In this report, produced in partnership with the Public Services Academy (PSA), University of Sheffield and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), we look at the imperative of public service innovation by widening our analytical lens beyond the borders of the ‘developed’ world and learning from the experiences of the developing world – where ‘more with less’ has long been a necessary organising principle of public services reform.
The UK’s public services are entering a period of acute pressure. Faced with a ‘triple crisis’ – of social demand, variable productivity and fiscal constraint – policymakers are scrambling to balance crisis management with future planning and innovation. Councils and departments across the country face a daunting set of dilemmas: such as how to hold together fragile public sector confidence and local delivery partnerships, whilst at the same time thinking about generating effi ciencies and cutting costs.; and how to plan for a potentially extended period of fiscal austerity, whilst at the same time embracing the manrtas of creativity and policy innovation. Councils are also feeling both the opportunity and pressure of greater autonomy through measures set out in the Localism Act, the Open Public Services White Paper and (potentially in) the forthcoming local government Resource Review.
RSA 2020 Public Services at the RSA has argued elsewhere that this combination of policy flux and ‘triple crisis’ must be met with an approach based on long-term, coherent principle. We have set out our own framework for public services, which we call ‘social productivity’. This is a concept developed by the Commission on 2020 Public Services that denotes an analysis of public services based on the quality of the relationship between citizen and service. In practice, this points to a set of reform principles based on integration, collaboration and co-production – creating new partnerships between public, private and social stakeholders at a local and national level.
Public service innovation is fundamental to this approach. Without providing space for new ideas, policy creativity and citizen-driven change, policymakers risk creating closed shops for reform, and narrowing the options available to them at a time when exactly the opposite is needed. This is why we argue for ‘widening the lens’. At a time when creativity and innovation are critical, we should be looking beyond our usual boundaries for stories of ‘what works’ in dealing with debt and budget constraint at a local level, how communities can be mobilised to ‘co-produce’ public services, and how public services can better work with the grain of livelihoods, institutions and social networks within localities.
Download the report here.