Immediate Reflections on the 2015 Solace Summit

I shared my immediate reflections on this year’s Solace summit in the following tweets which, to be clear, contain my personal views and are framed partly as provocations, the provocative nature often enhanced by the character limit!

Reflection 1: Devo will give birth to people-place-changing awesome 21st C Municipalism (except where it miserably doesn’t)

Reflection 2: *Evidence* is an emerging must-have (for deals, for a slice of the 36% pie, for being better at what we do)

Reflection 3: We urgently need to scrap the word Digital because the word itself is obstructing progress – say what you mean

Reflection 4: We’ve not figured out how we will handle LA failure yet, partly because the first ones to go weren’t in the room

Reflection 5: LG needs to get more factional to make meaningful cases (and drive economy), without fundamentally falling out

Reflection 6: We must rethink the nature of engagement between LG & its private sector arm (a) at the summit (b) in life!

I’ll be taking these reflections – especially 6(b) – with me to a Harvard Kennedy School week on Creating Collaborative Solutions later this month.

Take-Aways from #LocalGovCamp 2015

Consolidating my thinking and in a spirit of sharing …

The Right Conditions for Digital

Paul Brewer (@pdbrewer) pitched a session about the Right Conditions for Digital (see his blogpost) based on his experience at Director of Digital and Resources at the very interesting Adur and Worthing.  This could have been a longer session.  Paul is clearly enjoying the extent to which he is making progress in his new role, but knows enough to realize that some of this progress is down to some untypical circumstances which apply there.  This is in contrast to common trait in local government which is to assume that “the good results I am achieving are because I’ve got my stuff together and if only people would just have the sense to copy me all would be well”.  Some of the Beacon thinking and indeed some of the Awards schemes potentially fall into that trap.

Paul is smart enough to reflect on what is going on, and to tease apart the ingredients for success.  That he adopts that kind of reflective approach is almost certainly one of the reasons he is being successful, it seems to me, and not something he himself mentioned – so I am saying it here.

Paul’s blog hints at some of the unusual circumstances at A&W, and in the discussion we reflected on the fact that the new Chief Executive at A&W early on created a very compelling vision for the council encapsulated in a document Catching the Wave – I think that anyone wanting to make change happen in local government should read this.  It’s a masterpiece.  And by securing agreement to it a space has been created that is the right shape for innovation.

I was interested to know whether the fact that Adur and Worthing are two separate councils with one shared management team acted as a brake on innovation and it seems not – the level of integration between the teams is very high.

I’m always keen to put the level of innovation which a council exhibits in the context of the resources it has and the financial pressures it is under – and I have some data from an external source which gives a rating for the level of stress that councils are under.  Both Adur and Worthing are around about the middle of the pack in terms of financial pressure – their success is not (for example) because they have loads of spare cash and are burning it up!

There was also a bit of a discussion about how it is possible to make the case for IT – which is perceived as a back office cost to be minimized especially when front-line services are being cut.  The back office/front line language really doesn’t help – it is far better to use language that reflects that the right “back office” spend – eg on the right sort of “digital” multiplies the effectiveness of the front line, and multiplies the effectiveness of the council in the community.  The Resources Directors Network, of which I am a part, wrote a report about the Future of the Corporate Centre which uses the language that is used in the army for support functions to the front line.  They are referred to as “force multipliers” which you have to admit is a better name than “overhead costs”.

Governance Challenges of Devolution

Ed Hammond (@cfps_ed) led a discussion about the governance challenges of devolution.  In great Localgovcamp style that brought together people with diverse perspectives and interests, including some insights into Amazon anthropology (the place not the online retailer) as well as knowledge of a range of devolved models an devolution bids.  It’s interesting how unconsidered this all is – there is a lot of detail still to be filled in about how the deals (which have been hammered out behind closed doors due to the speed imperative) will be governed, scrutinized, and how they will engaged with their relevant populations.  It is a blank sheet.

It was interesting to reflect that while there is a central government preference for an elected mayor, with the success of the London model in mind, no-one is requiring the scrutiny and accountability mechanisms which London has – ie the Greater London Assembly, Mayor’s question time etc.  In a way that’s not surprising – it’s a costly operation and repeated referenda have shown that there is little public appetite for a new layer of politicians – but it does mean that we need to think through the accountability mechanisms, and I am pleased that Ed and the fabulous Centre for Public Scrutiny are going to be doing some work on this.

The local media can be a mechanism for holding to account, and it’s interesting to spot that whilst some of the combined authority areas have a “natural” local paper (eg the Manchester Evening News in Greater Manchester) there are others that do not.  It will be interesting to see how the practice of different Combined Authorities is affected by different levels of coherent press scrutiny.

Uberising Rural Travel

Adam Walther (@adamwalther) from FutureGov led a session about rural transport – whilst there is much excitement about app-driven  disruptive entry in terms of things like Uber, and more gently with things like CityMapper, these focus on urban areas and relatively wealthy people.

There’s an interesting set of issues around whether the technologies can support different models of transport – eg a dial-a-ride that takes someone to a bus stop rather than to the ultimate destination.  There may be scope for deploying community resources – eg minibuses with volunteer drivers, car sharing – if there can be some way of surfacing the currently hidden demand for services.  We see what people do, not what they would ideally want to do.

The FutureGov work is clearly at an early stage but I was fascinated to hear about the transport systems in Helsinki where there is a deliberate design intent to make car ownership irrational.  “Mobility as a service”.  Thought provoking stuff.  There’s a Guardian piece about this, and it’s one of my main takeways from the day.

An Open Data Session that I Enjoyed

Simon Redding (@simonredding) from the Environment Agency did a session engaging a select but enthusiastic band of folk around discussing how Defra should prioritise making all of its datasets available.  I really enjoyed a session about Open data that was about thinking about creative uses of data, and thinking about where to land the ideas, rather than … the usual session that seems to happen about Open Data!  For those interested a jumping off point to find out more is on GOV.UK here  though there is clearly an opportunity missed to put an advert for analytics software on that page*.

*(An on the day in-joke).

Devolution: The end of Localism?

(This is a bit of thinking out loud in an entirely personal capacity)

In future times as we look back on the process of devolution now beginning, we may see that this was the point at which localism came to an end.

This may seem contradictory – surely devolution is a decentralising force and therefore utterly consistent with localism?

Localism is in the eye of the beholder.

Because I did some work a couple of years ago on a scenario planning exercise called “The Four Futures of Local Government”, and because a number of local authorities and their senior teams were kind enough to invite me in for a discussion about it, I have had the chance to discuss localism with very bright and committed people in a range of different contexts, and to confront with them:

  • the natural tendency to see the optimal point to which power should be ceded to be coincidentally exactly “my” level, wherever “I” happen to be
  • the apparent simplification of issues the lower something is cascaded – for those to whom the cascading is happening – but the tremendous fears of loss of control and accountability to those further up the chain, with an explosion in aggregate apparent complexity and non-standardisation as issues are cascaded lower.

It’s all about managing complexity.  If we are thinking about devolving health to meet social care, for example, (which is something I’m thinking about for a variation of the four futures exercise, currently), the complexities (and natural footprint) of a health economy appear to be something which needs a larger area than that of many local authorities.  The devolution of health is welcome, but I feel that as health comes down to sub-national areas, that social care may have to aggregate to meet it.

I am becoming aware of some smaller authorities who are seriously considering a degree of aggregation of their child and adult social care services with neighbours, in order to achieve the scale that is needed, and this feels like a more powerful force than the pressures to take health to an even lower level than, say the current CCG level.

If this is true, and we’re going to see the combined authorities, with their elected mayors, becoming superpower-authorities with significant sway over economy, health and social care – and possibly benefits and local taxation, over time, then the complexities at that level will be hard to push down further – not because the vision will be lacking, or because the concept isn’t appealing, but simply because the practical politics, and the sheer administrative/organisational burden, will be so high.

Will this be better than the current system?  I believe it could be – I am a localist, I am willing to simplify at the sharp end and accept the ambiguity and complexity which this will bring to the higher-ups.  But I am disappointed that we may find the decentralisation getting stuck at such a high level.

A possible solution which might break through that will be a focus on personalisation, and/or user centred design.  If the process of achieving joined up solutions can do an “end run” from the combined authority to the individual, or to the individual family, skipping over the intermediate layers of local government and other local administration, then this may give us what we need, overall: remorselessly efficient and highly relevant, joined up public services for the individual.  Combined authorities will, I hope, have the scale and firepower to undertake proper user-centred work, collaboratively with the user community, and coproduced with them, in order to achieve this in a way that steadily denuded local authorities may not.

These thoughts are what I am hoping to test through observation, and hands-on where I can, as Devo rolls on.

What do you think?

Why do we Reinvent the Wheel – The #UKGC15 write-up

I pitched a session at UKGC15 to try to explore the issue of why some innovation happens from scratch rather than being a case of adopting and adapting viable solutions developed elsewhere.

I was motivated to do this from my experience as a member of the Service Transformation Challenge Panel where we saw quite a lot of reinvention going on – quite frustratingly sometimes, and we mentioned this in the #ChallengePanel report.  We recommended the setting up of a “What Works Centre” for Transformation, to provide accessible, and evidence-based insight that could accelerate change.

So I pitched a session and a good number of people turned up – about 25-30.  My cunning plan was to brainstorm the things that tend to lead to wheel reinvention, then brainstorm the things that contributed to adapting and adopting, then think about how we could mitigate the reinvention forces, and strengthen the adaptation forces.  In the end we spent almost all of the 45 minutes coming up with examples of reinvention and understanding their underlying causes.

Rather than just copy out the flipcharts I’m going to an impose an order on the points that is my subjective judgement.  I am going to list reasons for wheel reinvention that are potentially “good” reasons and then reasons which are “bad” reasons, as would be judged by an informed citizen concerned about how public money was being spent (the context of UK GovCamp being about public money). My own comments about these things are in italic. I have combined similar points.

Good Reasons to Start from Scratch

Creating something from new ensures that you understand the underlying principles of why the solution works.  This came up in the context of writing code from scratch but I think has some relevance more generally.  If you are slavishly copying something someone else has done it may work for a while but if some of the fundamental underpinnings change and you don’t understand them, then you may not realise it is time to change.

You can bring people along with you, as they co-develop and co-own the solution.  I find this very persuasive.  It suggests to me that where an organisation is going for Adapt and Adopt the users etc need to still be involved in problem specification and finding the solution.

Monocultures are dangerous.  Competition drives further reinvention.  If everyone is doing something exactly the same way then flaws can bring the whole system down.  Moreover if (say) there are a handful of vendors developing solutions then competition between them results in new relevant innovation and continuous improvement.

Search costs exceed cost of creation from scratch.  If the thing you have to do is relatively straightforward, but it will be difficult to find a standardised solution, or if you fear there is a significant likelihood that search time will be wasted because a solution may not exist, then it could be rational to invent.

Fear of “over-selling”.  People with good ideas tend to be enthusiastic about them and there’s a human instinct to assume that they have cracked it  and that everyone can achieve the same results as them, despite the fact that some of the underlying circumstances (eg senior buy-in) may be different.  People (literally) “selling” an idea may have an incentive to exaggerate efficacy and ease of implementation.

Bad Reasons

Not knowing that a solution exists.  Failure to identify that the presenting problem is an instance of an already solved problem.  Shouldn’t professionals in an area be aware of good practice?  The Local Government Digital Pipeline and similar initiatives, including the What Works Centre if we get it, can be key here.

Fear of replacement/losing job if there’s a better way of doing this that doesn’t need me, so I’ll build a solution around me.

Money to buy in a solution is “real” and would require a budget but my time whilst reinventing is “free”.

Government grants to support innovation emphasise the importance of novelty, indeed they require it.  I will get funding for inventing from scratch but if I want to adapt and adopt I have to pay for it myself.  Beyond this I personally think there is a huge scope for results grants of this type to be made more replicable and scaleable if provider organisations of whatever sector are included – provider organisations have an obvious incentive to take ideas that work in one place and sell them in to others.  A public sector organisation typically doesn’t have as clear an incentive to spread the word.

I believe that my organisation is unique and special and therefore nothing done elsewhere can be relevant.  For me this just starts to specify the required “adaptation” that is likely.

The “technology” must always be fitted and bespoked to the business process.  Actually, sometimes it’s easier to change the business process to fit the standard technology.

Professional self-justification.  Someone pointed out that every council website has text with advice in dealing with pests. This text is invariably written by a pest control officer at the council.  To what extent do we say “hey – this text is great, let’s copy it (with acknowledgement)”.

Creating something new is stronger for my reputation, and more likely to attract kudos, awards etc.  Maybe we need the LGC “stolen with pride” award?  But who would want it?

So What?

What I take away from this is that the cultural and personal obstacles, which not “good” reasons are even stronger than I had thought.  Significant effort – significant leadership – is going to be needed to create a new culture.  As the saying goes “culture is the behaviour that worked in the past” and persual of these lists show that reinvention “works” well at the moment.  I am more concerned about this issue after the session than I was at the beginning.

This also gives a number of pointers for any mechanism that seeks to support the process of identifying prior working solutions.  I don’t think a database will ever cut it.  There does need to be a repository of material, but I think there will need to be a collaborative human “interface” to it, to encompass the inevitable tacit knowledge that exists in a situation of this type.

The Maturing of GovCamp and an Iconoclastic Suggestion or Two…

So, 24th January 2015 (also known as “yesterday” on a special one-day-only limited offer) was UK Govcamp 2015. It was really good, in all the ways that such events are good, and not so good in ways where … it could be a bit better.  In some ways it is maturing well, in other ways some of the seams are starting to show signs of pre-burst tension.  That’s what this blog is about, and I’ll drop in some of the other things I learned on the way.

The good stuff about GovCamp is well rehearsed but it’s worth restating sometimes – for me UKGC (and variants such as LocalGovCamp) mean hearing ideas I won’t hear in other places, meeting people ditto, and increasingly it’s about meeting again people I have enjoyed meeting previously and getting caught up.  It is always energising to be in a roomful of people who have given up their Saturday because they care about making the world a bit better, for all.  And a big up for the organisers.  Selflessly to do what you do to create the space for others is a really great and generous thing.

This time I was thinking about not pitching and I am grateful to those who encouraged me to do so (thanks Glen, Catherine) because the session I did was well attended in both people and ideas and has moved my thinking about an issue on a bit (this will be another blog idc).

I went to Andy Hollingsworth’s session about digital leadership and I was struck by the way that, compared to other similar sessions in past years, the change-makers in the room had a much more nuanced understanding of the role of senior leaders, making change happen etc.  The dialogue was no longer “why oh why don’t they realise that if they only just talked to us and did exactly what we said and gave us money to do whatever we want, we could do awesome stuff”.  (I exaggerate to make a point, but not that much, actually). A massively stronger understanding now.

I did an experiment of, for one session, spending 5 minutes in each room in turn, wondering what I’d learn from that.  In the end I learned that it is a pretty useless way of spending a session!  However it did make me think about the format.

And, do you know what, I am starting to fall out of love with the unconference format.  I’m not sure it quite works any more. Or only sometimes.

Here are some symptoms:

– It can be hard to really get a good idea of what a session is going to be about from the pitch.  By the time you’ve half remembered what they said when they were standing pitching (whilst also thinking about your own pitch), mistranslated that into your understanding of the session title, and so on, there can end up being quite a gap between what you think a session might be and what it is.  Now obviously some of that is just the luck of the draw, but I think that some of it is because the nature of GovCamp is changing.

– For example, some of the sessions I saw yesterday were thinly disguised sessions by sponsors to promote themselves and their organisations.  “Let’s get together about how we achieve X”  was sometimes a genuine “I am really up for ideas about X, bring them on” (as in the best session I went to yesterday – Jon Foster’s session about how to get residents of blocks of flats to separate their recycling despite using communal bins).  And sometimes it actually turned into “let me tell you about how we did X at such-and-such a place”.  This might be useful but it wasn’t what was promised.  I understand that sponsors need value (believe me, I do!) but forcing it through the pitch format makes it slightly, and I’m sure unintentionally, deceitful.

– The rule of two feet is being observed in principle much more than in action.  I heard this many times – words on the lines of  “I know I should have left but I’d be walking into another session halfway through and the door was creaky and it would have been distracting to get up from the table and push past others to go, and the seats were big and comfortable and I thought I might as well stay and follow what was going on in other sessions on the hashtag instead …”.  Add in to that the fact that some of the sessions are more like conference presentations really – you can’t really walk into them half way through – there is a narrative thread running through them – then this is problematic and makes session choice all the more important.

The best unconferences I’ve been to are the Brighton City Camp.  One of the reasons for this is that they start with a set of presentations which give a context about the City and its community, and can then inspire people to pitch ideas to help solve problems.  That unconference also makes substantially more use of ideas online first, and initial voting, so that people can refine ideas, and have a more considered view of what someone may be presenting.

So this is building up to a thought – some suggestions for consideration.  This suggestion would mean putting a bit more structure on things.  Yikes!  Sorry about that.

How about this:

1.  Start with the intros and the one word offers / wants.  It was well worth trying out not doing this – excellent to experiment – but I’d like to see it back – and it needs to be really driven hard to be crisp.  Maybe literally just names. Apart from anything else this lets you put names and faces to twitter handles.  The idea of wearing a sticker with Ask me about / Tell me about was good – but I think people could handwrite them themselves (less admin).

2.  If you’re going to have a plenary speaker do it at the beginning so that pitches can develop it and the ideas further during the day.

3. Have a strand of pre-booked sessions – based on online pitching and voting.  People can explain what a pitch is going to be about more, online.  The “7” sessions with most votes 24 hours before it starts get to run.

4.  Then have a strand of completely blatant sponsor-led sessions, again advertised online beforehand.  No need to pretend.  These are sessions where people will try to sell you something, and if they advertise what they want to talk about clearly and accurately, and offer genuinely useful case examples and insights, then that will be genuinely useful, and you might even buy.  As someone who works for a big company that often works with smaller companies I’d find it really useful to decide which to go to listen to, to see who we might be able to work with and bring into our “supply chain”. And as a sponsor having five people in a room who have already expressed the beginning of an interest in buying, who have agreed that they have a problem that you may be able to solve, is much better than having a roomful of people who are uninterested or mildly cross.  One session for each sponsor – all at the same time – and you decide which one to go to, but you have contact info and so on so that if you want to chat with any sponsors offline you can do that.  Suppliers are really proud of what they do – give them the opportunity to explain why, unblushingly.  This will also really help explain to their lords and masters why money spent on GovCamp is a good investment, and so help make it more sustainable.

5.  Then have pitches, just like now.  People pitch ideas that they would like to discuss.  They would need to say whether these sessions were “help me” or “show you” sessions.  As in “I have a problem and I’d like some help” versus “I’d like to show you this cool thing I did”.  Both have value.  But let’s be clear which is which.  And it would be really neat if some of the pitches could be inspired by the sessions just gone.  “In that earlier session it occurred to me there’s a real problem in X but we didn’t have the time to nail it – anyone else have that problem and have ideas to share?”- that sort of thing.

6.  Then have lunch.  Yesterday’s lunch was great.  As a vegetarian I was pleased with how they structured the choice architecture – meaty food before the veggie stuff, so that the carnivores have full plates before they get to the only stuff I can eat!

7.  Then have the afternoon sessions, just like now.  So it’s mostly still an unconference really, for most of the time.

What do you think?

Deja Vu All Over Again

I am personally inspired by the folk who are driving forward the LG “”Digital”” agenda in multiple ways, through events, blogs, tireless work and at significant personal cost in terms of time, and, um … cost.

From several local gov camps and similar, and much tweetage there seem to be a whole set of recurring themes around getting this stuff to break through into action. Again.

There is an emerging realisation that something higher-order than good work in one or more authority is needed. And various attempts to create organisational forms that will take things to the next level. Again.

All of this dialogue, though eerily familiar, is actually incrementally useful in trying to put our fingers on the question of why this isn’t yet breaking through the way we’d like.

I don’t know the answer to that, but here are some thought pebbles to set spinning across the pond of “”digital”” discontent.

  1. Maybe it is breaking through but we’re just not seeing it! Maybe what’s coming through is the result of the sheer grind of compromise and risk aversion that is almost inevitable in organisations which are (think about this) – local monopoly providers of essential services which are publicly funded, which are democratically accountable, and politically rationed in a hostile scrutiny (small or big s) environment.  Tough context!  Those things are like the weather – we can’t change them, we have to wear appropriate clothing. So maybe the progress we are seeing is brilliant, maybe it’s as good as it gets, maybe it’s going to take a shed load longer than we think, and maybe we don’t have to beat ourselves up so much. Maybe. I think it’s worth considering.
  1. Councils are different and becoming more different all the time. Localism rocks! But it works against standardisation, and it means that partnerships for eg joint development need to be chosen with care. The innovation need, capacity, capability, leadership of councils varies considerably, even if in other respects they seem pretty similar, or are conveniently close. In some of the recent tweetage I pointed people at slides 6-13 of this. I think we need to have language for understanding the differences between authorities and their contexts. I think we also need to accept that the best thing might be to give up on 95% of councils and work with the smaller number who want to innovate, and currently have the capacity and capability to do so. Let’s beam a small group “coalition of the willing” down onto this new planet, and hope that our council isn’t the one wearing the red shirt. (Note to self, do I need to explain Trekkie references to this audience …)
  1. Controversial one this. Perhaps we need to think about going where we can do most good. This might mean taking a super-honest look at one’s current authority and acknowledging that you could do more good somewhere else, somewhere that’s playing with a better hand of cards. Or somewhere that demonstrably gives an actual stuff. That might not be practical for some people given family circumstances or bonds of loyalty. But it’s a thought. What if we could get all the localgovcamp people working for the same council! Well actually it would be an unmitigated disaster but you get the underlying point, I hope. To add extra controversy to this point I will take my life in my hands and say that a lot of people I talk to decided to stop working for a council but stay passionately involved in local government by stepping out as freelancers, establishing or working for companies, and found they could do more good that way (despite enduring the ever so funny jokes about the dark side, and not getting invited to things any more – or asked to pay – but let’s not go there).
  1. Do we care about it enough to get our hands dirty to make change happen? I did some sessions at PS Launchpad about this sort of stuff for example this and this. One of the reported reasons why corporate services professionals in local government (eg IT, HR, Finance) often don’t want to get promoted to Corporate Director roles is that they will no longer be able to represent the interests of their tribe – they may have to make decisions which compromise the purity of the vision. I’d love to see some of the LG “”digital”” folk say “right, I need to get to be a chief executive ASAP, then I can sort it”. That wouldn’t actually work as a strategy but the people trying it would learn so much in the process. Many years ago I was a manager of analytics consultancy types in a discipline called operational research and I wrote this paper called “wearing your clients’ shoes” – anyone fancy working with me to update it for “”digital”” in local government?

(Note: In this blog I have put “”digital”” in double quotes to signify that I am loosely referring to people and concepts which are currently aligning themselves with the word “digital” but which in my mind have very little to do with technology (either digital or analogue) and which therefore risks massively confusing means with ends, but happens to be the only flipping label we have currently.)

Councils in 2043 – the Next Thousand Words

I was delighted to be asked recently to contribute a piece to LGiU’s 30 birthday celebration work, an imaginative idea that asks 30 people to project what councils may be like in thirty years’ time in 2043.  The post is here: http://www.lgiu.org.uk/30birthday-jonathan-flowers/ and is an imagined conversation between two un-named individuals at a mono-bus stop!

In writing the post I was determined to make it be from a citizen perspective rather than that of the council, and I wanted to present something that was a bit different to “now with less money” so I imagined a world in which council services were more consumerised and customised than they are now.  In doing that I left out a whole lot of stuff, and left quite a lot to the imagination.  I was constrained to three hundred words!  Since my piece is generating some actual interest, or, at least, tweets,  I thought I’d take the opportunity of my own blog to add a few more words, and perhaps leave less to the imagination.  My additional comments are in italics.

“Blooming monobuses, you wait and wait and then three come at once”

I have no idea what a monobus is, but it sounds futuristic!

“Yeah, too right … how you doing in your new flat?”

“It’s alright actually, me and the missus are choosing our council package tonight”

“What are you thinking about getting?”

“Well, obviously we’ll be getting the standard citizen package, and we’ll both be taking the free ID-phones because we don’t mind them knowing where we are if we get a free phone out of it, but we’re thinking about our extras”

It would be a fun exercise to consider what will be in the “standard citizen package” and how the identification of the base package would infuence the way people felt about it.  This is potentially the bit that people pay council tax for.  It’s also interesting to think about whether the “standard citizen package”, if we were thinking about it in these consumerist terms, is what we will end up with after many more years of cuts – I suspect not.  In terms of the narrative behind this dialogue it would be interesting to speculate on whether the “standard citizen package” was re-established after failure of universal services due to the pressures on demand-led ones.

The ID phone notion is intended to prompt a question of how people will feel about their data being used commercially.  In this version of reality clearly people are quite relaxed about it, much as we are now relaxed about what facebook knows about us based on content we give it freely.  I suspect that if councils – and commercial organisations – were able to use the data provided by mobile phones about peoples’ location and activity then this would generate enough “value” for (many) people to get the phones for free.  I think this will either happen or definitively not happen long before 2043, but this was a way of injecting that idea.

“I always go for the health care plus”

I called this “social care plus” in my first draft but someone pointed out to me that “social care” is a label that local government people use so I decided that if it were ever marketed it would more likely have a health label.

“What do you get in that one?”

“Well you get your credits towards the dementia insurance, health checks and double credits for using the leisure centre once a week, so that’s included”

The notion of dementia insurance came to me after hearing Andy Burnham at the LGA saying that the current means-tested funding for elderly social care was essentially a “dementia tax”.  The health checks and double credits for staying fit are a quick nod in the direction of incentivised demand management/prevention.  Maybe we’ll be sufficiently far-sighted to have free leisure centres by then, though I suspect that people will value it more if they feel they are paying for it.

“Mary gets the dementia insurance credits for us both through her work policy, so we’ll do pay as you go on the leisure centre, but we’re thinking about getting the waste booster”

If we are all insuring ourselves against the costs of dementia in some way then there will probably be many options for that.

The use of the terminology of mobile phone packages is deliberate.  It seems to be the way we tend to think of services now:  A core “headline price” service to which you get to add things based on your particular need.  A form of self-funded personalisation?

I can see a story for local government that finds its core offering reduced and reduced and that the only way of getting more citizen money into the system is to start charging for things individually (unless anyone has the political courage and persuasion skills to convince people that “taxation is the price of admission to a fair society”).  If it’s done right, and if it’s done in a way that people recognise and value, it might work.  You get your standard citizen package out of your council tax, but extras cost.  If councils had to justify the value of those extras, and innovate in how they were provided and packaged to ensure that it was aligned with actual citizen need then that might not be a bad thing – especially if in doing so they got additional resources?

“What does that one get you?”

“Choose the day of the week for collection, though we’ll probably go with the default option to get a discount on that; double collections and a tree at Christmas, unlimited cardboard and they sort your recycling for you”

This is what I would pay more for.  As someone said to me though, we’ll probably have automatic recycling separation for everyone long before then.

“That’s just lazy, we get the kids to do ours, to earn their pocket money.”

I put in a mild swear word here which got censored at the suggestion of a colleague!

“Yeah, well we’ve got to decide where to get our advice package from, because we’re going to want help applying for schools, and we’re thinking about putting in an application for a conservatory”

This is building up to the last notion I wanted to insert- the idea that “consumer-led” local authorities might actually compete with each other in some respects. I don’t think we’ll get competition for core services (that standard citizen package again, perhaps) but if we get into a world where advice services are an extra cost, then why wouldn’t I be able to choose where I get that advice from, since location doesn’t really matter?  And if I were wanting some professional advice on applying for schools I might prefer to buy it from someone independent but expert – like another local authority?

“What have you narrowed it down to?”

“Well we used to get our advice package from Staffordshire when we lived in the black country, but now that we live in Dalston we’re thinking of getting it from somewhere more local, like Barnet … their app gets 5 stars in the govstore, and it’s only £500 a month”

I am assuming a degree of inflation!  And that sterling remains a thing.

“Nice one. ”

What I haven’t commented on in any of this is the strength or otherwise of civic society and social cohesion, the state of local democracy in general, social media, the use of other sectors in service provision and a host of other things that would be relevant and might underly this little dialogue.  The ommission doesn’t mean that I think there won’t be any of those things.   It meant I had 300 words!  And I had a hunch that those areas would be covered by others that LGiU would ask!