Tag: Dave McKenna

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.