Theme 3) Unleash the talent in our public institutions

There are thousands of people in Cambridge that work in public services. How can we as a city bring out the wealth of talent and ideas inside the hearts and minds of those without whom our city could not function?

  • Do you feel that public institutions or your workplace are unresponsive to your concerns and complaints?
  • Have you felt your positive ideas and suggestions don’t get past the receptionist, the customer services help desk, or your line manager?
  • Do you work in a public institution and feel that the impact of the cuts has led to low morale and institutionalised paralysis?
  • Do you feel there are too many barriers inside the system that need bringing down?
  • Do you feel public institutions are not making the best use of new technologies that more of us are using on a regular basis?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of those questions, this section is for you.

What would your workplace be like if your senior managers encouraged people to try out new things that have not been tried locally before? What would it be like if they said they would take the responsibility and any criticism if your idea didn’t work?

Puffles with @Net2Camb (Net-squared Cambridge) volunteering at Cambridge Online, where we help local people and community groups use social media
Puffles with @Net2Camb (Net-squared Cambridge) volunteering at Cambridge Online, where we help local people and community groups use social media

I’ve stumbled across a number of problems over the past few years, such as:

  • Institutions still working in isolation despite the management talk of ‘joined up thinking’, ‘partnership working’, and ‘everyone is a communicator.’ Everyone is not a communicator if you are blocking access to social media channels on your work computers. There are better ways to deal with managing social media risks.
  • Lack of understanding of how organisations function and how people can hold them accountable. We’re in an era of fragmented public services as Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament said here. This causes more problems of ‘who is in charge?’ when scrutinising – as this article states.
  • Negative mindset towards new technologies – particularly managers that all too often see the threats but not the benefits
  • An ‘attitude problem’ with some public-facing staff towards the people they are supposed to be serving – reinforcing negative stereotypes about the public sector
  • Institutionalised paralysis caused by cuts and ideologically-motivated changes to public service delivery
  • Problems that arose years ago still being present

It’s time for a massive rethink on the role of our public institutions – and the voluntary & community sector because of the huge political, economic and societal changes in recent years. These include:

  • The rise, then the fall of state funding to the sector
  • The professionalisation of parts of the sector
  • The growing demand of ‘provider of last resort’ eg foodbanks
  • Volatile donation patterns
  • Change in communications technologies and society’s expectations stemming from our use of social media
  • Lack of skills within middle and senior management on social/digital media, and on data analysis
  • A lack of dynamism and energy following the cuts to public sector budgets (leading to a fall in grants at a local level), and a financially bleak future
  • A lack of external challenge from a more diverse group of people in our communities – as I see regularly at with low public attendance at council meetings and as I saw at the last two annual general meetings of the Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services (See my blogposts here for 2013 and here for 2012)
  • No city-wide approach to development and training, and no co-ordinated approach to communications and publicity

Proposals, vision, policies

Public institutions in Cambridge signing up to an agreement that all new paid full-time office-based jobs advertised internally and externally must have basic social and digital media skills as ‘desirable competencies’

All new paid management posts (in particular full-time posts, irrespective of whether internal or external) in both public institutions and charitable organisations to have basic social and digital media skills in a corporate environment, and basic data analysis skills as essential competencies

A well-maintained social media presence to become a condition of funding above a minimum level, from public bodies bar exceptional circumstances

Sequenced working relationships between education providers, public institutions, charities and community groups – with input at planning stages of the academic cycle.

All public sector/tax-payer funded events open by default, digital by design and proactive by disposition. If a person has positive, constructive and passionate contributions to solving the problems, they are welcome to join in. (That’s not to say they can be aggressively disruptive – as I was on one occasion. I’ve learnt from it – honest!)

The removal of ‘gradeism’ in the public sector. If there is a local event where you have the passion to make a positive difference, you go. Have a board member in all organisations who staff can appeal to (and who can override junior and middle management).

A co-ordinated approach towards training and development across the city for the public sector, so that education institutions and training providers can develop courses and content that is tailored to the city’s needs. This will increase take up of courses and reduce costs per course. (I declare an interest as a freelance social media training provider).

Work with local FE colleges to produce a part-time programme for staff that is the equivalent of the BTEC Level 3 Public Services (see here) which is delivered at Cambridge Regional College (see here). The content of the course aimed at 16-19 year olds covers many different public service providers – this would be excellent if made available to adult learners.


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