Local Government and Chaos?

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.

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