What capability do public services most need in 2022 and beyond?

The degree of stress, pressure, and overwhelm seems to have been growing for the last twelve years, with crushing austerity accelerated by the twin crises of COVID-19 and “Brexit”.

We have learned that we can rise to the occasion, as heroes – but the slow crises are even harder to deal with.

The challenges of climate catastrophe and simply trying to really make a difference in the world of citizens and communities, to maintain basic services, asks the impossible of us over longer periods of time.

We have learned that the more we centralise, the more we lose the connections with people’s lives.

We have learned that *we* have to be the people we are waiting for.

And when it’s all, truly, too much, we need to start to play on a bigger stage. We need to focus on:

– the outcomes we can influence for people, not just the provision of services against demand.

– the strengths that people can bring to bear, not just their needs and what they lack.

– ourselves as a part of the community and place, not the centre of the universe.

We need to double down on continual learning, changing how we think about our work, and even our identity, as well as learning to do our work better, to create the #innovation we need.

And we need to focus on the ethics of being part of a community.

We identified twelve requirements for adaptive public services and the #adaptivecouncil:

1. Be highly effective in systems thinking and the navigation of #complexity to meet the inter-related complexity of these challenges.

2. Work across boundaries and lead collaboratively – because the capabilities of a single organisation are no longer able to shape the kind of outcomes required.

3. Balance the deep technical skills still needed to play our role and deliver services, with emerging projects and collaboration

4. Embrace ‘municipal entrepreneurialism’, a creative and flexible approach to outcomes and risk rather than defensive focus, to generate income

5. Be highly engaged with adult development, with a practical focus: the need to have more ability to make sense of complex situations

6. Develop effective, open governance – critical to enable the other elements and for democratic legitimacy.

7. To address the trust deficit, be trustworthy.

8. Develop insight-led understanding, based on real understanding of people’s lives.

9. Offer a new flexible employment approach to fit in with lives and priorities.

10. Shape culture and identity in the organisation, partners, and community.

11. Generate rich, multi-level learning by reflecting on our actions.

12. Act as equal citizens, breaking from the model of ‘provider and customer’

What’s the one capability you think public services most need in the #future?

7 thoughts on “What capability do public services most need in 2022 and beyond?

  1. Excellent piece, Ben. Seriously.

    So now I’ll put the boot in, just a bit..


    “What’s the one capability you think public services most need in the #future?

    ” Can’t pick just one, bit clickbaity…simplistic, not complistic. Or rather not NEXIAL

    So I’ll say #5 with #1. Because without those two, you can’t achieve the rest.


    Don’t like the word ‘lead’ … all to often local government preens itself with that word. So delete ‘ lead collaboratively’ and replace with ‘collaborate!

    ‘ To address the trust deficit, be trustworthy.’ Please don’t be doing that thing of turning processes into things. Trust is a process and a verb. Trust emerges from interactions. Read some Flores. Again. ‘Trust deficit’ is consultant bullshit, like carbon footprint. How the duck do you ‘be trustworthy’? By interacting honestly and not being a git – so say that.

    Don’t really understand ‘act as equal…’ do you mean respect?

    How do you shape a culture? I’d love to know!

    #11 is pure bullshit, leaking like sewage from the corpse of KM. You can’t generate learning. Resist the reification of the verb ‘learn’ There is no such things ‘a learning’ except in the minds of lying politicians and spads when they say ‘lessons will be learnt’. No they ducking won’t.


    But apart from that, well done. 8/10, see me at break.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL – fair enough all that.

      My clarifications / apologia:

      Lead… yes – like the ‘pick one’, very much clickbait – or at least intended to try to get things into the discourse a bit more than they would otherwise be…

      Trust: act in a trustworthy way, I think, is pretty reasonable: it does mean interacting honestly and not being a git – the reason that’s not the phrase is that ‘act in a trustworthy way’ was an adjacent possible from ‘build trust’ or ‘communicate to build trust’, and ‘act’ does at least shift the focus to ‘be trustworthy’ rather than ‘appear trustworthy’….

      “Don’t really understand ‘act as equal…’ do you mean respect?”

      That’s very much about the ‘what we value’ piece: not just respect, but respect as between equal citizens. I may be on one side of the counter, as it were, but as soon as I see myself as the Service and you as the Customer (or worse, myself as the Helper and you as the Poor Sick Miserable Person), something is lost. Much more could be said about this, but not in a listicle LinkedIn post…

      “How do you shape a culture? I’d love to know!”

      You get the hierarchical leaders to predict how their groups of people will answer generic workplace questions (like ‘I trust my line manager’, ‘my work is worthwhile’ etc), ask the people, surprise the managers with the actual results, then coach the managers to run focus groups to find out the stories behind the scores, and the core gut emotional experiences that those stories (which will usually be – or can usefully be seen as – of the behaviour of leaders, the systems policies and process of the organisation, and/or organisational symbolism).
      It’s important they police each other in these sessions, and don’t defend, apologise, explain, or argue.

      Then you get them together to think very seriously about what they’ve done… and think how they could persistently and consistently change some of those things, in ways they think might trigger more positive gut emotional responses. Then you have them try it. See what happens, try again… etc.

      11 – well, maybe. It’s true KM is dead… but what I mean is build in practices that regularly ask ‘what have we learned’? and ask it about ‘how we did things’, ‘how we understood what the work was to do’, and ‘how we thought about our identity and purpose’…


        1. I think my underlying point, and it’s a very general one, is that your list needs to be written in such a way that it points to observable action s in the world rather than personal qualities which may or may not exist, it may or may not be embodied by an individual.

          If, and I’m not planning to, if i were to attempt a rewrite, I would be drawing in the work of David Grove in Clean Language, and the work of BDA, the Flores-founded consultancy.

          Liked by 1 person

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