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'Do more with more'

Source: Public Sector Executive July/Aug 2012

In one of the many interesting fringe sessions at the LGA conference, PSE discovered a move to boost social inclusion via place-based leadership. Kate Ashley reports.

In stark contrast to the aggressive search for efficiency savings and the drive to do “more with less”, a new approach to leadership suggests that instead of stretching diminishing resources to breaking point, the public sector can in fact do “more with more”.

Community and business energy is not solely dependent on state spending, which means the former has the potential to thrive even in cases where the latter is scarce.

However, this requires a step-change in thinking for organisations who have long been struggling with the former equation.

A fringe event at the 2012 Local Government Association conference, ‘Place-based leadership and social inclusion’, discussed how a different approach to innovation could provide resources in surprising places.

The workshop was based upon international research that took place in two English cities, Bristol and Swindon, as well as a project in Enschede, in the Netherlands.

Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the project sought to demonstrate how civic leadership could advance social inclusion through “radical” public service innovation.

Speakers included Robin Hambleton, professor of city leadership and Joanna Howard; both researchers at the University of the West of England who have documented the project.

Gavin Jones, CEO of Swindon council and Jan Ormondroyd, then-CEO of Bristol council presented case studies of their projects, which looked at a troubled families’ intervention programme and a digital and green city initiative respectively. The project from the Netherlands focused on social GPs.

Civic responsibility

The “more with less” approach is criticised in the JRF report, as “this narrow approach to cutback management may be in danger of pushing public services in the wrong direction”.

Through the “more with more” approach, people are seen as a resource, not a problem to be solved. Engaging the community and local public to take up leadership roles allows new ideas to come together with managerial expertise and political clout to enact change.

Where political, professional and community leadership overlap, there exists the potential for innovation in terms of social inclusion, the research indicates. People with different backgrounds and experiences can engage in “creative dialogue” when they step outside of their comfort zones and work together to achieve innovation; essential for reconfiguring services that could, and must be, run in a way which reduces cost whilst improving quality.

Findings from the three projects suggest this involves five critical factors: leadership; developing a co-creating ethos; redefining what it means to be a public servant; understanding ways of navigating the obstacles to innovation; and challenges associated with building on innovation.

Place-based leadership is ‘multi-level and multi-sector’ the recommendations state; and candidates should be encouraged from the civic sector, as well as from the managerial and political spheres. Emotional engagement is an important factor in this; an oft-neglected element of efforts to change public services.

Leaders must demonstrate collaborative working, offer permission and encouragement for staff to take risks and try out new ideas, as well as managing fear of failure. This must be facilitative and can come from anywhere; it should not be hierarchically based, the report recommends.

Collaboration on an international scale

Part of the weight of the project comes from its international evidence base, and demonstrates perfectly the action needed for a new form of innovation; shared learning, without a ‘copy and paste’ type approach of duplication.

The projects in each city are very different, covering distinct challenges and working with local resources. This means their processes and outcomes can be used to inspire other areas, who will then develop their own response to delivering public services in new ways.

International exchange must be recognised as a valuable way of questioning established practices and motivating change, with research such as this report used to inspire creation in other areas.

It is important for local government not to replicate the case studies demonstrated, but to build links with other places and share learning, especially in preparation for times of difficulty, the speakers emphasised.

Time for change

In an interesting twist of conventional practice, Hambleton stated that whilst repeatedly doing the same thing is regarded as comfortable and safe, it presents a significant risk. Change is necessary, he added and without it, services cannot continue to provide the same level of quality at a lesser cost.

The approach does not cost more operationally, as the projects ‘infect’ a wider area of the community and encourage them to get involved. As the panel highlighted, “we can’t afford not to”.

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