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April 13, 2010

How to build the partnerships we need – five big ideas

Anecdotally we know that we get better outcomes if public services are delivered hand in hand with those who use the service – whether it concerns pupil attainment, recovery from surgery or preventing graffiti, the correlation holds true.  A recent study by the Young Foundation has come up with some empirical evidence to prove the point and five big ideas for building these much needed relationships

For full copy of report from Young Foundation click here

Extract from Public Services and Civil Society Working Together….

Five promising ideas

We need new tools to build ‘relational capital’ (or strong networks of relationships) between public services and civil society.

Firstly a series of roles for scouting good ideas and entrepreneurial capacity – local innovation brokers.

Secondly Community Dividends, a tool to incentivise more local action and reward both the citizen and the state for improved outcomes.

Thirdly opportunities to ‘sweat’ public assets – sharing the public estate with civil society to bring more disused buildings, play areas and land into temporary community use for delivering local outcomes.

Fourthly new local and national performance measures to reward the building of quality relationships with civil society and develop a better blend and balance of perception based measure of personal capability, resilience, influence and satisfaction.

And finally, a continued spur to improve local partnerships – better equipping individual public servants with training, tools and discretionary funding to make excellent partnerships a practice of the many, not the few.

The benefits and savings

We think these five ideas have the potential to do three things.

Firstly, to build better local partnerships between citizen and state – where social needs are met more creatively and services are transformed – through the development of relational capital.

Secondly, to create significant savings for the state. There are genuine opportunities to make medium and longer term savings – either by refining existing public service provision (through cheaper more efficient models) or removing the need for it (by building community capacity to improve local outcomes with less state intervention). While we suggest some up front investment is needed to pilot the ideas and prove the concepts, the thrust of this paper is not a call for government to ‘invest to save’. Rather, we suggest that by more readily utilising the capacity of civil society, there are realistic opportunities for the public sector to make savings or to use existing spending in different, more effective, ways.

And thirdly, to build satisfaction and trust with local services, where citizens feel connected to the design and delivery process. Such measures are both increasingly important ways of judging service performance and vital for re-engaging communities in local democracy.

Recommendations for government

Each of these five initiatives is a tool to make working with civil society easier and more rewarding for local public servants. Many can be acted upon now, or the principles behind them used to refine existing practice. We are pleased to hear that Barnsley, Essex and South Tyneside have already expressed an interest in rapid pilots during 2010.


But there is also scope for government to act. In particular we recommend:

Supporting a fast pilot scheme for each of the five initiatives, to demonstrate the benefits to local public servants and refine the proposals. This will require upfront investment from government and so each must demonstrate the capability to significantly improve outcomes and to save the money.

Developing a Community Entrepreneurs scheme as a demonstrator model for other local authorities, including national guidance for others to follow.

Agreeing a number of test areas to rapidly deliver a series of Community Dividend schemes. A simple toolkit, summarising the lessons from past community contracts and neighbourhood agreements, and

explaining the hypothetical process for local brokering and sign off could be produced in less than three months, enabling communities to act by themselves before the summer.

Creating a new national narrative on the use of public buildings by the community – backing new rights for communities to reclaim underused assets. This will require:
• a new role for local authorities to map and share information on
public assets;

• a new ‘community benefit test’, possibly backed up by legislation;

• an audit of local government powers to assess vacant land and bring
it into community use; and

• a demonstrator model to test the concept of an asset broker.
Developing a new approach to measuring performance to sharpen the focus on quality local relationships. This will require:

• a demonstration project in three local areas to test new individual and service wide performance measures based on local public servant’s personal performance in building local relationships;

• the opportunity for pilots to opt out of other service measures during such a trial; and

• a better blend of national indicators for assessing public services.

We suggest piloting based on a number of subjective outcomes like satisfaction, resilience and capability.

Simple steps to improve hyper-local partnerships:

• improving the dissemination of good practice by rationalising the number of good practice guides and

• creating clear and accessible methods, evidence and advice on coproduction;

• mandating at least a day a year of training with local groups or entrepreneurs for all local public servants; and

• increasing the opportunity for local discretionary spend by giving neighbourhoods the right to levy local charges or create financially backed pledge banks.


There are many inspiring local public servants and effective hyperlocal partnerships. But more can be done to connect the resources of volunteers and community groups with the strategic infrastructure of the public sector.

Investing in a relationship with civil society can seem like an additional burden to many local public servants. To generate a step change in the working practices and culture of local public services more needs to be done to demonstrate the links to improving satisfaction and trust.

Many of the initiatives we have outlined will require up front investment, but will also generate savings. For example, there is the potential for a community dividend scheme to reduce the number of local arson attacks in a neighbourhood and therefore the need for local fire services. A community entrepreneur and their local work to strengthen volunteer involvement in mentoring and parental involvement in schools could reduce need for some classroom assistants in the local school. While such savings will be welcomed by public purse holders, they may be locally contentious and politically challenging. Government – central and local – needs to be prepared to hold honest conversations and debates with communities and local public servants to face the challenges ahead.

The real financial rewards though lie in the potential for each of these initiatives to harness the talents of citizens operating at the very local level to work alongside local public servants like GPs and Headteachers. Mobilising existing assets and capacity in communities is the only sustainable way to meet rising social challenges like the economic slowdown, the demands of an ageing population, the effects of climate change and increasing isolation.