Archive for December, 2010

Local Government and Chaos?

December 23, 2010

No, the title of this posting is not one about Council’s ordering less grit than last year for the current snowfall, or even that unpredictable small earthquake in Cumbria on Tuesday!

Instead I want to pick up on two recent articles in the Guardian and the Evening Standard which identify the use of Chaos Theory to drive change in local government as a result of the proposals in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill. These articles were written following comments by Conservative MP Nick Boles at a recent debate which is shown here.

It is worth reading the articles and watching the video in order to understand about the move to greater experimentation, unpredictability, oblique approaches and perhaps, in due course, even a greater tolerance of failed experiments in public policy. This is part of what a more “chaotic” approach will be about.

However it is also about “initial conditions” and that will vary in different areas not just due to differences in wealth or wider resources, but also due to the different needs, motivations and values of various communities. Those initial conditions are likely to lead to different outcomes and therefore put a premium on local insight to develop local Next Practice rather than simply adopting Best Practice from elsewhere.

The Guardian reports that the assumption is that “what will be unleashed will be what Norman Lamb, a Lib Dem MP and adviser to Nick Clegg, calls “competitive localism”. Richard Reeves, another Clegg adviser, describes the revolution as “postcode democracy”. This, of course, assumes that all areas will actually seek to compete equally.

However, we in TCC know from our own evidenced research data that, for example, people in Barking and Dagenham will respond to this freeing up differently to those in Richmond Upon Thames.

“Wikipedia government, collectively created by the impassioned, the invested or the bored”, is likely to appeal to some segments of the population, whilst some, with different values will see it as a threat.

Often, only a minority will be motivated to rise to this agenda and become local change agents. Local authorities may well need to develop ways of identifying and directly engaging with them.

Many within local government may not like these changes, as not only is it unpredictable, but things such as engaging with emotions will count as much as objective and rational approaches to delivery or the provision of information. We think that Values research can help  in order make sense of this new landscape of needs, motivations, emotions and values that will drive the new unpredictability of the “chaos era” of local government.

Charlie Mansell is the Research and Development Officer at The Campaign Company.

Public Health Outcomes and the Big Society?

December 22, 2010

The consultation on the Public Health Outcomes Framework was published on Monday and closes on 31 March 2010.

A smaller set of indicators, than in the recent past, are proposed to measure  the local performance of Council’s. In some cases they will be paid a ‘health premium’ – a financial incentive to encourage them, as the new lead bodies on public health, ‘to make progress on health improvement priorities and reduce health inequalities.’ Much of this is very positive and shows the broader political consensus on tackling this that did not exist 30 years ago.

What is interesting, when looking at the government proposals elsewhere, is that almost all the proposed indicators are “Big Government” and about the role of professionals. Very few could be described as “Big Society. Indeed the only two that did not require automatic leadership by paid professionals are:

  • Cycling participation
  • Social Connectedness

Some might argue that the other indicators do at least require co-production by individuals with professionals to achieve those outcomes, however the challenge is that if these are to be achieved with limited resources how does one prioritise this and identify those communities with values that are least likely to respond to behavioural change, rather than spread proposed interventions too thin.

What the proposed Outcomes currently seem to miss is that many of the separately recorded indicators all involve the same communities and target groups. Perhaps a more effective approach is engaging with lifestyles holistically and not produce yet another set of separate strategies for individual problems are likely to substantially overlap at a time when money is tight?

Behaviour change theory tells us that a lot has been invested in ability. In other words “bring the horse to water”, or more likely in the toughest cases “bring the water to the horse”. Yet many of those behavioural approaches also make the point that one has address motivation too.  In that case “get the horse to want to drink”!

We have argued through many other postings on this blog that a modern approach to this needs to include targeted values segmentation, network mapping, and using a range of behavioural and influence techniques to build and reinforce new social norms. These cannot simply be about presenting objective facts that people sit in workshops and consider in a rational way. We also need to frame things in such a way as to address the needs, emotions and values of a targeted community in order to motivate it!

Thus the consultation on the Public Health Outcome Framework should not be seen as just a menu of indicators for practitioners to make short-list of, but also an opportunity to debate the most effective ways we can deliver behaviour change for a pro-social benefit.

Charlie Mansell is the Research and Development Officer at The Campaign Company.

Decentralisation, Localism and Values

December 13, 2010

The Decentralisation and Localism Bill will be published this afternoon. It is likely to contain the following proposals:

  • Directly elected Mayors for 12 cities subject to successful referendums. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill also proposes elected Police Commissioners.
  • General Power of competence for local government. This is a long overdue reform that has been promised by governments in the past, but not been implemented to bring the UK in line with local government in the rest of Europe.
  • Abolition of many central government permissions – another welcome announcement
  • Community takeover of assets – this is covered in more detail below
  • Abolition of regional spatial strategies and Localised planning policy for defined neighbourhoods balanced by more incentives to build more homes through a Community Infrastructure Levy – also covered later
  • Require public bodies to publish online the job titles of every member of staff and the salaries and expenses of senior officials.
  • From 2011, all local authorities obliged to publish all spending over £500 online.
  • Give residents the power to instigate local referendums on any local issue and the power to veto excessive council tax increases through a referendum
  • Scrapping of regional development agencies and creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships
  • Abolition of the Standards Board Regime and ending “Pre-determination Rules” preventing Councillors from having to declare any public campaigning as an interest on a matter
  • Home Information Pack formally scrapped
  • Social Housing reforms including tenancy changes – likely to be controversial
  • Abolition of housing revenue account subsidy system

Whilst this is a significant set of changes, it is not a complete freeing of local government. Their finances are still subject to a subsequent review. In the meantime DCLG will retain reserved powers over any changes to local government taxation.

Some of the most important aspects are the new “rights” which local communities will have:

  • Community Right to Buy. Local groups will have a legal right to nominate any vital community asset including local shops, pubs, libraries and leisure centres to be recorded on a ‘most wanted’ list by the local council. If a listed asset goes on the open market, its sale will be delayed triggering a ‘community countdown’ that will give people time to prepare their business plan and raise the funds they need to bid.
  • Community Right to Challenge. This gives community or voluntary sector groups, as well as parish councils and council employees delivering the service, new powers to challenge and take over a local service. Under the new law, councils must respond to this challenge and consider the positive impact the proposal could have on the community. If the proposal is turned down the council must publish the reasons for this. This new right puts voluntary and charity groups in a powerful position when it comes to running public services and has the potential to open up new revenue streams for them.
  • Community Planning. Housing Residents will also be able to apply for new homes to be built locally if they believe there is a shortage of affordable housing or families need to be attracted into the area. Building schemes supported by more than 50 per cent of voters in a referendum would get the go-ahead – rather than the 75 per cent previously proposed by the Government. The scheme will operate in all types of community, and not just rural areas.

Will this lead to everyone exercising their new rights? Almost certainly no.

You may be aware of the “Right to Buy” from the early 80’s in which millions exercised their right. In the late 80’s a “Right to Repair” was brought in for some tenants, yet that has been used far less.

The values of people are likely to mean they some people are more motivated to take a more active approach to change things, whilst some see then more as a defensive right to be exercised to save an existing facility. A good example of the latter is the Sun Newspaper’s reporting of this from a safety and security point of view.

If these rights are to be effective across all communities, they need to be communicated effectively, with the right messages to the right audiences as well as measures to strengthen social networks and increase local social capital. The danger at this stage is that Local Government might not have the inclination, whilst the voluntary sector may not yet have the experience.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer at The Campaign Company.

The new technology of protest

December 10, 2010

Whatever the merits or demerits of the issues at stake in the debate on tuition fees, one of the things that can be said is how rapidly online social media is changing the nature of protest.

Protest which in the past might be one big call to arms by the organisers to make a statement, is also now made up of numerous people communicating in multiple ways to the world.

One of the reasons was the readily available mobile technology that can produce text, videos and audio as well as manipulate other online tools.

Looking at what happened there were four clear elements.

The most well-known element was realtime News Feeds.  We saw this come of age at the G20 demonstrations in London in 2009, but there was even greater usage in the last few week’s demonstrations. There was a Twitter Hashtag for the event: #demo2010. This gave a live feed from both people inside the kettled area of Parliament Square through to people watching events unfold from their armchair.

However a new development that appeared yesterday is that students were mapping Police movements on a live Google map. Give it a year and the Police will probably have to respond with their own public real-time map of demonstrators!

Also videos of the event were being uploaded almost live to websites. This was on top of the national news media live filming appearing on 24 hour news channels.

Audioboos, which are short audio tweets made from iPhones were being used by students to collect evidence of Police activity as and when it happened and were also linked to photos that related to the audio image.

This is all technology we at TCC are familiar with. What was impressive yesterday is that people used all these readily available tools to provide a range of information in real-time to the media and the public.

Future campaigns are likely to draw much more from this sort of live activity. Those involved in public policy cannot ignore this and will need to respond across all these platforms in real-time  as well.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company