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26. June 2013

Better Outcomes

Cleaner Streets through Better Collaboration between a Parish and District Council in Lincolnshire

Her name is Joy and she is!

The starting point: resident complaints about littering in local hot-spots

Cherry Willingham is a picturesque village with over 4000 inhabitants three miles east of Lincoln and is still growing, largely as a commuter village for Lincoln. However, for some time local residents had been feeling more and more unhappy about the level of litter in their village. As a result, the Parish Council was receiving increasing complaints especially about the amount of litter on the stretch of road between two local schools and around the area of the shops.

Why litter picking by volunteers was not possible anymore

Previously the Community School had undertaken initiatives to clear litter from the area around their school but it had stopped this following a new health and safety policy. The Parish Council decided to employ a litter picker for a couple of hours a week, which worked very well in this very small area but led to questions from residents not covered by the scheme. However, the cost of staff to undertake such work over the whole village would have been prohibitive.

Why the match-funding scheme of West Lindsey District Council did not work first

Around 2010 West Lindsey District Council, in which Cherry Willingham Parish lies, started a co-operation scheme with local Parish Councils to supplement the cost of local litter pickers. This involved West Lindsey match-funding the hours paid for by the parish. This worked for the District Council because it stopped wasted travelling time by its staff and increased its own profile in the area. However, it did involve the collection of dog waste and litter bins, in addition to the work which the local litter pickers would normally undertake. 

The Cherry Willingham Parish Council refused to be involved in the scheme because they felt the collection of dog waste and emptying of litter bins was a service which should be provided as a core service by the District Council, that it would cost too much money which the parish would have to raise by levying more on the precept (which is the local property-based tax) and that they would be left to pick up the bills when the scheme failed. In brief, the Parish Council felt very suspicious about the motives of West Lindsey District Council.

How a more flexible litter-picking scheme was negotiated 

At the time, the Parish Council was inclined to be reactive and reluctant to take on extra work. However, the proactive Councillors bided their time and waited for the inevitable 'churn' (which meant a new Chair and a few more positive people in the Parish Council). At this point, in autumn 2011, the subject was broached again. This involved a lot of negotiation with the District Council to gain reassurance on several issues. No West Lindsey DC jobs would be put at risk, no extra costs would be involved and the District Council had to give a guarantee that it would not pull out and leave the Parish Council with an outlay it could not afford.

All these issues were overcome by talking them through, one step at a time. An arrangement with a local farmer to leave the commercial bins in his yard for collection by the District Council solved the storage issues. The District Council agreed to continue litter picking on the main roads and to empty outlying bins which were too dangerous or out of the way for the parish litter picker to deal with - and they also agreed to cover for holidays. An approach was made to the litter picker and she was delighted with the offer of extra hours and had no objections to adding dog waste removal to her job description. West Lindsey DC also provided all the necessary equipment and some Health and Safety training.

An arrangement with the local newsagent for his newspaper boys to litter pick the green on a Sunday meant the area was cleaned after the normal Saturday night take-aways (and the boys earned a little extra money). With these agreements, a six month trial took place in spring 2012, which was hugely successful it has now been extended indefinitely but the Parish Council still has the assurance that, with proper notice on both sides, the arrangement can be terminated.

Why Joy delivers better results for Cherry Willingham Parish Council

In the greater scheme of things, the outlay for the work is minor.  Cherry Willingham Parish Council and West Lindsey District Council pay just under £400 per month each and CWPC pay £45 every three months to the newsagent.  This actually involved nil extra cost to West Lindsey District Council, as its costs are covered from savings through its street cleansing team being released for other work and vehicle maintenance, lower petrol costs, etc. Cherry Willingham Parish Council raises its contribution to the costs through the precept, and residents feel that paying this small extra amount in local tax is good value. 

Consequently, the village now has a litter picker who works every day on set routes (and, with the Parish Council's agreement, increased hours in the summer months). Residents now have a much tidier village. Moreover, Joy, the litter picker, has become the eyes and ears of the Parish Council, reporting problems with street signs, broken bins and graffiti. She is a part-time employee of the Parish Council and, because she is local, is concerned about the village and can literally step out of her door and start work. She wears corporate clothing, which advertises her role and promotes West Lindsey DC, and she has become well-known on her rounds. She is, of course, fully trained and, because of her adaptability and sunny nature, is well liked around the area.

As a result, resident complaints about litter have fallen and the Parish Council is now talking about getting the schools involved in a litter picking event lead by the church leaders. It has also found that general issues are being picked up and reported much more quickly than before, so it doesn't have to wait until the next committee meeting to get action.

This guest blog was written by Anne Welburn, Councillor of Cherry Willingham Parish Council.                                                                                          


Cllr Anne Welburn

20. May 2013

Service Co-Design

The Case for Design in Public Services

Photos by Francis Clarke, taken at various thinkpublic public service workshops.


I want to use this post to set out in more detail what design has to offer and highlight the significant contribution it is already making in the world today. 

What's 'design'? 

Before I go any further, it's important to first clear up a few myths about design and its relevance to public services.

For some, design immediately conjures up images of too-cool-for-school elite tastemakers.

As someone who has worked alongside designers in Shoreditch I can confirm that there is more than a little truth in this view. At its best, however, design is a profoundly human activity. Far from being simply about surface gloss, good design thinks deeply about how people will use the product, service or experience to ensure the solution developed meets their needs, whether users are fully aware of them or not.

How can design help?

Designers use a range of powerful techniques to translate their ideas into practice. Here are three characteristics of design which make it suitable for tackling major social challenges.

In the interests of transparency, I should say that I have drawn on some of the thinking carried out by the UK's Design Commission for their excellent recent report, Restarting Britain 2: Design and Public Services.

1. Good design starts from the point of view of real people's experiences

This might seem blindingly obvious but it is amazing how many change processes are not primarily rooted in the experiences and needs of those who will use the service. For example, given the well-documented barriers people on low incomes currently face accessing services online, the decision to make the current Universal Credit pilot schemes 'Digital by Default' suggests user experience was not driving the project.

A common technique for capturing people's experiences and needs is direct observation. For example, when working for the thinkpublic design agency to redesign Barnet Council's online Adult Social Care services, I held a workshop in which users were observed interacting with the existing council website.

Through observation we discovered users encountered many common accessibility barriers, like the size of font size and colour. More importantly, we quickly noticed there was a fundamental misunderstanding over the purpose of  the website. Users expected to be able to use it to get answers specific to their circumstances and book services as they  would do a train ticket. The council, on the other hand, had viewed the site primarily as a source of general information. 

My project team used these and other observations to drive service improvements. Together with other techniques, observation almost certainly gave us richer insights than would have come from more traditional engagement tools, such as resident satisfaction surveys.

Another great example of where user experience has driven service transformation is GOV.UK, the new place to find government services and information. To know more about the development of the service, click here.

2. Good design helps us to develop new ideas, not simply borrow from the past

Anyone who has ever worked on pressing social challenges - such as how to respond to the ever-increasing need for  Adult Social Care - will no doubt be familiar with the following nagging doubt in your head: 

"How do I know I've selected the best option for redesigning a service and what if it all goes horribly wrong?"

In an ideal-world decision-makers would make decisions after careful, objective examination of all the facts. This is the Holy Grail of evidence-based policy making. In practice, however, evidence is often in short supply and what there is tends to relate to evaluation of past interventions. While learning from the past is important, we also need a framework for developing wholly new ideas and anticipating the challenges of the future.

Think Different

This is where design can help. Structured creativity provides a framework to help people 'break the rules', so that out-of-date rules don't stand in the way of original thinking.

  • For starters, closely examine your challenge and the laws, regulations, policies and traditions which affect how you act in your role.
  • Now imagine that ANYTHING is possible - what would you do differently in order to achieve your goal? 
  • Getting back to reality, are there any ideas you came up with which you could actually consider trying out? Are the barriers you thought were fixed actually more flexible than you first thought? 

Using the previous example of Adult Social Care services in Barnet, structured creative thinking could help people think differently about who is best placed to create and maintain online service information. As 'experts through experience', could Adult Social Care users provide better and more up-to-date information than Barnet Council, using a system akin to Wikipedia?

Developing and Testing New Ideas

Design not only supports original thinking, it provides a cost effective means of testing new approaches. Prototyping is the name given to quickly developing, testing, and improving ideas at an early stage before substantial resources are committed to implementation.

Before spending money on a  new Wikipedia-style council website, council officers could hold workshops with Adult Social Care users to see how much appetite there is for the idea, using pieces of paper to mock-up what a future system should look like and explore how it could work. Learning from workshops and similar activities could then be quickly fed back, resulting in either the idea being built on and improved or being ruled out in favour of other ideas.

For a great example of how prototyping was used to develop a brand-new Community Coach service at Barnet Council, click here

3. User involvement is at the heart of good design

A common thread running through the previous examples I have given has been the importance of involving people who will be affected by a change process. This may seem simply a matter of common sense. After all, who knows a service better than the people who use it? Design thinking provides practical techniques for making user involvement both enjoyable and productive.

A good example of where design techniques have underpinned user involvement was the redesign of a voluntary and community sector funding scheme in Argyll and Bute, which Governance International facilitated.

Faced with the need to make 15 percent savings over three years, Argyll and Bute Council invited local groups at an early stage to work together with the council to develop (or 'co-design') the new funding system.

At the first workshop a system mapping exercise was carried out to help participants develop a shared understanding of how the existing funding arrangements worked. Using Post-It notes and pieces of paper, participants were encouraged to record both official processes (what's meant to happen) as well as highlight informal practices. One person, for example, described a three month delay between being awarded funding and receiving the money, which created serious problems for their organisation. 

The mapping exercise did more than just capture the current funding arrangements. It also provided a natural opportunity for participants to share their experiences, identify problems and suggest improvement ideas. Insights were ordered using an affinity diagram approach, whereby a facilitator supports participants to identify common themes and prioritise areas for development in future workshops. The end result was a new, streamlined funding system which focused on outcomes and minimised paperwork.

Future Opportunities

The case for embracing design culture and techniques to achieve social objectives has never been stronger. Rising public expectations, a rapidly ageing population and deep reductions in funding mean our public services are under unprecedented pressure. Whilst by no means a panacea, design offers a set of techniques for thinking and responding imaginatively to the challenges we are facing. As such, I will continue to urge everyone with an interest in tackling social challenges to keep an open mind about what design has to offer.  

This blog was written by Francis Clarke, freelance Public Policy, Social Innovation and Digital Technology specialist.

Co-Production Around the World

Co-Production as a new perspective for the Swedish welfare state?

View on Kiruna from the old mine (Luossavaara) to the new mine (Kiirunavaara)


Sweden is known for its universal welfare state, high taxes and strong focus on economic and social equality. Indeed, the path towards the Swedish welfare state model has been characterised by an expanding public sector which has funded and provided professional public services to every Swedish citizen regardless of social class. Can such a model still be financed in a time of austerity? And is it still desirable?  Is public service co-production an alternative to the way public services have been commissioned and delivered in Sweden?

Co-production as a new political agenda in Sweden

The concept of co-production is regarded as new in Sweden, even if we can discern several classical examples of co-production in the Swedish welfare state. The Swedish concept of medskapande perhaps comes closest to co-production and has gained some attention in the public debate. However, with Elinor Ostrom winning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009, her academic perspective on co-production may gain more prominence in the future.

One area which has always stood out in the Swedish welfare state is childcare, where co-production is more significant. According to Johan Vamstad between 10-15 percent of child care in Sweden is provided by parent cooperatives which rely strongly on the engagement of parents. Interestingly, this form of co-production goes back a long time. The first parent cooperatives were developed in the 1970s to offer a pedagogical alternative to the childcare provided by local councils. They increased significantly in numbers after a highly controversial political reform in 1985 which allowed the cooperatives to receive public funding. Indeed, it was the well-known Prime Minister Olof Palme who famously warned against non-public childcare as making 'profits from children' and creating 'Kentucky Fried Children'. The reason why parent cooperatives were allowed public funding was because the public sector did not manage to meet the demand for childcare services at the time. Co-production was therefore introduced for financial reasons, even if better education outcomes were stipulated as the main reason in the government's proposals.

However, childcare is not the only service sector using a co-production approach in Sweden. The region of Jönköping together with the municipality of Eksjö and its neighbouring municipalities redesigned the regional health care system between 1997/1999 based on design thinking. Extensive customer journey mapping of patient pathways to recovery was complemented by a culture change program based on 'patient charters' and quality circles based on trained coaches. This so-called 'Esther approach' has already received wide-spread interest in Scotland and Wales. Involving users, particularly the elderly, has become a more and more dominant and permanent element in this concept. At such events, professionals working in elderly care in municipalities and health care employees are able to learn from users telling stories about their experiences and their needs.


Another internationally widely regarded co-production approach is the new value system and patient-driven health model introduced by the consultant Jörgen Tholstrup in the gastro-enterology unit in the Highland Hospital in South Sweden. The changes introduced by Jörgen in 2001 resulted in a new relationship model between patients and the healthcare system: The traditional hierarchical relationship between consultant and patient was replaced by a network model where the team and the patients are partners and where the patients supported by their social network are responsible for their own health.

In local diabetic associations members co-produce their own health care together in various parts of the country. They illustrate a classical example of co-production based on close cooperation with public health authorities. Similarly, supervised patient self-dialysis at the Ryhovs Hospital in Jönköping provides another clear example of organised co-production in Swedish health care. The region of Norrbotten in northern Sweden covers a large sparsely populated area. The county council, responsible for health care has introduced telemedicine. Patients are both given equipment to do their own medical tests and IT equipment to be able to send the results to the doctor. They do part of the job themselves and they can minimize visits to the GP, often quite a long journey. Doctors testify that patients feel secure and that they tend to stick better than usual to the agreements they make at the outset of the treatment. Even quite old patients who have never before used a computer manage surprisingly well. This project has not yet been evaluated but is included in an ongoing large-scale EU study. Sweden also boasts a variety of self-help groups which focus on physical, psychological or social problems. However, their collaboration with public authorities varies greatly, ranging from close to distant. Many of them question the narrow scope of established professional models, and the Swedish Alcoholics Anonymous provides a good example of this.

Last but not least, the City of Umea received the European Public Sector Award in 2007 for its co-production approach in cultural services for and with children. This meant setting up the new cultural department Kulturverket in the local council which works closely with local schools to facilitate learning through creative cultural approaches. All Kulturverket projects are based on the co-production approach of 'Kids tell the pros what to do'. The ideas, thoughts and creative work of children are developed together with older pupils, students and 'the professionals' (practising artists and cultural organisations). The children and young people are the creators, and take an active part at professional exhibitions, shows and concerts but it is grown-ups with their experience, knowledge and resources who actually make it happen by implementing the ideas of the children and young people. At present, Kulturverket is working with children and artists on a number of large-scale co-production projects such as Fair Opera, Fair Ground and Fair Game which will be performed in 2014 when Umea will be the European Capital of Culture.   

© Frida Hammar

Strong professional ethos as a key barrier to co-production

However, public service co-production still remains a rather rare plant in the Swedish public sector. It is often limited by the strong professional ethos and authority of public service providers.  The common view has been that service quality is guaranteed by the training and expertise of professionals. In recent years, though, the National Board of Health and Welfare has launched the concept of evidence-based practice within welfare services. A key element of this way of looking at implementation of social welfare services is that the knowledge of users is an important ingredient, along with professional knowledge and available research. Although there are probably still some social workers who think 'we are the ones who know what is best for the family', there are valuable examples in some municipalities  of a very different approach, valuing the experiential knowledge of users. In some municipalities user boards have been established. The users are people who need support to be able to cope with their lives. The user boards have led, for example, to a rewording of application forms and to radical changes in the web pages of the municipalities.

The strong professional ethos is not the only factor that might be an obstacle when trying to promote co-production in the Swedish public sector. The longstanding strong pact between labour unions and public sector employers can mean resistance to giving power to a third party, such as users or their organisations.

Nevertheless, the research by Johan Vamstad* shows that twenty-five years of co-producing childcare have resulted in better service quality, both from a user/parent and staff perspective.

Development of co-production at local level

While Swedish policy is far from questioning the welfare state, the public sector is changing. There has traditionally been little competition between public service providers but freedom of choice has recently become a political objective in the Swedish welfare state. Both in health care and within elderly care, private providers have become more common, particularly in the urban areas around the three biggest cities.  There are also initiatives such as Famna (The Swedish Association for Non-Profit Health and Social Services) aiming to develop the capacity of third sector organisations to deliver social services. Representatives of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) have visited the UK to learn about co-production approaches and receive briefings from Governance International and leading co-production champions. This was part of preparations for SKL before the board during 2012 decided that co-production should be one of the priority issues during 2013. Quite a few other actors also have arranged conferences and initiated studies, indicating that co-production is now becoming an issue in Sweden. The National Board of Health and Welfare has recently released some guidelines for user involvement in the social area.

In November 2012 Ersta-Sköndal University College, together with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, arranged a one day workshop in Stockholm under the heading 'From Passive Recipients to Active Co-Producers' (Från passiva mottagare till aktiva medskapare) to promote courses for social workers and health care workers about activating clients and patients as co-producers of public services. In 2013 the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions decided to elevate co-production or 'medskapande' to a 'priority area' in its own developmental work under the title 'Users and patients as active co-creators'. This will involve documenting good examples and undertaking some studies about the impact of co-production when it is more systematically introduced. In the autumn 2013, conferences are planned with politicians and managers in municipalities and county councils as the main attendants.

*Johan Vamstad (2012): Co-Production and Service Quality: A New Perspective for the Swedish Welfare State, in: New Public Governance, the Third Sector and Co-Production (edited by Victor Pestoff, Taco Brandsen and Bram Verschuere), pp. 297-316.

This blog was written by Victor Pestoff, Professor Emeritus in Political Science, Ersta-Sköndal University College, and joint editor of the book 'New Public Governance, the Third Sector and Co-Production'. 

13. September 2011

Good Governance

What Austrian and UK local government can learn from each other


In July, Governance International arranged a visit of Martin Huber, CEO of the Salzburg Local Government Association, to LGiU to share practice between the two organisations and to learn from each other. Laura Wilkes, LGiU, organised a very interesting programme at LGiU and also set up a visit to Birmingham City Council. Here is what Martin Huber learnt from the two visits:

My recent visit to London and Birmingham was to look into how English local government is trying to cope with the fiscal crisis. It left a lasting impression on me.

Firstly the scale of the  challenges facing local authorities in the UK is remarkable. The current social and economic problems are far greater than in Austria - and quite a lot tougher than I had presumed. Indeed, the reductions in local council staff in the UK would be unthinkable in Austrian local government. Basically, local authorities in Austria cannot dismiss staff, as people are civil servants for life or have a very strongly protected employment status. Therefore, Austrian local authorities have to cut other costs in order to reduce current expenditure levels. Indeed, seven out of ten local authorities in Austria are currently not able to balance their budgets anymore. I was interested in learning about the kinds of strategies that UK local authorities use in order to achieve efficiency savings and to see if these strategies might be transferable.

For me it was thought-provoking to find out how local authorities are weighing up very different options for delivering various public services in the future: providing the services themselves, externalising them to private or third sector providers, or sharing the provision with someone else, or - where no cost-effective way is found - stopping the service, either completely or  partially. In Birmingham, for example, the City Council has set up a public-private partnership, Service Birmingham, to undertake all its customer contact and to help it transform all its public services - this is a joint venture, partly owned by the City Council and partly by Capita, a large private sector provider of public services, with the profits to be shared by the two partners. 

In Austria, many local authorities have also semi-privatised their utilities and other public services but local authorities still have a long way to go in sharing provision with other local authorities or even other administrative levels. Smaller local authorities have already become active in running shared services with neighbouring local authorities but in big cities an Austrian citizen may find two Citizen Advice Bureaus within 100 metres offering exactly the same services, one run by the municipality and the other one by the county. Stopping a service is also almost impossible when a local authority has to provide a service on behalf of central or Land (regional) government - as is the case for most public services in health and social care. This is why we currently have a very strong political debate about reform of the central-Land-municipality financial redistribution system in Austria.

I believe that we can also learn from the UK approach to commissioning from the voluntary sector. At present, most local authorities in Austria provide funding to voluntary associations on the assumption that a vibrant civil society is important for a strong local democracy. However, as local authorities have to reduce grants to football clubs, local music bands or other local associations there is now a debate on meaningful performance indicators which demonstrate to what degree their activities contribute to socially desirable outcomes. Most progress has already been made in the grants system for improving the quality of life of young people.

What struck me in the UK is that localism is now a hot topic, but the position of central government is still very strong. I am convinced that British central government will sooner or later realise that one of the most important requirements for solving the current economic problems and social conflicts is to strengthen the local level now. I believe this because locally people have real capacity to make things better - and to give them sufficient resources, funding and responsibilities to take on more of the tasks which central government is less able to perform.

Actually, if UK local authorities are still uncertain about what 'localism' means in practice, they need to visit Austria. Here, local councils benefit from local autonomy in budget decisions and public services and are free from interference from central and Land levels of government. This means there is no 'one size fits all' solution but things are done differently in different places - without the widespread criticism that I heard in England about the inequities of the 'postcode lottery'. There is also strong local accountability through a directly elected mayor - most Austrian regions have adopted this model for their municipalities.

Although administrative structures in the UK and Austria are quite different there are similarities in  the current challenges we face. This includes: demographic change (particularly the ageing population in rural areas); loss of confidence in the political establishment at several levels (especially the European level); 'booming growth' in the metropolitan engine of the economy (London in the UK, Vienna in Austria) - these are only a few examples. At the same time, there are also stark differences - for example, social cohesion is a lot stronger in Austria than in the UK. This is partly because the level of unemployment in Austria is much lower in the UK but also because Austria has always had a strong tradition of a welfare state, characterised by a culture of dialogue and partnership working between social partners.

However, with increasing costs of public health and social care, we need to reform the Austrian welfare state model. In this respect the current UK debate on the 'Big Society' and public service co-production is very instructive. So maybe we are all working towards the same vision of a more collaborative state, even though we are coming from different directions: In Austria, we clearly need less government but need to trust citizens more, accepting that they can help themselves. It seems to me that in the UK the state needs to rebuild trust with some of disenfranchised parts of society and invest resources into peer support schemes. Although this is already showing first results, it could be much more effective if it were systematically supported by the state.


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