I had a 5am start this Monday morning to get in the car and head 50km to Brookwater Golf Club for breakfast at 7am on a Monday morning, as you do. The reason why myself at 99 other luminaries hit the Ipswich Motorway this morning was to hear the British writer, thinker and former Blair government advisor Charles Leadbeater present on The User-Generated State: Public Services 2.0.
The presentation was brought to us by the EIDOS Institute, headed by Bruce Muirhead, and with participation from a number of universities (including QUT) and industry participants.
I had the opportunity to meet Charles Leadbeater when he was in Brisbane as part of the launch of the QUT Creative Industries Faculty in 2002, so it was great to hear him again, even at what appeared to be an unlikely venue at an unlikely time (a few golfers could be spotted at the club among the more formally dressed attendees).
The gist of Charles’s presentation could be summarised as saying we are entering into a third age of thinking about public services. The first, which characterised the post-WWII welfare state, was driven by need. Services needed to be delivered to people, and questions of quality were subordinated to the importance of delivery. The second was driven by want, or people exercising power as consumers (encouraged by government policies and philosophies of the 1980s and 1990s) to demand more responsive and personalised services. In the third stage, the key word is can – can the service provider give me a voice in this, and can I take some personal responsibility over how this is provided?
What follows is that thinking in terms of service delivery is not enough. There needs to be more emphasis on three C’s:
- Collaboration between service providers and citizen-consumers;
- Conversation – particularly in times of greatest need, people don’t want a purely transactional model, but want someone to talk with;
- Capability – how can a service be provided in such a way that the need to provide it dminishes after a certain point, as people have got more control over their own affairs.
Leadbeater cautioned that people who claim they want to do something for you often want to do something to you. He gave the example of his Personal Funds manager, whose friendliness belies the fact that he wants some of his cash in service fees. Rather than thinking in terms of for and to, it is recommended that thinking be in terms of with. Participation is where leading edge thinking about the future of public services is, according to Leadbeater.
This also necessitates a shift of thinking away from the institution as the starting point. His example from cultural policy was that the building of cultural institutions (fixed infrastructure with high up-front costs) is often the starting point of this sector, but that there is obviously a plethora of “culture” that happens well away from these institutions (You Tube, Facebook etc.), that is lower-cost and more distributed, participatory and agile.
NB: Charles Leadbeater took up some of these themes in a recent article in The Guardian.