Tag: 21st century public servant

The future of local government: being human.

In the past few days I’ve been fortunate to meet some fine people thinking about public services and democracy.  On Saturday I was in Huddersfield thanks mainly to Carl Whistlecraft of Kirklees Council for  #notwestminster.   Last week – thanks to Pete jackson of  IEWM WM-ADASS  I was at a session with senior social services officers run by Cormac Russell. Yesterday I had a cup of tea with Darren Canaan.

These have all helped me crystalise a thought or two.

Notwestminster16 (134 of 135)

(Image Anthony Mckeown.  cc)

If it doesn’t require empathy why would we have people doing it? At notwestminster Matt Clack of Hackney Council ran a session called “Emotion, empathy and urgency – personal experience in public narrative.”  It was wide ranging conversation, which started with how can public servants use personal stories to help develop and improve their work.

I know that government can be very slow to change, but in a decade or two it will be much easier to have software perform processes and robots performs actions.

The work that can’t be done this way is the work that requires empathy. So the future of public servants is about their humanity.  This is also reflected in the work at Birmingham University (which we’ve worked on a little in the last couple of years) on the 21st century Public Servant, which identifies a number of qualities including:

  • The 21st Century Public Servant engages with citizens in a way that expresses their shared humanity and pooled expertise
  • The 21st Century Public Servant needs organisations which are fluid and supportive rather than silo-ed
    and controlling
  • The 21st Century Public Servant is rooted in a locality which frames a sense of loyalty and identity

If people are to be robust they need good networks – so lets help them make them.  Cormac Russell’s mantra – if he has such a thing – is ‘just connect’.  That is our experience too – that connecting help things happen and keep happening.

Darren Canaan used to be a pure connector for a fascinating organisation in Coventry,  Grapevine. “Grapevine does practical, hands-on work that tries to connect those of us who are isolated with the good people and good things in their communities.”  He told me of how his work was to understand someone’s strength and then help them meet people and groups that might benefit from those strength.

One young person was a little socially awkward and tended to sprint ahead of people whenever walking anywhere.  This strength turned him into a walk leader – he was valued for what he helped others do, rather than judged for his awkwardness.

Connecting is human work and it is core to how we increase the opportunities for people in their own neighbourhoods, which in turn (I think) can be expected to reduce the demand for formal services.

Update –  this appeared on twitter this morning (19th Feb 2016)


More from Notwestminster:  (update – a full round up of blogs from the event can be found here:

Paul Mackay’s round up

Notes from all the sessions.

Dave McKenna on re-designing the council meeting.

Francis Clarke on digital and local democracy.



Skills needed for 21st century public service.

Click on the image to download the pdf of  the literature review
Click on the image to download the pdf of the literature review

A good dollop of our work is about helping public servants work differently in a world where power through communication is shifting and many citizens want and are happy to have more control. Over the years we have urged thousands  of people to tend to their “stock pot of social capital” – especially public servants who are often more used to serving systems than relationships.

So I keep coming back to the nature of  21st century public service. Whether it’s pleading to not sack the connectors,  suggesting ways to merge citizenship and public service or simply reflecting on values or skills, the shift is behaviour and attitude that is needed fascinates.

I am enjoying working a little (supporting their social media) with the team at Birmingham University who are investigating just this subject.

Catherine Mangan, Catherine Needham and Helen Dickinson have just published a review of literature on this subject and identified 8 key themes on the future of public service,:

  1. Future public services will require a different set of workforce roles than in the past:   “public services of the future will require more relational approaches. “
  2. Citizens are changing too  “Whilst ‘consumer’ is a term with a range of meanings, one interpretation is that it is an individualistic and passive perspective, in which people expect to interact with public services through the same customer paradigm that operates in the commercial sector. This can be contrasted with more co-productive approaches that recognise and harness citizen expertise and appetite for involvement so that they are a key part of service improvement”
  3. Generic skills will be as important as technical skills for future public servants   ‘twenty-first century literacies’. These include: interpersonal skills (facilitation, empathy, political skills);synthesising skills (sorting evidence, analysis, making judgements, offering critique and being creative); organising skills for group work, collaboration and peer review; communication skills, making better use of new media and multi-media resources
  4. Ethics and values are changing as the boundaries of public service shift “Better understanding the bundle of incentives that motivate people to serve the public is part of the workforce challenge for 21st Century public services.
  5. Emotional labour will be a key element of future public service work  “Emotional labour is defined as, ‘the expression of one’s capacity to manage personal emotions, sense others’ emotions, and to respond appropriately, based on one’s job’”
    Perma-austerity is catalysing and inhibiting change “continuity seems to dominate within local government…witness in salami slicing tactics (less of the same) rather than bold new visions…”
  6. Hero leaders aren’t the answer “a need for a newkind of public sector leader to respond to the changing context, in which leadership beyond boundaries and beyond spans of authority will become more important”
  7. Lots of professions are coming to these conclusions, but are tackling the issues separately

The literature review alone is a useful read – yet to come will be interviews with public servants and recommendation.