Public service delivery, digital tools and the voluntary sector: transcript

Public service delivery, digital tools and the voluntary sector: transcript

For an explanation of this transcript see .

Audio (mp3)

Key

  • [{numeral}]: Speaker is recognisable but as yet unidentified
  • [#?]: Unsure of speaker
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Transcript

0:00:00:0
SIMON WHITEHOUSE:
“…to have [in?] selection and training of those volunteers before they even start.”

0:00:05:0
[1]:
“Well that’s all part of the game really; and it’s how do we develop the capacity to do that, bearing in mind it’s huge workstreams which we’re not already doing. We have a number of ideas and models around actually using volunteers who are vetted, trained and selected …  to actually leverage; so we’re using volunteers to coordinate and develop the [...]. The closer that volunteers are to police premises, police assets, information and the rest of it, the higher the level of [...] security and so on. So there’s a  of scope for people who are actually coming in and working in the police station. There’s a limitless capacity for people who are actually doing [...] concentric circles – rings if you like – of people who are contributing to community safety outcomes and it’s how we use paid staff and trained and selected volunteers to actually build that capacity. Those are some of the challenges that we’re trying to get our heads round.”

0:01:15:4
[2]:
“So far these things have been radical in one way but not in another because we’re talking about pre-existing services, which members of the public are now going to become volunteers to help deliver whilst they remain – in the case of the police [...] - remain in the control of the existing public institutions. But presumably there’s also other issues, like being involved [as a member of the public?] in the design of services in the first place, which is also a more radical form of engagement. [...] engagement through the democratic process.”

0:01:46:0
MICHAEL GRIMES:
“I think there’s also an issue of – because we’re talking mostly about bringing other people into an existing framework; your volunteers are still managed by the police, so …”

0:02:00:9:
[1]:
“One level of them are; you see, Street Pastors [studies?] happened about five or six years ago, which didn’t come from the police at all, it’s a purely welfare-ist, faith-based initiative; but which we found we could support and it definitely supports our outcomes as well.”

0:02:19:0
MICHAEL GRIMES:
“That’s interesting, because one of the things I’m interested in is when that happens you’ve got one set of protocols and data and cultural stuff, they’ve got another. Now how does that work together? Because they’ve probably, possibly got information or stuff that is proprietary, it might be confidential for all sorts of reasons, it might also be commercially sensitive. And they’ve also got a cultural history; they might even have an ethical and moral framework that is different to yours. I think that’s quite interesting, because when you were just explaining it’s volunteers well that’s one thing because it’s just managing a workforce, but what you’re talking about – handing stuff over to existing agencies – how the hell do we do that?”

0:03:10:7
[3]:
“I think you’ve put your finger on something really important there. What was it about whatever information the Street Pastors were able to provide that the police looked at and go: ‘Ok, yeah; this seems valid and credible and something we want to support; and, kind of, we’ll pay you’ or whatever the relationship is, or ‘we’ll feed volunteers to you’; what counts as – so the information frames the relationship and highlights a whole set of issues that you wouldn’t have been aware of previously.”

0:03:33:9
[1]:
“Well, there would be a whole range of data that would be particularly valuable to the and for their stakeholders if you like, in terms of numbers of people contacted and prayed with or who were given a piece of literature or whatever it might be. But they also collated a lot of stuff about the number of, like, conflict situations that they were able to defuse; the number of empty beer bottles and glasses that they picked up off the streets and disposed of so they couldn’t be used to cause harm to somebody; the number of flip-flops handed out to young ladies who couldn’t walk in their heels anymore; and all those kind of things. So there’s a number of things which [are?] reduction outcomes which are particularly valuable to us as well.”

0:04:25:0
[#?]:
“You could translate those into meaningful stats, from the perspective of the police.”

0:04:30:6
[1]:
“Well, not exactly. Obviously with complex analysis of, you know, crime figures, antisocial behaviour, calls for service, and all other kinds of things you could draw some conclusions about their value; but a lot of it would be kind of more at the softer end of the spectrum and a lot of it would involve anecdotal accounts of the people – you know, door staff who work in the pubs, the officers who work on the ground, and so on – about the value that they’re adding to the [nighttime economy?].”

0:05:05:1
[5]:
“Lots of volunteers – sort of on their own or whatever, and third sector type people – are very different in the public’s mind to public sector organisations. People are often much more pro charities and people just do it for nothing; [...] the government of A.N.Other public sector organisation. And so they get, you know, it’s easier to get people into quite confidential situations with voluntary people because they trust them; whereas they’re not the government who have an agenda to do something to them. And I think there’s a bunch of stuff that can happen there, and I think if third parties and volunteers [sort of tracked?] with government organisations they can sometimes become tainted by them and lose the trust that they might have and the engagement that they might have with their constituency. So I think there’s quite an odd thing that goes on there. I don’t know if anyone’s ever had a cat stuck up a tree recently on a roof; [I was on holiday?] and it happened to me once and you have to phone the RSPCA, who are a charity, and then if the RSPCA officer comes out to you and they call the fire brigade, the fire brigade will then come and get the cat down from the tree. So there’s quite an odd sort of interface between charitable sector and public sector. It’s almost like the RSPCA deliver some statutory obligation on behalf of the government – you know, on behalf of the government; it’s quite an odd situation.”

0:06:26:8
[#?]:
“Do you know if there’s a financial transaction..?”

0:06:38:6
[5]:
“I don’t know, but there’s definitely – this was in West Yorkshire, where my mother-in-law lives – the RSPCA officer and the fire dude  - the head, the kind of important fire dude – said they won’t come unless I come on site and say the cat’s up the tree, you need to come, kind of thing.”

0:06:43:5
[#?]:
“There’s another example of that, which is pretty close to home in [...] authorities [...] I heard about a couple of weeks ago, which was about disposal of bulky items. So if you ring up and say ‘I want a fridge moving’ they’ll say ‘is it in working order, because we’ve got somebody who’ll go and get it reused; we’ve got somebody who’ll take it away, clean it up and sell it, or do something else with it’. So it’s not waste disposal anymore, but that organisation is completely independent of the council. All they do is send them lists of people to go and see; every Wednesday and Thursday they produce a list that’s ready for them to go. So again there’s a relationship between a local authority, a government organisation, and another organisation. Which, again, I don’t know what the financial relationship – I suspect that they managed just to get in the door and make money out of the old fridges.”

0:07:36:0
[#?]:
“There’s a similar model like that in Liverpool where I live called Bulky Bob’s, which is a joint venture between the council and a social enterprise. And the council provides as part of its commitment the call handling, but obviously the social enterprise does the actual pickup and so on; but that’s also providing them with creating labour market opportunities to do training and so on. Well that’s just changed last week as part of the budget changes, as that’s been free for the last five years, but the local authority can no longer afford its part so there’s now going to be a charge. But the charge is to cover the call handling and not the [pickup [inaudible]].”

0:08:20:0
[#?]:
“Will that be made clear?”

0:08:21:5
[#?]:
“That has been made clear, it’s in the budget; but it has that kind of implication for it, because obviously what local are looking at the moment is saying ‘Here’s our range of statutory services and we have to spend our area grant on statutory services, and [...] this range of optional services that [...] compete for.”

0:08:42:4
[#?]:
“Unless it’s a statutory obligation that a council takes away bulky waste, then that seems cheeky because what they could have done is just say, ‘We don’t do this anymore, here’s all the signposting to the people who do, and it’s free’, rather than ‘When we do this and take your call we’re going to charge you five pounds for it”.

0:08:59:2
[#?]:
“But I think there’s a scale issue isn’t there, because in the local authority they’ve got another joint venture with BT for all their call handling so it’s probably much cheaper – even if they’re charging for it – for the council to still do it and keep it at a lower cost than for a small social enterprise”

0:09:15:1
[#?]:
“Unless we had tools in place which [...] answer machine maybe that’s all we need to help with that, or maybe it’s a website. Those are the kinds of things that could change that.”

0:09:27:2
MICHAEL GRIMES:
“Is there a discrepancy between – doe I mean discrepancy? – it sounds like on the one hand we’ve got services that the public expects to have from the council – so you would expect to phone the council and get your [...]. On the other hand we’ve got a scenario where it seems like we don’t trust the council…”

0:09:45:4[5]:
“There’s a perception the council have an agenda in some way…”

0:09:49:6
MICHAEL GRIMES:
“…Is that part of the problem? Is that part of the problem? Making I’m making this up actually; but if we – I just wonder whether we’re making the mistake of seeing the public as somehow the customer in the same way as you sell a product to a customer; you’re selling democracy to a customer..?”

0:10:14:5
[#?]:
“It’s a different business model isn’t it, I mean the business model of politics is politics; people get voted for…”

0:10:17:6
MICHAEL GRIMES:
“Well I just wonder whether we break that by the – is there an opportunity to break that when we start collaborating with other services, or is that actually…”

0:10:26:6
[#?]:
I don’t know, because I think this discussion is pertinent to that really because there’s this long-term shift in which people buy a range of services – whether they’re buying from shops or utilities and so on – and you know, a long time ago your utilities and your banks went to having engagement by telephone a long time before local authorities did. Local authorities followed that process because in part the cost-benefit model has been demonstrated by these other large organisations. But also the public is now expecting to do services in this way, because it’s more effective for me to use my phone than it is to make a request…”

0:11:10:4
[#?]:
[INAUDIBLE INTERRUPTION]

0:11:13:4
[CONT]:
“… Yes, and so those kind of things are being pulled through. So there’s a kind of set of expectations about how the public wants to interact with public and voluntary services and so on that have come from – you know, none of these things exist in isolation, they’re being driven by other aspects. And I think one of the difficult things that the voluntary sector’s going to deliver – and it’s probably worth mentioning at this point that we should be very careful not to kind of homogenise the voluntary sector into this kind of one is kind of grass roots and one is another, because if you’re the voluntary sector and you’re the largest social landlord in Europe, like in Liverpool where Cosmopolitan Housing is, they have none of the cred that your claiming for the voluntary sector: they’re another part of the machine. And so there’s a lot of complexity in that; and it’s where those things are going, isn’t it, it’s how easy it’s going to be to step in and to kind of take the engagement tools from your question, and who’s going to take that and whether it’s needs to still be big organisations like RSLs {1} that kind of take on a lot of this big activity. And as we see that transition and it’s not really then that the smaller grassroots community side of the voluntary sector is doing something else, and it might need a different set of tools for engagement processes that are more appropriate to that scale.”

0:12:51:2
[#?]:
“I think the worrying thing for me is that once you do break and [...] to small voluntary sector organisations, when you’re putting it out to the [small?] social enterprises etcetera they don’t have the facilities or the scale to be able to take advantage of the tools. So they can’t have the call centre and they can’t have the fancy website which has transactions on it. So we lose a degree of efficiency that came with being able to invest in that kind of thing.”

0:13:17:0
[#?]:
[INTERRUPTION] “The Economy of Scale, which is why…”

0:13:17:9
[CONT]:
“The Economy of Scale and…”

0:13:19:4
[#?]:
[INTERRUPTION] “…public sector exists.”

0:13:21:1
[CONT]:
“… Yeah, exactly. So we lose all of that stuff and each of these organisations is not supported in how it talks to people. So you get people like Meals of Wheels – it’s not a large organisation that’s been contracted to provide [...] meals on wheels, even if they’re a charity, it is ’I make an extra plate and I take it next door’, which is where we can really make some savings and some help and get social cohesion working; lots of benefits in getting it down to that level. But how do you organise that? How does somebody find the little old lady who lives near them who needs this extra meal?”

0:13:56:5
[#?]:
“The voluntary sector – or civil society in the most general, generic sense – their role as information providers is to re-frame the expectations we have of the State (social services etc). So I was trying to think of the most unquestioned one. So waste disposal is a pretty good one: what information are we aware of as citizens about waste disposal, like frequency of the pickups. We’re not kind of challenging the model of what we do with our rubbish, which is basically put it in a bin outside the front door until a big truck comes by and takes it away. What other information could we be gathering – or, you know, an environmental organisation campaigning to re-frame, maybe at a local level to start off with; you know, actually what more can we understand about the kinds of things that we’re throwing away and what their trajectories are through the whole system, from the supermarket into the plastic recycling, how much gets recycled…”

0:14:57:3
[#?]:
“Or even simpler than that, where you say: ‘I’ve got some garden waste, I’m going to put it out; who else has got it and we’ll call the truck to come and pick up all our garden waste at the same time’. So that combined brings back the society/community … so there’s a tool to do that and then that tool allows not the Veolias to come and pick up your garden waste, or the council truck, but allows Bob to bring his Transit van down. And he’s contracted, there’s a whole bunch of Bobs…”

0:15:25:1
SIMON WHITEHOUSE:
“There’s an issue there at the moment. I’m in the middle of one of the – whatever they’re calling the Big Society vanguards at the moment – and that’s Balsall Heath, inner-city area in Birmingham, and Balsall Forum are talking about taking over exactly those sorts of services and the bin collections and the street cleaning; so, that’s going to be a pocket in the middle of Balsall Heath that then disrupts all the rest of the council services that exist around it. And there are issues around this, and there’s stuff such as the deafness communities within the Localism Bill, which is that they can be self-defining: which means they can potentially be overlapping, or they can be. Or you could find yourself on one of three streets that nobody wants, and that’s possibly more likely…”

[INAUDIBLE INTERRUPTION AND LAUGHTER]

0:16:23:8
SIMON WHITEHOUSE:
“So if people realise that you’re in the streets that cost people lots of money then why would you be in their community area? And that’s specifically within the Localism Bill around planning…”

[#?]
“Neighbourhood planning…”

SIMON WHITEHOUSE:
“That’s the one…”

[#?]
“‘Natural Neighbourhood’”

0:16:42:3
SIMON WHITEHOUSE:
“Yeah. And there are difficulties with it. The one-size-fits-all does mean that nobody gets missed out; we might turn round and say one-size-fits-all means that people get a poor service, but everybody gets it, pretty much. And those are the things that I don’t think we’ve necessarily managed to work out. The overall [actual?] thing is that there are reasons why people [...] within civic society that have created organisations and gone in and started doing things, and that’s because they’re motivated to do those. And the motivation has not been because they want to save money from their taxes, that hasn’t been the reason why people have done it. So we’re trying  to dress up what we feel that we need to do with we think people are motivated to do, and there’s a disconnect there.”

0:17:43:3
[#?]:
“And on that issue of that kind of – I don’t know what you call it – the micro-demand management, there are tools to do that, aren’t there. There’s a – again, in the volunteering sector there’s one called Slivers of Time, a website where it’s kind of like a cross between a dating agency and a car pooling website, where these people have got volunteering opportunities – you know, small blocks of time – and these users are people who’ve got some time that they want to volunteer. So it’s a question of making it very very responsive at that level…”

[Interruption] “It’s not direct, there has to be a…”

[Cont]

“Yes, it has to be mediated…”

[Interruption]

“A time banking idea”

[Cont]

“Yeah.”

0:18:28:4
[#?]:

“I think that’s the thing that I’m intrigued by, the fact that there’s quite a healthy profusion of these different tools that could be used and it feels to me like it’s the [...] – how do you generate demand? We’re at the stage where there’s probably quite a few little successful stories of one kind or another and how do you aggregate the wisdom from that to get more of these things? And get to the point where you are focused on those streets that get left out of this kind of stuff that we don’t join in; if it does fall out to micro-geography [or what have you?] to that extent. Then at least you’ve got people who are most likely working with the people who are most likely that they’re early adopters and you’ve got the whole kind of ['pass-on'?] distribution thing, and you’ve just got the tail at the end you know more specifically where it is; and got to manage different ways …”

0:19:26:7
SIMON WHITEHOUSE:
“You’ve got some distribution?] that is essentially member-less and random; I don’t think you meant that, but I suspect that that is what it might be. [Aside:] But that was more of a statistics kind of…]

[Inaudible; talking over each other]

SIMON WHITEHOUSE:
“But I thought it was relevant as well, because for… sorry, go on.”

[#?] [0:19:51:6]
“A risk is that you just end up concentrating on a kind of state public sector [on the residuum?] of neighbourhoods and areas that don’t succeed.”

0:20:01:4
[#?]:
“These things work really well when you’ve got high degrees of cooperation, social capital, education, online ability, etc etc etc, so the state withdraws from those areas [and how do you?] accept some responsibility of being the provider of last resort for those areas which can’t actually do things for themselves. So then you get a very different set of public service and a very different public service ethos than the one which other people [do?].”

0:20:28:1
[#?]:
“That’s the big isue that we will be facing. If we learn from the experience of Neighbourhood Watch, international academic research has shown Neighbourhood Watches tend to be concentrated where they’re least needed. So, the lassez faire position is – because they would say, ‘Well, it reduces crime, because look at all these Neighbourhood Watch areas, they’re in low-crime areas’ – and that’s the problem we face with the Big Society issues is that – I think it was Iain Duncan-Smith piece about these volunteering deserts, and charity deserts, so that you’ve got in the Home Counties 38 percent of people volunteer to some extent or another or give to charity, and in some of the inner-city areas it’s half of that, 19 percent – so a lassez faire attidude, where allowing the public to do their own thing means that we will massively probably further increase the differences in people’s experience of neighbourhood life and crime and all the rest of it. So it’s how you coordinated that; but for the sake of distributive justice kind of gear up hose poor areas where you have less social capital and less…”

0:21:46:5
[#?]:
“Which becomes a more interesting challenge [...] engagement [...] areas [...] and that’s where a discussion about what tools [...] might actually work in those environments [...]”

0:22:03:3
[#?]:
“That also brings you though into the issue of digital divide, doesn’t it; because in a place like Liverpool where they estimate that 30 percent of the population does not have any kind of online activity, there’s a high correlation between that and deprivation. So suddenly we’re moving back our who it is that gets services orientated and [...] those people who are quite behind in that, and what kind of service provision will they need and what kind of support is there. But actually that [...] so we start having a lot of discontinuities in the economies of scale because actually we’re removing the economy of scale by letting non-deprived areas do their own services, so they’ve obviously got to pay less taxes into that process. But actually what we’re ending up with is higher cost services aimed at a particular [dict?]. There’s obviously some dangers in that, which is where the voluntary sector – it normally steps into that breach anyway – what it tends to be doing is bringing its social capital and some of its financial resources as a an add-on to government services at a local level in those neighbourhoods. If you look at any of the CVS-type models that exist, they tend to be drawing in philanthropy and focusing it on deprived areas anyway. So that’s already there, but they tend not to be very [...]. They’re tool-orientated but process-orientated because of how they tend to work, and rely a lot on things like personal interaction, social capital building bridging relationships, and so on, which are not very effectively done if everybody’s got to go and do this on a website somewhere or whatever those kind of tools are; so there’s a kind of issue about who are we doing it for in [...].

0:24:19:8]
[#?]:
“Is mobile going to make a big difference? Has it made a big difference to engage with those groups of …?”

0:24:31:2
[5]:
“Well, I think it will have an enormous impact on what we understand as the ‘digital divide’. A lot of people that may not have a desktop computer or a laptop will have – you can get cheapo smartphones, where you get them from, you know, ask no questions! – obviously those statistics on everybody’s websites are going up incredibly quickly, frighteningly quickly; so I think it will make a difference from those sorts of things. And if your website doesn’t work [with mobiles?] you’re kind of knackered, aren’t you.”

0:24:59:3
[#?]:
“There’s another area which is about political as well, that Members and councillors now have the means to engage directly because they’ve got the convenience of doing it on a tablet or a smartphone. They can pick up emails, they can respond to citizen questions much more effectively if they choose to.”

0:25:20:7
[#?]:
“If they’re good communicators, and some of them will; I think that’s interesting – having a mobile or not having a mobile doesn’t make a person more or less likely to respond to a message from the council. Or you’re to go to the council’s website necessarily and say, ‘Oh well, I’m online, I’m going to go and look at [...], because that’s what I’m interested in’, or whatever it is. And from the authority figures as well, the council [have?] the technology, oh great, ‘I’m just being a twat on Twitter now; I was a twat before but now I can make it more [openly clear?] that that’s what I am”.

0:25:56:1
[#?]:
“[...] certain kind of service design approach isn’t there? If mobile phones become ubiquitous – they are virtually already – then if everybody used them they will use them in a different way, and to expect people in the most deprived estates and so on to use them for surfing the internet might be wrong-headed: we just need to know what they actually do on there. They might very [...] send text messages about stuff…”

0:26:23:8
[#?]:
“‘There’s a riot down the high street’…”

[Laughter]

0:26:33:0
[#?]:
“There are opportunities in location-based services. That’s one of the things about mobile: it’s not just that it’s available, it knows where you are and therefore highlight services and public services that are available where you are, so they can do that community-bonding thing; as well as seeing that there’s a whole bunch of pubs offering free drinks, three’s also a football match going on at the municipal park, or whatever other social activity and civic social activity is happening.”

0:27:01:9
[5]:
“We had a massive spike in mobile traffic – I work in Brent Council – we had a massive spike in mobile traffic last year and it was on bonfire night, because we chanted the park where we put the bonfire night display on. And so it was basically everybody going to the wrong park and then finding out the right park that the firework display was on. That was what it was, simple as that; it was three times higher than any other day. It’s quite interesting because you see – when you look at mobile traffic – you see how people want to interact digitally with what you do. It tends to be that higher traffic transactional stuff, but then the odd locationy-type thing.”

0:27:37:6
MICHAEL GRIMES:
“Is that one of the key functions then of an authority, where it’s not for another organisation, is making sure – because you’ve got all these opportunities for communication (like you say, you might have a phone doesn’t mean you use it for that) but also it could well mean that you don’t use the appropriate channels for other people: people get missed off – is one of the functions of an authority then making sure everyone is covered?”

0:28:11:0
[#?]:
“I think that’s right, because we were talking about that in this room in the previous session in the ‘digital by default’ thing, because obviously what people will now do rather than – two years ago they would have gone to Google and searched for something to do it, now they’ll go onto a local authority’s Facebook and they’ll ask a question. That changes the nature of those kind of things, because obviously as the technology changes and the different types of channel-switching, obviously the public service has an interest in channel-switching into some areas because of cost, but obviously the population has an interest in channel-switching because of ease of access. And they’re not necessarily the same thing; and that’s definitely something that’s a big issue in there, of where you want it. And obviously mobile is pertinent to that because one of the things that’s happened in mobile is any app that’s too complicated dies immediately, so there’s a set of simplicity issues about transactional nature with mobile apps, but which hides the complexity of the transaction quite often. And so people think actually it’s easy to do, because every app I’ve got on my phone is easy to use; that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do, that just means that it’s easy to present: which is a slightly different issue.”

0:29:31:1
MICHAEL GRIMES:
“That’s good design though, isn’t it? Big organisations – and particularly in the public sector – are not good at that: it’s too difficult to be good at designing.”

0:29:40:5
[#?]:
“But a lot of local authorities are starting to grasp that over the last couple of years as well, so once upon a time you went to a local authority website and what you were introduced to was like a twenty-thousand-page portal of information, and actually what most people wanted to do was to find out on what day their bin is this week because it’s a bank holiday on on the Monday. And that kind of thing; so you go to a lot of local authority websites now, those kind of key four [sic] things – when are the libraries open, how can I find out when a swimming session is on, when do I [sic] collect my bins – which are the main focuses of people’s interest. And then you can go and jump off into the arcane world of all the other policies.”

0:30:24:0
[DISCUSSION ENDS]

{1} RSL: Registered Social Landlord