The University of Birmingham played host to the International Research Society of Public Management this week. The opening panel (all female- must be a first!) discussed how engagement really works when communities have a sense of their own agency. The democratic deficit is best served by engaging with the issues that really matter to people and invest time effort and resources in facilitating theiraction. There are numerous examples of this: Salford Dadz - an initiative working to enable fathers to grow in confidence as parents and citizens, and improving their children's well-being as a product of this work; Citizen's UK Birmingham are campaigning to increase the number of refugees resettled in the UK and revoke indefinite detention periods; Kissing it Better - a charity which brings community choirs and manicurists and pets and poetry into the lives of people in hospitals. There are countless more.
Clare Short on the IRSPM panel said "Collective action makes people happy - though systems make this more difficult". This resonated with a study of self-managed organisations I am reading (Laloux 2014) which features many organisations who have structured their approach based on trusting rather than controlling their workforce. Buurtzorg is the one some of you may be familiar with - a community nursing organisation in the Netherlands that now employs 7000 nurses - but there are many others across in this book across the range of sectors: finance; manufacturing ; schools; IT etc. Laloux describes an approach which is non-hierarchical; open and transparent and successful - in business as well as human terms. Creating a culture of trust results in employees behaving responsibly. Decisions are not taken by the 'top' of the organisation - but wherever it best makes sense - this includes purchasing; marketing; sales and care packages. Powerful stuff - well worth a read! He says "Where there is value in co-ordination people simply start to co-ordinate" (p107) which is exactly what the IRSPM panel said in their opening debate.
It seems almost obvious that if we know communities can effectively self-organise and be effective change agents, then the people in these communities are likely to behave similarly when they are in the work place. The role of the managers in public service (or anywhere else) is simply to let go of the controls, treat people as adults and support them to do the right thing for their customers/clients/patients. How hard can that be??
Laloux, F. (2014) Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker. Belgium.