How Can We Have A Better Conversation About Public Services?

I don’t know about everyone else, but after nearly 15 years of trying to make public services better, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by:

  1. The increasing disregard for evidence in developing social policy interventions
  2. The increasing gap between what we say we want to do and what policy and investment will actually deliver
  3. The refusal to acknowledge the broad expertise in service delivery, in public, private and voluntary sectors – from the front-line to the board room
  4. The continual re-inventing of not particularly effective wheels

Last week, I enjoyed a fantastic cup of coffee with Anton Chernikov, CEO and Founder of The Exponentials.

I saw Anton speak at the CESI Youth Employment Convention late last year on young people, entrepreneurship and education. Which is what I think we were supposed to be having a conversation about.

We ended up having a conversation we didn’t expect and it quickly became clear that we shared the same frustrations with the current conversations around politics, policy and service design.

What If?

What if – we wondered – the conversation started with the end in mind. What if the conversation started an agreed goal? (Say, what does an education system fit for the 21st century look like, or how do we best support those who are stuck in long term or cyclical unemployment?)

What if it really got into the details, rather than remaining at a surface level?

What if that conversation revolved around solutions, rather than money and budgets?

What if that conversation could transcend party politics? What if it could rise above commercial interests? What if it could actually imagine services that deliver social justice and generate wealth and opportunity?

What if it involved the best and the brightest from different tribes, with the intention of finding the right answer? What if it brought together politicians of common purpose with delivery and policy experts and the best design thinkers?

What if it asked the questions that don’t get asked? (Say, what is the right, fair and just balance between rights and responsibilities in a modern welfare system?) And actually tried to find the answers?

What if it focused on projects, not policies?

What if it could bring the same creative and disruptive thinking and talent into the public services space that is currently changing the world in the private services space – through technology, the internet, the sharing and redistribution of resources and assets and risk-savvy investment?

What if we could host that conversation in virtual space and real space? What if we could provide the environment and the agenda and the platform for those conversations to take place?

Well, we thought, that would be exciting.

So what if?

Well, what if we did something about it? That’s a good question.

It might go down in history as one of those amazing coffee conversations in which big talk is talked and nothing follows. I’d really like to think not, but seeing as I’ve put it out there in the public domain, you’ll all know if there’s no follow through!

So, what if it was more than just an amazing coffee conversation?

Who would be at the table? Would you? Who else? Where should we start? What would we call this ‘gathering’?     What should our first ‘project’ be? What targets should we set ourselves?

After 15 years, I’m still optimistic enough or naive enough to believe that new business models and new organisational cultures are waiting to be born in the public service space. That there’s a new story out there, built around solutions and grass roots innovation.

Does any of this spark your imagination? Or is it just pie in the sky? Let me know what you think.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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