I recently re-read the IPPR’s publication The Relational State: How recognising the importance of human relationships could revolutionise the role of the state, published in November 2012, which argues that improving relationships between those who deliver services and those who receive them are vital to the future of public services. The report also had political implications as the New Statesman reported at the time.
This approach goes beyond the New Public Management approach of targets and markets with its focus on measuring delivery of services and instead is all about understanding the richness of social networks in building resilience and encouraging change, including behaviour change, as an oblique offshoot of those conversations and relationships. There are many tangible aspects where people’s social networks and their relationships with service providers impact on delivery of services as Thomas Neumark of the RSA has commented here and here.
I should at this stage point out that this alternative approach can itself still be measured to ascertain value for money, through new techniques such as Narrative Capture, Social Network mapping and Values Segmentation. This need for change reflects the fact that many of our future challenges in areas such as public finances and public health, are about intractable long-term problems that cannot be resolved through simple solutions and require long-term engagement.
TCC has done some pioneering work with local authorities around effective communication, developing deeper and more empathic training for staff, and working with people in the community to engage with their friends and neighbours, to assist those Council’s in building community cohesion and engaging over service transformation.
This new approach can be summed up straightforwardly as one of Relationships and Conversations. Both are equally important as this recent article in the Guardian Local Government Network shows. The Leader of Lewes Council makes the point very well:
“At Lewes, we’ve taken the first step towards changing our public participation when the council’s cabinet signed up to the Democratic Society’s “principles of local participation”. These principles include our commitment to an openness and transparency that goes far beyond the usual consultation process – “here’s a 200-page PDF, now tell us what you think”.
“We’re looking to change attitudes across the council, so staff feel able to collaborate with anyone inside the authority or beyond to design, test and deliver better public services. At town and parish level we will be starting a series of open policy and participation experiments across the district. It’s important to say this democratic conversation is not the same as consultation, although consultations can be part of it. Instead it is about creating the spaces and the attitudes that support participation – not just from citizen to state, but from citizen to citizen.”
The last point, where he says, “It’s important to say this democratic conversation is not the same as consultation, although consultations can be part of it”, is important. Relationships and Conversations in order to be real have to be ongoing and open-ended. It made me think that in order to drive forward the idea of the Relational State, perhaps we need a Conversation Institute as much as we need a Consultation Institute.