Issue 8: January 2014


By Jenny Brotchie, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Smart cities and smart services are about harnessing the power of ‘big data’ to improve our everyday lives. Undoubtedly this has the potential to bring about huge benefits – particularly if, as my colleague Douglas White wrote in the November issue of Scottish Policy Now we can bridge the ‘Digital Divide’ that currently exists in both urban and rural Scotland.

However an equally important element of future, smarter public services is something a lot more low tech. To really improve our wellbeing in the coming decades we will need to better harness the power of people, their strengths, experience, knowledge and connections, as well new technologies. How do we do this? Well, there are already some practical examples of ‘services’ in Scotland that are attempting to make this change.

We can all think of occasions in our life when we have needed a helping hand – a roof over our heads whilst we found our feet or informed feedback on a job application. Many of us also participate and benefit from local voluntary activity whether it lending a hand at a school fair or helping an elderly neighbour with shopping. It is easy to take all this for granted but it is worth considering just how important it is in terms of our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others around us. 

We have increasingly organised our society to ensure universal access to critical services. The state developed into a very effective provider of these services. Most of us are healthier, wealthier and wiser as a result of post WW2 public run education and health care. But unfortunately this is not true for all. We can see this in the gap in health outcomes between people living in deprived and those in more affluent areas in Scotland. For a significant minority the welfare state has failed them. 

….an equally important element of future, smarter public services is something a lot more low tech.

At the Trust, we believe that this is to do with traditional models of state support which work very well for the majority but not so well for significant minorities.

Decisions about priorities and delivery still tend to be made largely, by policymakers within specific departments. And, although there is broad agreement about the merits of prevention many public services are orientated to crisis intervention. Individuals in difficulty often find there are multiple doors to be knocked on to access the support they need and little opportunity for them to shape the support they receive in a way that really improves the quality of their lives. Crucially, local sources of support in family, friends, community groups or local third sector organisations are rarely factored in and there is often very little opportunity for individuals to use and develop their own capacity, connections or skills to improve their own wellbeing.

But what if the standard rather ‘top down’ model of public services was flipped and the starting point for public services was our own strengths, skills and aspirations and the sources of support already available in our local community? What if the role of the state was to be an enabler of individual and community capacity rather than simply a provider of ‘service’ packages.

These ideas about the role of the state and the future of public services are not new. In Scotland they are evident in the forthcoming Community Empowerment Bill and in early policy innovations as well such as the implementation of the three preventative Change Funds. It can also be seen in  the abolition of government department in the Scottish Government to unite the whole government in the pursuit of a set of national outcomes.

Such ideas  have also been gaining traction in other parts of the UK and further afield in countries such as Denmark and New Zealand.

In the Carnegie UK Trust’s recent report The Rise of the Enabling State we described 7 key, inter-related policy shifts that we believe collectively constitute a shift in thinking about the role of the state and public service delivery. We refer to these as the Enabling State:
•    From new public management to public value
•    From central to local states
•    From representative to participatory democracy
•    From silos to integration
•    From crisis intervention to prevention
•    From recipients to co-producers
•    From state delivery to the third sector

While there may be growing consensus on the theory, putting this into practice is much more difficult. However, in our new report The Enabling State: From Rhetoric to Reality we highlighted  12 case studies of ‘enabling practice’ from across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. From these examples we can begin to build a clearer picture of what the public services of the future in a more ‘enabling state’ might look like and what some of the challenges are likely to be in turning this vision into a practical reality.

… ideas about the role of the state and the future of public services are not new. In Scotland they are evident in the forthcoming Community Empowerment Bill and in early policy innovations as well such as the implementation of the three preventative Change Funds

Four of the case studies were from Scotland:
•    The  ALLIANCE Scotland’s Self Management Fund (see below for more information)
•    Inspiring Scotland’s Link Up Programme
•    The Violence Reduction Unit’s asset based approach at Hawkhill Community Centre
•    Laggan Forest Trust

Case Study: The Self Management Fund

The Fund came about as a recommendation of ‘Guan Yersel’  - a Self Management Strategy for Scotland which was prepared by ALLIANCE (the Scottish Health and Social Care Alliance) and coproduced with people who live with long term conditions.

The fund is open to voluntary or community organisations who are supporting people living with long term conditions. It can help them learn more about their condition, more effectively self manage and improve the quality of their lives. It has already helped voluntary and community organisations to support over 132, 789 people to reduce their reliance on traditional services and improve their ability to manage their own condition.

What unites all of the case studies, from across the jurisdictions is that the support provided by both the third and public sector bodies involved is founded on existing individual and community strengths,  abilities and aspirations and, the focus is on building mutual support networks within communities and beyond.

Some of the shared challenges included:
•    Securing leadership and financial support from the state:  public service environments can either be supportive (e.g.  by mainstreaming enabling approaches) or create barriers (e.g. by withdrawing funding)
•    Securing sufficient time: building deeper relationships with individuals and communities takes time.
•    Investing in the right staff: a large enough staff team with the right skills, training and support is key.
•    Securing a true commitment to an enabling approach: taking the time to rebuild services from the bottom up is critical.  

A final point. All of the case studies were reliant to some extent on public sector funding. This is critical. An enabling state does not mean of the removal of publically funded support and it is not a quick fix for current financial pressures. It means remodelling our public service environment and rethinking the way we use public resources to support some of our most vulnerable groups more effectively in a way that better taps into and builds on the strengths that already exist in our communities.  If we can do this we might just weather the growing financial and demographic ‘storm’ and at the same time improve our collective wellbeing.

Jenny Brotchie is a Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust.
More information on the Trust’s Enabling State work led by Carnegie Fellow Sir John Elvidge can be found here.
Follow Jenny on Twitter @Jenny_Carnegie

By Jenny Brotchie, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Issue 8: January 2014


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