Five good habits for better public services

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 ….

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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
Timebanking

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*
#hellomynameis
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
#SU4Brum
Makeshift in Wolverhampton – supporting community activity, mentoring
Livebrum

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.

 

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