Mass collaboration has come of age

matthewpikeEd Miliband’s ringing endorsement of the local government innovation task force this week has capped a slew of commitments and half promises from all parties in recent days to move power outwards and downwards, from Whitehall to town hall, over the course of the next parliament. For this week, let’s hope not for this week only, local is the new black.

The question of course is what version of ‘local’ we are meant to be signing up for. At times there seem to be as many flavours of ‘local’ as there are local authorities – some pushing the boundaries, some laying the ground work for future change, some managing retreat from former entitlements and still others in a state of crisis.

The instinctive pioneers among local authorities who refuse to accept a dilution of vital support for the most vulnerable can draw some comfort and inspiration from an emerging global movement – outlined in my IPPR report, Mass Collaboration, released today – that is characterised by:

Honesty: that none of us have all the answers to the complex social problems that now face us – we must work together to pioneer new solutions;

Confidence: that we already have, between us, the resources and freedoms required for deep reform – the challenge is one of building more effective working relationships;

A sense that a top-down, mass-production model of change has run its course and a new model of bottom-up, mass collaboration has come of age.

Whether we examine the highly collaborative forms of the new digital economy, the more than 500 major ‘collective impact‘ programmes across whole cities or states in the US (each offering a decade long commitment from hundreds of organisations of all sectors to work together), or the efforts across Africa to redesign market systems to better support the ‘bottom billion’, there are the same clues of a fundamental change in approach.

Public purchasing practices need radical overhaul

to prevent the creation of ever more powerful private monopolies

What is exciting is the growing evidence from this work that it is possible to achieve both a step change improvement in the well-being and life chances of citizens and also reduce demand and cost burdens on the system over time.  It is possible to reduce spend on crisis support for complex needs-related services and welfare payments and put more money back into solving people’s problems the first time around and building people’s capacities for self-help and mutual aid.

There is no free lunch here and system change is hard and takes a whole new style of public leadership. Nevertheless the results on offer are worth the effort. Take the remarkable Strive Together programme in the US which has produced 10% gains and more across entire school populations. Then there is the service design work in the UK, promoted by Locality, which suggests the potential for saving £16bn by building neighbourhood teams of supporters that work to address people’s needs as quickly and well as possible – preventing far more costly demands upon the system in the future.

My report reviews the policy toolkit required by local leaders in the years ahead to involve hundreds of organisations and thousands of service users in long term redesign of local systems so that they can work for people. Simplistic and top-down payment by results contracts should be scrapped and replaced with a new model of payment for success that each year cuts the lowest performing services and reinvests in the best.

Public purchasing practices need radical overhaul to prevent the creation of ever more powerful private monopolies; with smaller contracts, more appropriate tender requirements, a focus on track record, better supply chain management, a duty on funder and funded to collaborate.

We also need grant investment in vital shared institutions like Sure Start centres and community anchor organisations. We need five year budgets for all local public agencies, so that they can invest for future savings with more confidence. There is a burning need for more ‘shared public purse’ arrangements, where both local and central agencies pool funds targeted on specific challenges and groups of people.

What is becoming clear is that 10% and more productivity gains are possible over the next five years which translates into: more people’s needs met more quickly and satisfactorily, more people’s strengths developed to support self-reliance, more and better outcomes for people – whether set by the individual or their support organisation – and finally reduced demand pressure on the state and increased tax revenues.

The final piece of the jigsaw is the investment required to help localities do the heavy lifting of system transformation – designing, testing, growing and scaling new solutions. It is for this reason that we propose a major new collective impact fund that will share risk and return between investors and the public sector through shared purse arrangements.

The ideal model would be not for profit, offer money that was flexible, patient and adventurous – able to invest in a whole portfolio of organisations and projects and offer a new way for local organisations and people to reinvest in social regeneration in their own backyard. Watch this space.



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