In a previous post I covered some aspects of why local government could be considered a platform business, or at least could move in that direction. I’m enormously grateful to Stuart Boardman, Carl Haggerty and Tom Graves for supplying me with some challenges and suggestions in terms of developing these ideas. I’ve taken these suggestions on board and I think I’m in a position to outline the “top-level” of what the overall model looks like.  I’ve even got some ideas about the next level of iteration down but I might park that for later so I can get the big picture out.

So, to recap: Local Government (in this model) is a hub. It’s purpose is to connect people (and places) with needs to people with funding to people who can provide services to help under the governance and ownership of people with the political mandate to do just that – with the aim of improving the lot of the people and places under its jurisdiction.

Top level diagram

Top level of the local goverment platform model

In the traditional view local government has done all of this except for the bottom-left square. And I need to stress again that there’s no reason why it couldn’t continue to do so under this model – but in my opinion that might take away some of the value of the model.

Increasingly, in fact, the four corners of this model are being done by other people anyway. Local Government spends more time chasing grant funding; National, hyperlocal, regional and EU-wide policy reduces the room local politicians have to manoeuvre; service provision is increasingly diverse; and under the localism ethos individuals and community groups might start to commission services for themselves.

With the picture fragmenting, therefore, it is important to ask (as Tom Graves did) about governance and where it fits into the new landscape. Clearly governance is required: is public money being spent wisely? Are political decisions being taken for the right reasons? are services being provided fairly and efficiently? Are people’s (and places’) needs being adequately addressed?

Two things are therefore required to be added to the diagram. The first is data. Transparency of who is doing what, both with our money and with individual cases (subject to privacy and security rules); transparency of decision-making by politicians and officials; transparency of how services are being delivered by service providers. There is a requirement therefore for some quite meaty data warehousing and business intelligence in the centre – but this isn’t the whole story because effective governance needs the power to make changes. So the second thing we need to add are channels of control. I would suggest that these could all pass through the central hub – not sure if that’s a problem or not. We can park that issue for later. Either way, there is a requirement for a set of channels so that the various aspects of the model can govern each other (and I believe it does flow both ways in all cases).

Now lets make the thing functional. In the previous post I suggested the core functions that would need to be supported as

  • understand the needs of people and places under its care
  • search for funding opportunities that might help with those needs
  • curate a set of service providers and help to ensure the markets for each are broadly functional
  • provide a set of levers for those with a political mandate to push in order to deliver on political priorities
  • provide intelligence to all so that commissioning decisions can be undertaken intelligently.

So let’s add that to the governance idea and break this down a bit.

Political levers

Politicians need 3 kinds of lever: Strategic (how do we balance our spending portfolio for maximum return), Managerial (how can we influence the direction and performance of service delivery), and Individual (how can we advocate for particular cases in the system). (Arguably, politicians can’t and maybe shouldn’t do the last thing, but they do. That’s what surgeries are for.)

The strategic levers are satisfied by the commissioning centre: business intelligence to inform decision-making and capabilities to  actually commission the work required. At a managerial level, though, once we’ve split the provision from the commissioner then it is logically difficult to provide this lever of control aside from normal service level or performance management. A sticking-plaster solution might be to appoint politicians to NED level (or stronger) on the boards of the service provider organisations, but the actual solution will need to vary according to the kind of organisation we are talking about. On an individual level, it might be even more controversial (or even illegal) to allow a politician access to a service providers’ systems in order to influence the provision of an individual case, but either directly or via a proxy this level of access and influence will be required.

So although we can bake the first lever into this model, the other two both require standard contract terms to be instituted that allow for the necessary political “interference”. This might appear to be far from ideal, but if your company is delivering public services with public money then you might as well get used to it, in my opinion!

Citizen’s levers

In the final analysis, it is governance of the system by citizens that is most fundamental. Any individual citizen, however, is not all-powerful: democracy requires that we govern as an aggregate of people rather than getting our own way all the time. Nevertheless, we want to hold our politicians to account and the key demand here is transparency: let citizens have access to the same quality of intelligence that politicians use when making commissioning decisions so they can make up their own minds. In fact, lets just reuse the same set of systems to let them do it.

Secondly is the monitoring of service providers and their performance. In some cases citizens are co-opted onto management boards of public enterprises and if we want to do that then fine – but for the purposes of this system I think this is about giving citizens the same performance management data as politicians get. Again, lets just give them the same data and the same systems.

Third is the ability to submit cases (complaints, requests for services, feedback etc). These might end up anywhere and I think the job of the central “hub” is perhaps not to manage the cases individually but simply to route them to wherever they are best resolved in a fast and transparent fashion. I mentioned in a previous post that I don’t think we need CRM in local government: what I mean by that is that if everything else in this model works smoothly it won’t be needed.

The final lever for citizens is to allow them to commission services themselves. If an individual wants to make a difference in their community then they should be able to get help to improve their idea, apply for funding, and commission a service provider to do it. We are already seeing this sort of thing happening with personal budgets for social care.

Funders levers

Traditionally local government has raised its money through a central government grant, the Council Tax and business rates. However, other sources of funding exist and have been used for quite some time – EU grants, central government grants, the lottery, PFI initiatives, even private funding all play a part. So what do funding bodies need for their money?

Usually this is about two things: delivery and outcomes. If a funder funds a project it wants to see it completed and it wants to see the benefits of that project realised. Our hub must be able to track what money went where, how the project it supports is progressing, and what benefits are realised – otherwise we probably won’t be getting the same money the next time round. However, these processes are almost exclusively between commissioners and funders and the relationship between these two sets of people rather than some monolithic project management structure: commissioners (and there are going to be many of them, see above) have the responsibility to track their own projects. Since the Council itself is going to be doing a lot of that, it will need a system: it might even make that available to other commissioners, but the particular bit of the system that tracks individual projects and benefits is itself a service that can be commissioned. The “hub” merely needs to facilitate relationships.

Service provider levers

Of course, outsourcers have feelings too. It’s perhaps not as easy as it looks to have central or local government as your primary customer, even if it can (allegedly) be lucrative if you do it right. Service providers need the freedom to innovate their service delivery – wthin reason – but they also need support and standards and they need their feedback to be influential and to commission supporting services. So the first lever is that service providers are commissioners too and so they need the same access to intelligence, joined-up service delivery and channels that citizens, politicians, funders and council commissioners get.

Service providers that aren’t economically viable might be allowed to go to the wall in some cases, but in others they need to be constructively helped. This might mean the formation of local or national groupings of providers to lobby or to create shared platforms that provide core and common services to them. The commissioning hub must allow a seamless flow of clients, funding, and information to, from and between service providers and this must be based around recognised standards in order to work.

What’s in the box then?

These ideas lead to the central hub containing the following components:

  • expertise in the funding landscape, performance management, public engagement, (big P) Politics and data
  • a business intelligence toolset and competencies to crunch all the available data
  • a web channel that ties services together (in a service-oriented architecture style of thing)
  • document/records management that provides an archive of policy, actions and decisions
  • Master data management (ensures we don’t double-count people or places in our calculations, and ensures joined up case management)
  • Data warehousing (performance management, demographic, needs data on the full range of services)
  • middleware to join processes up.

Those components are lifted from the previous post, but this post is probably long enough already so I’ll stop there for now. The internal architecture of the hub is probably next, but this is an evolving picture in my brain so please let me know what you think in the comments below.