Do more: giving people the opportunity to meet their own needs
People rightly expect to receive accessible, high quality public services that they get choice and control over, but they have an increasingly important role to play if these demands are to be met in the future. This will only happen if public services can organise people and provide services in a way that leads to outputs that are empowering, coherent and offer lasting value. But how can public services make it easier for people to meet their own and other people's needs?
At the moment, many services still hold a very passive view of service users: public services provide a service that users consume with very little control or say over what they receive. All too often though this fails to address the cause of the demand, reinforces people's reliance on services, and fails to recognise that everyone has something to offer.
Increasingly we are seeing that there are huge opportunities arising from professionals joining forces with their customers or service users in ways that enable them to create much more value by working together.
Lego is a great example of a company that put the user at the centre of their product development process. When it gave customers the opportunity to submit their own product ideas, at a stroke Lego were able to reach beyond their 100 in-house product designers and tap into the creative thinking of more than 300,000 armchair designers worldwide. A design challenge they ran to mark their 50th anniversary attracted 8,000 ideas with the best ones, as voted on by customers, turned into products that were sold around the world with their creators given a share of the royalties.
Collaborative technologies can play a similar role within our public services, but making this change is not solely about the application of digital tools to reach out to greater numbers of people. Crucially, service providers must be prepared to surrender a degree of control and work flexibly with service users as partners in the innovation process. For our public services, this represents a significant shift in thinking and approach, and some may find this idea unsettling because it will raise concerns about safety, reliability and the effect it will have on existing relationships.
The experience of the LIFE team, who have been working with Swindon Borough Council to support families in chronic crisis, shows that the relationship between frontline workers and families can be enhanced and improved. Although staff involved with the development of the LIFE Online tools initially shared concerns about safety, reliability and disrupting relationships, the families they were working with were extremely receptive to the new approaches and their uptake has not only brought a greater degree of openness and transparency to the programme, but has helped set the tone for their subsequent involvement with the team.
So where do collaborative technologies fit into his picture? The best innovations that have been developed through Reboot Britain all share one thing in common: the technologies they employ offer unobtrusive solutions that offer a better alternative to existing approaches.
Person to Person has helped increase involvement from younger volunteers because the service is more accessible and it is easier for them to find opportunities that are convenient for them. Similarly, part of the reason Future You has been successful is because younger people find it more accessible than Connexions; while with FLiP, drawing on their wider networks to build a personal profile, has helped individuals understand and communicate their strengths, and give them confidence ahead of interviews in a way traditional careers support has been unable to do.
In doing so, these platforms all offer solutions that make processes simpler, clearer and more accessible. They are not trying to do too much initially, and they are all clear about what their core offer is for their customers.
Although the tipping point in terms of seeing the widespread use of these kinds of technologies remains a long way off, it is clear at this early stage that they open up tremendous opportunities for public service providers, but only if they are prepared to embrace collaborative ways of working that give people an opportunity to do more for themselves.