The case for relational public services to solve complex 21st century problems
5 mins read
Andy Start, CEO of Capita Public Service, took part in a roundtable hosted by cross-party think tank DEMOS and chaired by DEMOS CEO Polly McKenzie on the theme of ‘Relational Public Services’. The private roundtable was the first in a series of Capita activities in partnership with DEMOS to provoke a wider conversation on public service delivery that goes beyond esoteric policy papers. Not only will these activities aid in reinvigorating this discussion, but they will also be used to shape future content and policy recommendations which recognise the need for healthy public attitudes to public services as part of our national renewal. The initial report, ‘The Social State’, can be downloaded here.
Over the last 18 months all sectors have adapted and made necessary changes in the face of unprecedented challenge; however more action is needed if we wish to continue to better public service delivery. The profound effects of the pandemic on public services have been greatly and widely discussed and, whilst they should not be neglected or forgotten, I instead would like to focus on the future of the sector. Public services are facing the threat of a standstill as demands and expectations continue to increase against the backdrop of increasing budget cuts and resource shortages. This is a pace of change and work that only 53% of senior government customers who we spoke to in a recent Capita survey think is possible to maintain or accelerate. Whilst as humans we prefer routine and the known, it is imperative that we grab the chance afforded to us by the pandemic to modernise our current public service provision, to deliver better outcomes to citizens which are fit for the next decade.
Capita’s purpose is to provide better outcomes, so if we are to shift our service delivery goal to achieve this we must also shift the way in which we measure performance. Contracts around the world are currently measured on outputs, and while this serves its function, it means that long-term outcomes across communities are not considered as a means of measuring success. When we begin to think in terms of outcomes, we recognise that tackling the root cause of issues, rather than reactively managing its symptoms, is not only better for the community, but also for those tackling the problem. For example, a council would be far more successful investing £50,000 to support a single family who are the source of anti-social challenges within a community, thereby tackling the root cause of an issue, rather than spending £20,000 every year for the next decade dealing with its symptoms, the aforementioned anti-social behaviour. By shifting our perspective to seeing outputs as stepping-stones on our journey to delivering better outcomes, we not only enable ourselves to work and think more holistically, but also allow ourselves to take a step back and view the results of our efforts as a whole. By widening our outlook in such a way, we open ourselves up to the possibility of uncovering new ways to tackle historically difficult challenges.
Since the 1980s, ‘new public management’ reforms have focused on making public services more effective and efficient using two predominant methods: bureaucracy and markets. Whilst these methods can successfully deliver outputs to resolve simple, linear issues, they are proving less capable to deal with modern, complex, interlacing issues. The need to radically change our public services is becoming increasingly clear as public expectation rises, and such multi-faceted issues grow in prevalence. These out of date methods are increasingly proving to be unviable paths to public service improvement in the face of such problems. To deal with progressively complex issues we require a more relational state that is better equipped to deal with complexity by interconnecting services and deepening relationships. Relational service delivery creates a web around the individual, mobilising the strength in the network and community, thus ensuring that the whole system acts to deliver a better outcome. Not only does such a method help to create a more rounded approach to problem-solving, but it also allows for more intensive and personalised engagement between citizens and public service providers. If we are to create sustainable change and deliver better outcomes for the nation, then we need strong, resilient, and economically prosperous communities, which relational public services would help us to build.
Capita has its part to play in enabling local public service organisations to deliver better outcomes in two key areas: productivity and citizen experience. For councils and health care providers to implement relational services they need to introduce greater automation to create time for workers to foster and develop relationships, whilst also increasing productivity. This automation would also aid in reducing administrative workload, whilst allowing for various data pools to be securely connected across agencies and ultimately, using AI and insight engines, provide a more comprehensive view of the citizen. In addition to the reduction of admin hours, this level of insight would allow public sector organisations and Government to focus on proactive interventions, thus investing now to prevent higher costs down the line.
But technology is only one part of the relational services puzzle. The second part is the citizen experience – not just at the interface of service provision, but across the entire lived experience. Yes, we can help our clients co-design new service interfaces with their customers; however, we also believe there is a deeper level of experience that needs to be tackled. For example, the way we design our streets has a massive impact on our everyday lives: they provide places for younger people to call their own and create spaces for communities to come together and network across diverse demographics – all of which is vital.
We find ourselves at a crossroads, with the chance to either break away from outdated models of public service delivery or to stick to the status-quo. We have the opportunity to think the unthinkable, do the previously impossible and create real change that will benefit UK citizens for years to come. But to implement such change, we must act now, before the challenges we face grow and become perceived as too great. When we look back at the start of this decade, I hope that we are proud of the steps we took to innovate and progress and do not regret the paths untaken.
I recently talked about the ‘The Great Opportunity: better outcomes through modernisation’ at the Society for innovation, technology and modernisation (SOCITM) Presidents Conference webinar – you can view the recording here.
Chief Executive Officer, Government Services
Andy leads the division which is a strategic partner to government in the application of digital transformation to improve the productivity of operations and to help deliver essential services to millions of customers.