it.


Useful things from the NCVO annual conference Evolve 2015

Posted on 15th June 2015 by

We’ve been spending the time providing a social media surgery at #evolve2015 –  we get to charities and voluntary organisations use social media and open data bit better and in return meet fab people and learn good stuff.  Here are some of the things I found through wandering and conversations… that interest me…

Circle  Central.   My unstoppable mum is involved in a wellbeing group of “older” women where she lives. They meet up and organise to do things to keep all of them moving, involved, interested/active.  This http://www.circlecentral.com/  is a sort of paid for approach to the same thing.  Not quite caught fire but interesting none the less.  For a working example go here: http://rochdalecircle.org/become_a_helper.php


Open data can fry your brain(s).  We’ve been learning how to introduce some open data skills into the social media surgery network thanks to support from the Cabinet Office.  Frankly we’ve been keeping it simple, helping organisations use data tools or open data sets for problems they need to solve – and then sharing what we did together at www.bevocal.org and also at blog.socialmediasurgery.com.  One conversation reminded me of what we try to do at the social media surgeries – which is stay sensitive to someone’s experience, skill and tolerance.  It’s the same as not trying to force someone to drive round a three lane roundabout when so far they only managed to get into third gear in a car park.

Data Visualisation:  https://www.silk.co/   Google fusion tables, but more visual, for data visualisation

Mentoring and Befriending Foundation now part of the NCVO.

Keeping people with learning difficulties safer online –  I had a fab conversation with Tim Davies from Camp Hill Milton Keynes.   They are focussing on refining how they use social media both to promote their residential and support work and the theatre they run.  Paul Webster mentioned this from the Foundation for People with Learning disabilities  – as a resource on stayong safer online – i like it for it’s cealr visual layout.  http://www.learningdisabilities.org.uk/publications/safeonline/

It turns out that Gill from the brilliant tool @whooseshoes may have benefited from what we do…


Tips on micro-volunteering can be found here  http://knowhownonprofit.org/how-to/how-to-engage-people-into-microvolunteering.



Free fair for creative and active citizens in Birmingham

Posted on 27th May 2015 by
Click on the image to book on the eventbrite page

Click on the image to book on the eventbrite page

Creative Citizens is a project that’s been running for a couple of  years bringing together research and activity around hyperlocal websites and active citizens.  There’s some fine people involved, including Dave Harte (an old friend and collaborator of ours) and one of the researchers has also been investigating motivations behind the brilliant WV11 blog run by our own Steph Clarke and her very fine husband James.

So there is going to be a fair for active citizens and creative citizens organised as part of this programme.  To get a free ticker go here  www.creativecitizensfair.eventbrite.co.uk.

What to expect?  Organiser Jez Turner says :

Thousands of citizens in the UK take part in community projects every day, from citizen journalists to breadmaking collectives, cycling social enterprises to craft makers. If you run a community project, are thinking of starting one, or are just interested in meeting like-minded people, join us at the first Creative Citizens Fair.

Talks will run throughout the day from community and voluntary projects, sharing their experience and tips, with plenty of time for questions.

In the Fair space you can:

  • talk to some of the organisations
  • take part in activities and workshops
  • see the Creative Citizens photo exhibition
  • find people to collaborate with
  • find out about the Creative Citizens research project
  • grab some lunch and coffee

More details at www.creativecitizens.co.uk


The venue is the Impact Hub in Digbeth, which is another home for creative citizens.


A challenge to the idea of economies of scale in public services…

Posted on 28th February 2015 by

Locality has published some research which counters the argument that large organisations will deliver public services the most efficiently and cost effectively.  It’s timely when budget holders are looking at cutting the small, perhaps seduced by the arguments of the large.

A new paper, ‘Public Services, Civil Society & Diseconomies of Scale’, outlines this research project arguing that human scale operations deliver high quality services as well as value for money.

Locality’s members, some of the most active and ambitious community organisations, have described inefficiencies in large-scale services across the UK. This ranges from youth to legal aid services, mental health interventions through to employability schemes such as the Work Programme. It is having disastrous consequences for poorer communities and smaller providers.

– See more at: http://locality.org.uk/news/diseconomies-scale/#sthash.GJtoAlqX.64MXMylL.dpuf

13 pages. Have a read.  There’s also and event in Birmingham on March for the launch of their keep it local campaign http://locality.org.uk/events/local-campaign-launch/