Times of crisis bring out the best in the British character. The seeds of modern computer science were sown in the rush to decrypt German codes – while much of what we consider to be standard trauma care in hospitals was developed out of necessity on the frontline. With that history of innovation in times of crisis there is good reason to be positive about local government.
As we know cuts to budgets can only go so far. New ways of working must be found to allow local government to continue in a way that is meaningful and useful to those it serves. This is a problem to which there is no easy answer and the solutions lie within the associations and the communities they serve.
As with any service industry success is based on the satisfaction of the end user. Underpinning all councils work should be an understanding of what the ‘customer’ needs from the service, when they need it and how they want to access it.
Take something as simple as council websites. Across the country there are all manner of designs that appear to have sprung up out of nothing more than a want to keep everything in-house. But this makes no sense for the customer or the council. Centralising website designs and having uniform interface across the country would free time and money for individual councils and, most importantly, make it far simpler for residents moving from one area to another to access information as they already know where to find it.
Once these issues are understood councils must open themselves to self-critiquing on how they can best deliver those services in the way users expect and how this fits within a local or national framework.
Revolutionary change within any business is bound to worry people. But to be truly successful councils must bring all their staff along on the journey as each one of them could have the idea to unlock how to best deliver services. Those at the coalface will have a much different idea about how the service looks to the user than those in senior positions and all should have an equal input.
To that end cross-department working is key. It is highly unlikely that the user cares which department is providing the service and more that the services are delivered in the way they want. Breaking down the barriers of the traditional departmental way of thinking will allow disruptive ideas to flourish and could well bring about your Enigma moment as well as making sure that all staff feel involved meaning the end product is more likely to succeed.
Ability to adapt
All of the above, however, would be for nothing if in 20 years’ time local government finds itself in the same position. To be able to adapt local government must create an agile model that allows it to adapt to changes far quicker than the present model. So while the current needs of customers should be looked at, developing a team that is able to change is also key.
The current situation has often been cast in a negative light but channelling a spirit of previous innovators local government can evolve into an even better provider that is able to respond to customers’ needs in ways that are unthinkable at the moment. We are only restricted by our current thinking and current cultural paradigm.
Lee Kemp is director of Coaching for Change