Tag: Catherine Needham

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.





21st Century public service – is it a thing?

Our work is often about helping public services relate to people in simpler ways.

We might help them build trust and use the trust to provide wider forms of civic good. We might help them empower more people to communicate online – shift power relationships from gatekeepers at the top to park keepers at the bottom.

An anonymous “senior civil servant” wrote on the Guardian website today:

Part of the problem in the civil service is that so many decisions are escalated to senior levels. Unless we can create a working environment where staff at every level are empowered and enabled to make decisions without being micromanaged from above, nothing will change. Creating that culture is one of our biggest challenges.

I argue often that our most successful work with public servants happens when a number of things are present:

  • The people trying to achieve something tend to behave more like citizens than public servants on one side or customers on the other.
  • You go with  the grain of the network – following lines of trust to make things happen rather than creating layers of process.
  • You recognise that public service can happen in all sorts of places – it’s not the preserve of public servants to provide it (indeed some public service is stifled by bureacracy rather than enabled by it).

I’m confident that public service in the 21st century can be different from the 20th century and that public service will need to change.  In basic terms the new leaders of the public sector are becoming less patient with rules that mean that at work you have less flexibility than you do out of work.

So what might shift?

  • More flexible structures. I asked a few years ago why doesn’t government have reservists? But more flexibility will need to follow from  a smaller state where much of what gets done is a negotiation between formal government and the things people make happen themselves.  Officers who can’t embrace that negotiation as a positive thing will – I think – find themselves confused about what they are there for and fail to achieve better things in our communities.
  • Driven by values (again) rather than process.  At Podnosh we check what we’re doing against our values which are simply :  Make Things Better, Think, Give a S**t.  This does mean we need to behave in ways that support that – so being confident about values and then skilled at translating those into how we  behave will make public service a more satisfying place for people to work and more importantly could make it easier for people to work with public servants.
  • People need to be encouraged/permitted to develop real relationships. Valuing connections is not just good for work – it’s good for us. We work with a lot of third sector organisations and the best achieve what they do with very sincere human relationships.  It’s easier to help someone when they know you’ve made the effort to get to know each other.  To much money saving in public service is designed to strip the relationship out and replace it with manageable, insure-able process.

For more thinking on this Catherine Needham and Catherine Mangan and colleagues at Birmingham University are doing some work on 21st century Public Service – .  Helen Dickinson writes:

Our research found that public servants urgently need to learn commissioning and decommissioning skills alongside the ability to challenge the status quo, be willing to innovate, understand risk (and know who holds the risk in a particular situation), and stimulate and manage behaviour change. The ability to be a fixer and facilitator is also seen as a fundamental component of public service roles, as well as the ability to deliver, particularly during difficult times.

Oh and one final quality:  transparency and openness.  To that end we’ve been working with Helen and her team.