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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to create social productivity – think outside the organisational box

By Charlotte Alldritt

Matthew Taylor’s blog on social capital this morning is a good counterexample to the myth that low income families are less able to engage with public services and their communities for lack of the time and energy enjoyed by the middle classes.

As Matthew suggested, there is a lot to be said for government and public services changing their cultures and institutional incentives “to enable managers and front line workers to engage citizens as co-producers of public value”. But I would argue that organisations need to think beyond themselves – their systems and structures – in trying to encourage social productivity. Instead, they need to consider the multiple ways in which people are motivated and live their lives.

The difference between Mario Luis Small’s thriving community and the childcare centre where parents didn’t even show up for a pizza party showed that social capital is created when citizens deciding for themselves that their involvement leads to better outcomes. The article suggests some of the ways they might be motivated to reach this conclusion, including:
• Financial incentives are just one of many reasons people feel inspired to work together; it is cheaper (in pure monetary terms) for mothers to volunteer their time in taking children to the zoo or museum than to pay the $300.
• Reciprocity – the promise of future help/support in return – I’ll pick your child up from school if you can return the favour another time.
• Friendship – social networks and relationships are the bedrock of human happiness – in meeting other parents and families in the neighbourhood we’re building our own, new community in which we feel a close sense of belonging.

Fear of cuts might to act as a financial incentive. We know from behavioural economics that we are ‘more averse to loss than gains’ and a snippet from Liverpool on the Today Programme this morning suggested this might be the case in practice (e.g. community groups buying out local pubs which would otherwise close).

But how might organisations and/or government ‘sell’ the other social benefits of coproduction? (“Come, volunteer – you might meet some new friends!” isn’t such a bad pitch when loneliness is said to be a hidden ‘epidemic’ of modern times.) If we can build social capital on a foundation deeper and more sustainable than financial incentives alone, we might root our principle of social productivity more firmly in the values we are trying to instil for our communities.

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Posted by Charlotte Alldritt at 1:05 pm
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Public Opinion Number 1

By Henry Kippin

Today ive been writing a short piece with my colleague Paul.  It is an introduction to a report we are co-publishing with the RSA, which is based around a review of public opinion on public services put together by Ipsos MORI

The review pulls together qual & quant data on what citizens want, need and value from public services, and engages with live debates on fairness, localism, choice and engagement.  We are publishing the whole thing on March 18th

The 2020 Commission’s interim report will emerge on the same day.  And although a lot of the citizen opinion work has influenced what is said in the interim report, the documents will feel very different.  Writing the intro, I wondered whether this is a problem.  Our commission is broad, with a range of political and vocational interests. So its interim recommendations are also broad, and reflect a way of thinking that could be applied in different ways by different people. 

But working around the hard numbers of citizen opinion is slightly different.  The public overwhelmingly dislike the idea of local variation in public services – yet our commission is likely to advocate a less centralised system.  75% of the public think that efficiency savings will suffice in the face of a spending squeeze, yet our commission will suggest otherwise.

The question is how to interpret what people value.  Our report suggests that we a fearful of postcode lotteries, yet we really value the idea of local engagement and influence.  So: a more nuanced reading of the figures, taking some chances and reading between the lines, and trusting the public is what I think. As one interviewee told me last week, in enabling change, ‘framing is everything’.

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Posted by Henry Kippin at 7:05 pm
Monday, October 12, 2009

No moral bandwagons please…I need to be thoroughly convinced

By Charlotte Alldritt

I am an ardent fan of Michael Sandel, the US political philosopher who delivered this year’s Reith Lectures (see a previous blog, ‘Moral Markets’). This morning on Radio 4’s Today Programme he argued that the language of morals should be used in politics more than it has been.

Ethical issues, by their very nature, make for difficult political terrain. Yet in many cases, they cannot and (to adopt Sandel’s normative approach) should not be avoided. In domestic policy terms, for example, what is the fair and just way to make cuts in public services? How should public services respond to cultural and religious diversity? On the global stage, do we value the rights of civilians in other countries in the same way as citizens of the UK? If so, what does this mean for foreign policy?

Beneath the surface of many political issues lie questions with a deeper moral aspect. In terms of the MP expenses scandal, Professor Sandel says that public outrage in part “points to a broader frustration with democratic politics and accountability.” He says that people are yearning for politicians and parties to address ‘larger questions’ of moral or even spiritual meaning. As a result, he advocates a “more morally robust form of public discourse” that it is not just about “what works”, but “what’s right”.

The fact that moral and ethical issues are frequently so difficult to resolve is often indicative of their importance. It matters which side of the argument we fall. These debates have logical policy implications. Yet we must be careful to ensure that political discourse based on moral principles does not reduce to a battle of dogma. It is not useful to say that the country should go to war, or prioritise spending on child health services at the expense of palliative care, simply and/or only “because it is the right thing to do.”

Moral integrity is paramount, but ‘what’s right’ cannot be a blanket justification for any and every policy. Politics should be a rich discussion of issues where every angle, from the economic to the ethical, is considered. Sandel is right to remind us of the importance of the latter (politicians should not try to duck out). But equally, ‘what works’, where and why make up an important part of the rationale behind well-thought through policies that can stand up to Parliamentary and public scrutiny, and reach out to our yearning for meaningful democratic accountability. I need to be thoroughly convinced.

Professor Sandel is speaking at the RSA tomorrow on role of justice in our society and our lives.

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Posted by Charlotte Alldritt at 4:04 pm
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wi-Fi Highlights

By Henry Kippin

Free wi-fi on the east coast main line this weekend has allowed me to catch up on some work (unfortunately!), as well as browsing various online blogs, articles and football scores. A few highlights:

Browsing some reaction to George Osborne’s speech at the RSA last week led me on to this earlier blog by Matt Grist, who heads up the organization’s social brain project. His argument – that ‘gathering evidence is one thing; solving a problem another’ – has relevance for our own inquiry; and in particular the need for creative (detached?) thinking as well as evidence-based policy development.

Second, a recent speech by Iain Duncan Smith to the Heritage Foundation - an influential conservative US think-tank. The speech focuses on the renewal of the Conservative project, and attempts to find a place for his own work on social justice. He almost – but not quite – attempts to rehabilitate the idea of compassionate conservatism.

At the other end of the political scale, the Guardian on Friday published an article by Eric Hobsbawm, in which he offered his own perspective on what kind of society shoud emerge from the failure of socialism and the bankruptcy of contemporary capitalism. He argues for a ‘progressive’ approach that sees growth and affluence as a means, not an end. Moreover, ‘the test of a progressive policy is not private, but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals, but widening the opportunities and what Amartya Sen calls the ‘capabilities’ of all through collective action.’

His is a call towards ‘public action’ – which, if I understand it correctly, is in large part redistributive, but also demanding of a sea-change in the way we envisage our collective roles (and in particular, that of the state). No more ‘isms’, rather a holistic, collective effort at addressing the issues of our time.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Is fairness back in fashion?

By Ben Lucas

No one knows what the long term effect of this recession will be but there is an interesting debate to be had about whether one consequence could be a change in society’s values. Mark Easton had a good piece about this on the Today programme this morning, prompted by a call from Oxfam for the Budget to prioritise tackling inequality.

The conventional assumption is that recession will worsen poverty and inequality. This view comes out strongly in John Hill’s magisterial study of poverty, inequality and policy since 1997 (Towards a more equal society?). He concludes that whilst modest gains have been made in reducing inequality over the last 12 years, these may well be undone by a combination of recession and a very tight fiscal squeeze on public spending. The fear is that child poverty targets will be missed by an even bigger margin, as they recede into political impossibility, and that a new wave of mass unemployment will simply add to the long tail of intergenerational disadvantage which was already there at the outset of this recession.

But there is an alternative and more hopeful reading of the situation, which Oxfam, and the JRF, through its social evils project, are encouraging us to adopt. This is that the crash was caused by greed and the worst excesses of an irresponsible form of capitalism and that now is an era in which people will want to see much greater social responsibility and fairness. In support of this view it is interesting to note that whereas Margaret Thatcher was happy to talk about the ‘tough medicine’ that Britain had to swallow in the recession of the early 1980s, no party this time round wants to suggest anything as socially divisive.

Whilst the Conservatives are taking an increasingly financially orthodox position about debt, David Cameron has been at pains to say that they will not cut public spending like ‘robotic accountants’. And today, speaking at the RSA, George Osborne, once again underlined his party’s commitment to tackling inequality. Of course, the real test for both parties will be what they say in their manifestos and what they would do, faced with debt at 10% of GDP, after the next election. Maybe a public mood for fairness and greater social responsibility will force a new approach to spending which prioritises tackling inequality and which shares the post recession pain more equally across society. In that context Liam Byrne’s new fund to empower charities to campaign more effectively (also announced today) could help anti-poverty organisations make it very hard for any government to preside over rising inequality.

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