How can public service delivery adapt to the evolving demands and challenges of the 21st century? Ravi Gogna explains how technology, combined with a place-based approach, can help shape next generation policymaking.
Do you know who your local councillor is? Chances are you don’t – I don’t know mine either.
It’s surprising when you think about it. From safeguarding education standards to overseeing your rubbish and recycling collections to managing libraries, community centres and much else besides, it’s those working in local government – rather than their colleagues in Westminster – who have more of an immediate impact on our everyday lives.
That’s not to say central government isn’t important. Of course it is. But it’s also clear that a convergence of trends and circumstances are reshaping how public services can and are being delivered – particularly at local level.
“All politics is local.” This oft-repeated quote lives on because it neatly summarises how a politician’s success is directly linked to their ability to influence issues affecting their constituents.
While still true, other forces are also now at play in the public arena. Take technology, for example. Data and data-enabled technology are changing the world – from the way we diagnose illness, design our cities, to how many steps we walk every day. The opportunity to transform people’s lives for the better is incredible.
Local governments worldwide are already looking to harness this transformative power. London now has its first Chief Data Officer and there are numerous examples of cities using technology to transform and improve their services.
And then there are the challenges which cut across different localities. All local authorities in the UK have been forced to adjust to straitened financial circumstances but it’s not just about money – or lack of it. Rising citizen expectations and increasing urbanisation are also among the trends that are rendering old practices obsolete.
No wonder a “place based approach” to public service transformation and delivery is starting to take root across local and central government alike.
Developing a sense of place
The "place based approach" is about public services becoming citizen or outcome centric. It involves joining up the activities of the public, private and third sectors to improve outcomes for places and people. No more will policies be blindly implemented top down. Instead, a place-based approach cuts across sectors and silos to focus on the unique characteristics of different places and the issues that matter most to the people who live there.
The good news is that technology can be at the forefront of this new approach in many ways.
For example, digital strategies and plans can be deployed to help shape future investment and ensure that scarce resources reach those who need them most. Policymakers should also adopt a place-first priority towards technology and data decisions, recognising that compromise may be needed to achieve the best outcome for citizens. And local government should also seek to co-produce systems with the end customer/citizen in mind to drive adoption and help prevent the scourge of digital exclusion.
These are just a few examples of how technology can continue to help unlock new ways to improve public services – and this should be welcomed across the political spectrum. At a time when society’s divisions are increasingly palpable, it’s important to remember that we’ve all got a stake in government performing as well as possible.
This means that technology combined with a greater focus on place and people are here to stay – and rightly so.