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Christian Bason

Global impressions – Part I

By January 12th 2011
How can we in government change our thinking and current practices to tackle a much  more turbulent and difficult economic environment? How might we connect in more meaningful ways with citizens, businesses and communities to bring about real change? How do we, ultimately, get more and better services for less? These are some of the key questions currently facing public sector leaders. During the global launch of my book “Leading public sector innovation: Co-creating for a better society” I’ve  had the opportunity to connect with government colleagues in several countries to discuss where public services are heading.  Here are some first impressions.
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In London, the point of departure is that public services have become financially unsustainable, and that radical new and more cost-efficient delivery models must be found. “Ouch!” was how The Economist, in their editorial, characterized the austerity measures introduced by the Coalition Government, starting with a harsh emergency budget in June 2010.
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Ouch!

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Following subsequent historic budgetary cuts of nearly 20 percent over the next four years, the  UK discussion is now focusing on, amongst other things, a major devolution of power, and of how a ‘Big Society’ model might enable everyone — ordinary citizens, community organisations, third sector organisations and business — to engage in co-production of what was formerly known as ‘pure’ public services. In that context, the RSA Public Services 2020 Commission has proposed the compelling vision “From social security to social productivity”. At a major Summit at the RSA in November, members of the Commission emphasized how three shifts are necessary to secure the UK welfare state for the future: A shift in power from (formal) government organisations to (informal) actors; a shift in finance to new models of co-finance and/or individual investments, and a shift in culture to a more  democratic and socially responsible society. See my own, and other’s, contribution to the RSA Journal on how the vision of a Big Society could be realised.
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In London there was also the opportunity to engage with the Innovation Unit, and discuss their excellent work on radical efficiency. Radical efficiency is a comprehensive approach , based on study of more than 100 cases across a number of countries, of how to deliver radically different, better and lower  cost public services. Read The Innovation Unit’s blog about the book launch session co-hosted with the Institute for Government.
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In Paris, the discussion is more about how to build the political momentum and courage to actually embrace more fundamental change. In France, irrespective of the fact that the country’s economic challenges are pretty much as significant as elsewhere, it is apparently more legitimate to focus on better and potentially more costly public services, than on how we could really achieve more with less. However when I shared the Innovation Unit’s point in that perhaps it really is a question of “more for more”, because radical efficiency is largely achieved by leveraging more resources, just from outside of government, it caught the French’s attention! Visit the site of French innovation lab La 27e Region to see how service design is being applied in fields such as education, regional development and sustainability.
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In Brussels — from the European perspective — the thought leaders at the Lisbon Council reinforced the point out that what is needed now is political leadership. See for instance Executive Director Ann Mettler’s passionate call for European action, “If not now, then when?”. During our book launch session there,  the conversation with key policymakers at member state and EU level emphasized that the problem isn’t for politicians to get reelected in spite of new austerity measures. The track record from countries like Greece and the UK so far shows that the public at large does understand that such measures are necessary. The key problem for politicians is to find the radical new solutions necessary in a world without abundant funding for public services. This is where, of course, the message of co-creating for public services enters. Read about Lisbon Council’s work in innovation and see my Brussels presentation here.
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Lisbon Council book launch: Panel session

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So, public services in the Western world are under increasing pressure, the hunt for better models of service creation and delivery is on, and new models and approaches are emerging fast. The twin messages of innovation and co-creation seem to make sense in those contexts, but in different ways. How about other parts of the world? Watch this space for Part Two about trends and solutions in Australia and Japan…

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