An event on how technology, big data, and even robotics can transform public services was held at the Conservative Party Conference last week.
Organised Manchester Met’s research-led think tank Metropolis, in collaboration with REFORM, speakers included Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who spoke about how she felt the government can do more to drive innovation in public services.
Even a post-it note can make a difference…
Liz Truss opened discussions by saying that for public services to work well, they must adopt two forms of innovation – continuous improvement and disruptive innovation.
She talked about examples of continuous innovation she’d seen at a recent visit to Worthing Hospital. The hospital uses kaizen techniques to influence change, where teams on wards regularly write post-it notes about how systems can be improved.
This simple technique led to changes such as moving nurse desks to wards, allowing them to monitor elderly patients while they carry out paper work. She said the technique has led to an 80% reduction in falls.
Disruptive innovation is where ideas from outside the public sector, such as in business, can be used to improve public services. Her examples included the Michaela school, which used technology to help with marking, and in doing so, reduce teacher workload.
She concluded by raising the question as to how more can be done to incentivise public services to take the risks required to improve innovation.
Radical solutions to complex problems – a challenge for government
Professor Christopher Fox, Professor of Evaluation and Policy Analysis at Manchester Met, spoke next about the changing nature of challenges faced by the state.
Where these challenges were once difficult – such as providing healthcare to all – they are now more varied and complex in nature. Childhood obesity, the housing crisis and the rise of loneliness, for example, are all issues that cannot be fixed by one-size-fits all solutions
Given this, and the changing relationship between government and public services, he suggested that social innovation should be encouraged. This is where people are empowered to find solutions to their own problems.
Outcomes-based commissioning is one way of cutting bureaucracy and freeing up service providers to innovate. This is where government pays for the outcomes that services achieve rather than the services they offer. For example, through paying for the number of people job services actually get into work, rather than the number of unemployed people they help.
He also suggested more radical approaches such as personalisation. This is a method already being used in social care, where people are put in charge of their own budgets, so that they can choose how they can pay for the services they need. Such an approach could be extended to other sectors.
The challenge for government is how it commissions innovative services and how it responds to future challenges.
Change culture to boost innovation
Martin Routledge, Director of Community Circles spoke next. A formal social care worker, Mr Routledge expressed shock at how little things in sector have changed over the past 20 years.
He called for innovation beyond technology – such as cultural shifts, and models of care where communities work together rather than person-centred models.
He also urged the government to improve the rate of change, which he described as currently being of “glacial” pace.
Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, also spoke about innovative ways of making the best use of public funding.
She illustrated this through the example of using video technology. With up to 3000 cases being seen in magistrate courts each day, they can take up a large amount of police officers’ time.
Her solution was to set up video suites in areas where people live, rather than just in courts. This makes it easier for people to give evidence, and so releases police officers to spend time with other work.
Read more from Professor Fox on how public services should change in a blog post he wrote for Metropolis.
Metropolis will be holding an event for Parliament Week on 17 November. Visit the Metropolis website for more details.